Dualing Pens

The urge to start writing again happened earlier this year. I had been throwing around some ideas in my mind and discussing it with my wife who plays a skilled devil’s advocate. She is an avid reader as well and had some of her own ideas for novels that she had shared with me. I had read some of her past work which consisted mostly of short stories and poetry and I found her style to be quite inspiring. I think the reason for that inspiration came from her differing style. We joke about how I’m the left brained one and she’s the right brained one so together we fit naturally together and that’s why we are able to function despite being such different people. Functional relationships are functional because the individuals involved are complementary right? The funny thing is that she can be quite left-brained as well. She commonly under-estimates her own intelligence and I play along but secretly harbor tremendous respect for her intellect.

A funny thing happens when we start discussing writing unlike other topics we might casually banter about. Something triggers during our discussions that compell us to rush our thoughts so that we can interject before the other person does that same. A placid surface of water immediately becomes a roiling and boiling pot alight with inspirations and completed thoughts. Often these sessions climaxed into what we call our writing challenges. During these challenges we would offer up a concept, a writing style, or a phrase and we would each write a short story and compare. These stories would often be restricted to one or two pages in order to promote focus and strain our descriptive muscles. You would not believe how challenging it is for me to write a one page story. My wife on the other hand, excels at this. Eventually, I expanded these challenges to include my mother who is also a skilled writer (she’s the only one amongst us that’s actually published). This went on for a while and I found the entire experience extremely rewarding as it prompted self discovery. Not only did these challenges force me to attempt things I had never tried before but it also helped me find my voice. This was enough to prime the engine and soon enough I started working on an outline for a major novel.

When my ideas were developed enough I shared them with my wife. I had been researching best practices for organizing my ideas as the scale of the novel was overwhelming – like I said, I never do anything small – so naturally I shared my findings with her when I found something that really worked. She was encouraging but also offered caution that I might be biting off more than I can chew. She suggested I start with something smaller to get more practice before diving into something so epic. It was sound advice and I had been tossing around another idea for a number of months for something that was much more accessible. It was little more than a shell of an idea which I eagerly shared and much to my surprised she latched onto it immediately. We spent the rest of the day fleshing it out and before long we realized that we had created a story together. Our differing perspectives and interests in the story created a synergy that inspired us both. For at least a year or two before that we had discussed the possibility of collaborating. She had repeatedly cited the collaboration of Michael and Kathleen O’Neill Gear who wrote the vast “People of…” series of books. Their relationship is not unlike our own it seems. I agreed that such a collaboration would inevitably be fruitful given our individual strengths.

I mulled the idea around for a month of two and in the meantime I was fully submerged in the outlining of my larger novel. I was unwilling to let any inspiration pass me by and spent my time writing character profiles and scene outlines. We didn’t discuss the other idea for some time until one morning on the bus the muse struck me and I began to write the first chapter. What’s funny is at the same time, Catt (that’s my wife by the way) had been struck by the muse as well and had written a scene for a different story in a frenzied fashion. She shared it with me and she was suddenly ablaze for her own novel based on a concept that she had been internalizing for the better part of the last three or four years.

At that point we began feeding off of eachother’s enthusiasm and for a period of about a month we both poured ourselves into our writing. I wrote nearly 40 pages of the beginning of our shared story and she wrote 50 pages of her own story and we exchanged chapters as they were completed. Together we explored our voices and traded ideas about methodology and style. One thing we agreed on was to generate first drafts without going back to revise until we were done. For the most part we followed those guidelines but we did not hesitate to violate that rule when the stories demanded it. The combined surge was a liberating experience. Something unexpected came to life in the process however.

As you well know by now, it has always been my intention to eventually become a career writer. The trouble I run into more often than not is that my inspiration comes in fits. I will spend weeks or months during one of these fits churning out pages as fast as my fingers will create them. Inevitably comes the stall. The stall is a period of absolute desolation where no ideas come to me and I write nothing. The reasons for this vary – life circumstances, major work load, or perhaps a new video game has captured my fancy for a time. I had arrived at a scene in the story I was working on that was particularly difficult for me. I knew what was going to happen in the scene but I was unable to get motivated about it. I haven’t added any pages to that story since. I’ve also added very little content to the outline of the larger project. Quite remarkably however, Catt continued to progress on her own project. It appeared the genie had been released from the bottle and there was nothing that was going to stop those words from pouring onto the page. It’s been at least a couple of months since this whole process started and she has been spending every possible moment writing.

I have been permitted to read very little of what she has written at this point so I can’t comment on much beyond what she has shared but what I can say is that what she is accomplishing is nothing short of inspirational. What I have witnessed is how I would imagine a condor takes flight after an extensive sedentary rest. I look up in the sky now from where I stand on the ground feeling both a sense of pride and a sense of envy. The envy comes from my perception of what appears to be a readily accessible firehose of ideas for her. She has managed to find a direct line to the muse and so I watch with great interest as she progresses and I slowly plan for my own flight which I hope will be equally inspirational for her. She is my partner in life in every way.