The Washing of Trash

Writers, by inclination and design, are curious creatures. We like to poke our noses into many things, all by reason of “I can use that in a book someday!”

Yes, it’s useful to wander down many crooked little trails leading to some serendipitous destination. It’s useful to encounter discoveries, new technologies, unusual settings, odd cultures, etc.

But writers also need processing time. We have to sort, filter, reject, and masticate. We need opportunity, calm, and a wide pool of no-more-input on occasion. There’s a reason the wise writers of the past crept off to sit by ponds or to write in the little hut in the backyard or to live a hermit’s life for part of the year.

Non-writers may happily buzz about their busy lives, shrugging off whatever overwhelms them. It’s not so easy for a writer to shrug anything off.

I’m angry about what transpired today at my cell phone provider store. I’m angry because I wanted to install a free app, but to do so necessitated purchasing a $15 iTunes gift card. It’s a racket. I feel cheated, infringed on, and taken advantage of.

Most people wouldn’t care. But I do. I’m artistic, creative, dramatic, and prone to overreaction. I’ve never been content to be a drone or a lemming that does what it’s told and happily jumps off the cliff because it’s there. Just knowing that many people enjoy eating kale makes me want to run in the opposite direction and eat cake.

How will I use today’s experience in fiction? It will probably filter into some story with themes of deceit and betrayal. Still, it’s cold comfort at the moment.

Recently my community expanded its curbside recycling program, with the result that my to-be-recycled trash now exceeds my destined-for-the-landfill trash. I’m cool with that. However, I now spend time prepping the recyclables. I’m washing yogurt cups and pickle jars so they can be thrown away. How much potable water is being wasted on cleaning the trash?

While I could live atop a stinky landfill, if forced to it, I can’t survive without drinking water.

It’s hard to process such niggling worries. I stand at my kitchen sink and remind myself that Agatha Christie liked to work out her mystery plots while she did the dishes. Can I plot while I’m rinsing off garbage?

So far, it’s not working for me. Instead of persuading my inner writer to start dictating … “Irmentrude picked up the last yogurt cup to be washed. It wasn’t her husband’s brand or flavor. She knew then–with a stabbing pain in her heart–that he’d been unfaithful. Once again, he’d brought infidelity into their home, sharing the intimacy of the marital refrigerator with some hussy.

Nope. I can’t get that story to flow.

Instead, I keep thinking about waste. Waste of water. Waste of unnecessary packaging. Waste of time. Waste of serenity because I’m living in an age of information overload, and there’s never time to process anything the way my artistic nature seeks to.

Do I stifle my inner artist? Nope.

Do I retrain my inner artist? Absolutely not!

Do I rebel a little and stop washing trash? Maybe.

Even better, do I figure out a way to retreat to Walden’s Pond, some quiet landscape where I can tune out, drop out, turn off, shut down, and otherwise silence the chattering beast of too much everything?

I need nothing more raucous than the song of crickets for a while. No more distractions of greedy computer companies, obstreperous insurance companies, demanding bosses, meetings, hard-to-please editors, and software updates. At least not for a little while. (Yes, folks. I know that what I need is called a vacation.)

Right now, I have an idea in my head that needs me to listen to it, to give it a chance. Just as when you’re building a fire, there’s that delicate moment when the spark is poised between going out and swelling into flame. Mishandle it, and it’s gone forever.

So, too, are story ideas. Defer them and ignore them long enough and they fade away. There will be others, of course, but sometimes you have to regret the one that died.

A month ago, a cool idea of mine faded from too much deferment. I’m too busy to develop it. Yes, I bought a notebook for it. I invited it to grow, sort of, but then I never found the actual time to sit down and mull over the characters.

It’s not dead, but it’s become pale and uninteresting.

Today’s idea is most intriguing, but I shan’t get around to it this afternoon. The phone debacle took too big of a chunk from my day. Now I have other responsibilities. I’m already telling my inner writer: just wait a while; maybe we’ll sit down together at bedtime and jot down the character names.

Inner writer knows differently. It’s not fooled. It will wait, like the child at the window who gazes across the street at the birthday party he wasn’t invited to, but after the trash of the day is washed and I’m ready to lay down my weary head, there probably won’t be any chance to breathe life onto this tiny spark of an idea.

When I began my career, I learned quickly that the world did not pause or make room for writers. But it was possible for a writer to push the world aside and establish quiet places and little rooms of solitude where thinking and writing could be done.

Now, I can’t push the world aside. I must do battle to force it back. And sometimes the battle is so fierce I’m too worn to make use of my victory.

Once I’m done sulking today and in a better mood, I’ll be less pessimistic. I’ll pick up my new notebook, and I’ll name these wisps of characters and put flesh on them and give them a setting and figure out what they want as goals so I can start building a plot.

It won’t be as bad as I’m making it today. It never is.

(Provided I can stop washing trash at the expense of writing.)

2 Comments

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2 responses to “The Washing of Trash

  1. Is that your typical order? Characters, then plot?
    I’d have imagined that the characters would be designed to ensure the plot.
    Does it depend what part of the story you think of first, and whether the cool idea is in the plot or in a character concept or in your idea for the subject matter of the conflict …?

  2. Often it is, but not always. (How’s that for an ambivalent reply? :))
    Whether you think up the characters first or have an action scene in mind as your launch point, you have to then focus the structure on the protagonist’s objective. Once you have that, you create an opponent with a directly opposing goal. Then you have to figure out why they’re involved in this.

    -Deb

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