Monday, February 13, 2012

February Theme: I Love the Epiphany (by Tracy Barrett)

ἐπιϕάνεια: A manifestation or appearance of some divine or superhuman being. 

I used to think that epiphanies happened like this:


You know, you're sitting at your computer (or holding your snazzy red book), pondering where to go next, how to fix some awkward dialog, how to pick up the pace, where to insert that crucial scene, and lo! from out of nowhere the solution arrives.

That's what it can feel like, anyway.

But now that I've been at this a while, I recognize that an epiphany—that out-of-the-blue thought, idea, realization—is a more subtle process.

I also recognize that when I'm stuck, there's no point in pushing. I'm not one of those 2,000-word-a-day writers. If I wrote 2,000 words in a day, I'd wind up deleting 1,950 of them the next day. I'd rather write 200 solid words than 1,950 crappy ones. There are people who can write 2,000 solid words in a day, but I'm not one of them.

So when I'm stuck, I stop writing. And I've come to realize that what I'm doing in those days—sometimes weeks—is preparing the ground for the ideas that will spring from the seemingly barren dirt. I have to lay myself open to the new ideas.

My latest epiphany occurred a few weeks ago. I was facing several seemingly unrelated problems in my work in progress, and every fix I made to one made the others worse. So I quit, and went to the SCBWI Midwinter Conference.

The title of a session in the conference program caught my attention. Something clicked in my mind, and I recognized the click: A puzzle-piece had slid into place (okay, I'm leaving the fallow field analogy now). I didn't know where it fit, or even what it meant. I didn't probe. I didn't even attend that session.

A few days later, while reading Octavian Nothing, I felt another click. A small episode in that amazing book added another piece to the puzzle, and when I stood back and looked at it, I saw a smooth and cohesive scene in the puzzle where before there had been a hole.

If I didn't understand and accept my own writing process, and if I hadn't been paying attention, I wouldn't have known why that hole in the puzzle had suddenly filled in.

I still don't know if this will be the solution to the WiP's problems. But if it isn't, I can always hope for that angel.

4 comments:

  1. Well, I think the angel only talks if you slow things down and quiet your mind enough to listen. So either way you're on the right track. :)

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  2. My writing lives and dies by such seemingly unimportant details -- single words even -- that catch my attention for no real reason. So I completely get this, and I appreciate the whole experience --

    I was going to say, "More than you know," but you do know.

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  3. Yes, the fallow field where the idea can blossom is crucial, Faith!

    And Jody, I love that we often don't know the reason something catches our attention--brings us back to the angel! This time was unusual in that I recognized the source, probably because I had been agonizing over it for a while.

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  4. I love what you say about epiphanies being a subtle process...so often, in life, we expect the big moments, realizations, etc. to knock us over the head...and that's so rarely how it really happens!

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