Baby birds chirp from moss-draped oaks and ducklings scurry after their mothers at the pond. Blooms explode in beds. Wildflowers pop up in yards. Butterflies and bees flit from my sunflower to Purple Queen, then travel to my neighbor's yard to sample their plumbago.
I'm energized by nature, so you'd think all this new life and activity would inspire my brain to spin story. It hasn't. A couple weeks ago, I brainstormed a story with my agent and I was excited by the ideas it sparked. The story had a relatable protagonist, an intriguing premise and the potential for a satisfying outcome. The setting was moody, mysterious and a little quirky. There was a touch of magic.
The magic grew and grew, and the plot took unexpected turns. As the story developed, my shoulders and neck tensed, and panic crept into my head. I asked myself why and had a revelation.
I had allowed my imagination to veer too far from my life experience, and the story began to feel forced. For me to write authentic story, it needs to grow from people and experiences I relate to, and the magic needs to evolve organically. It's a valuable lesson. It helps me know myself better as a writer, and I hope it will help me write better books. But it wan't easy giving up that story.
I'm restless and anxious when I'm not productively creating. I have another story started. It's growing slower than I'd like, but I'm trying to be patient. I think I'll go outside and commune with the flowers and bees. Maybe they'll buzz plot to my muse!
Storm is a good word for what happens to my brain when a story erupts. I'm a fourth generation Floridian, I grew up with storms, and heard stories of hurricanes past. I love and fear them, as I do story. I love reading and creating stories and I fear I'll never do the stories in my head justice.
I just finished a book and passed it to my agent. I'm letting go of the story world I've lived in for the last year, saying goodbye to the characters. Next week, my agent will submit the book to publishers, hoping to find a good fit. I've learned it's best to not waste energy on wondering if I did my best or expectations for its success. Instead, I focus on the next project.
The idea for a new story came to me a while ago. I put it in a box. I lifted the lid every so often and peeked inside, but I didn't take it out of the box until last week. I listed all that I knew about the characters and their world. Then I shared it with my agent. She poked and prodded and asked lots of whys and what ifs.
My husband and I walk every morning and for the last two days those whys and what ifs have fueled our steps. I walked over three miles yesterday, trying to figure out where a boy named Ash came from and why a girl named Roan was allowed in the woods.
The answers to those questions lead to more questions. They twist and churn into a tornado. Soon, I hope, the beginning will pop out of that storm. It's a magical moment when the main character takes her first steps on a clean page, and she brings a steady rain of words to fill the pages after. I pray they're the right words to describe the storm in my head.
When I think of summer, I picture grass and sky and the perfect tree. It's a wise old tree, broad at the base for my back to lean against, and sturdy limbs low to the ground, so it's easily climbed. Tiny sparrows hop among the leaves and in the blue sky beyond, odd-shaped clouds stream past. It's the ideal daydreaming spot.
And daydreaming should be at the top of your list this summer. Yeah, yeah, squeeze in all the other important stuff: sleeping late, beach time, hanging out with friends. But leave room for mind drifting.
Think about it. How many times have you been accused of daydreaming when others want your attention focused on class, homework or listening? Do you ever wish for uninterrupted time to let your mind wander? Well, here it is. There are no teachers. No textbooks. What you have is hours of unscheduled down time. So give your mind permission to roam. Find the strangest cloud. Or an unbelievable insect with iridescent eyes and impossibly thin gossamer wings. Imagine the smallest things big and the biggest things small. Imagine another world or this world in another way. Just imagine.
Writers and artists rely on their ability to unlock their brains and set their imagination free. It's not always easy to do that. Life fills up with other things, like school, parents, even friends. One day, if you choose a career in the arts, you'll be paid to spend your time daydreaming. But for now, you have summer.
January feels like a pause between the holidays and spring, which usually comes to Florida in mid February. But this year we've had a mild winter and the trees and ladybugs have declared spring early.
It's hard to stay inside. My husband and I have lengthened our morning walks, exploring new territory. I'm fascinated by scenes viewed through portals-like openings. They seem like invitations to explore . . .
. . . or intros to stories.
There are stories everywhere I look. Like these otters romping in a tree stump. Is the face in the wood a self portrait of the artist? Was he inspired by creatures he saw in the creek that runs alongside the stump?
On the way home, we found two tiles scattered beside an intersection. We flipped them over and united them. Were they tossed out a car window? Are they mourning love lost or celebrating new love? How can the imagination not be sparked by this mystery?
I write middle grade and young adult books with a magical twist. I'm represented by the fabulous Leslie Zampetti of Dunham Lit.
Lorin Oberweger - Freelance Editor