Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Behind the Books: When the Best Writing Happens

For the last few days, I’ve been working on a video to accompany a book coming out next spring. Why am I filming a whole year in advance? Because I need to get footage of wild roses in bloom, and that only happens one a year—now.

In some ways, structuring a video is a lot like organizing a book. It requires the same set of skills. But filming is completely different. There are so many things to think about—weather, lighting, sound.

When I write, I control every word on the page. But with filming (especially outdoors), so much is out of my control. Sometimes that’s incredibly frustrating, but it can also lead to unexpected miracles.

As I tried to capture footage of wild roses on a windy day, I focused hard on how the plants swayed and how the quality of light cast upon them changed as they moved. And suddenly, I had an a-ha moment.

Changing light. Flickering light. That was it—the perfect way to enrich the beginning and transition to the second section of a manuscript that had me stumped. In fact, I’d abandoned it months ago, thinking it was a lost cause.  

But in that moment, my hope was rekindled. I knew exactly what the manuscript needed. I didn’t even finish filming. I packed up, hurried home, pulled out that old manuscript, and began revising.

Sometimes the best writing happens when you aren’t even trying.


  1. If I'm stuck, final relaxation during yoga class is often the place I'll get an "a ha" moment. Have you read "Imagine" by Jonah Lehrer. It seems the getting stuck and the breaking through are a natural process of creativity. And a change in focus, like a hot shower, a run or even photography can help with the break throughs.

  2. Hmm, I'll have to try yoga. But I agree--the shower, walks, driving are all great times for unconscious problem solving. I guess that means sometimes NOT writing IS writing.

  3. Aha! I love those moments - and they always come when I least expect it, and often when I have given up or think I'm finished. The photo of the rose is beautiful - ours aren't out just yet, but I'll keep my eyes open.

  4. I agree wholeheartedly! I get some of my best ideas while walking in the woods or while in savasana at the end of a yoga class. (Added bonus, yoga helps counteract the "forward leaning head" writers tend to get from sitting at a computer all day).

  5. Hmm, maybe I should give yoga a try.