Staring at the Ceiling

Announcement: I’ve decided to start posting only once a week, on Wednesdays, starting today. I hope this move will give me more time to write better fiction, which I hope you’ll one day enjoy. Thanks!

Baby staring at the ceiling“That’s not work… staring at the ceiling!”

So a radio panel show participant I heard once characterize his wife’s evaluation of his profession—not so much actual toil, but looking off into space, if not toward the ceiling then in some other equally lackadaisical direction. I wonder, if someone took the trouble to do a study, how much of a writer’s at-the-desk time would consist of scribing prose and how much would consist of staring, or chewing a pencil, or something else thoughtful.

Since I’ve reached a place in the Thin Spots project where I’m crafting scenes from scratch again and not re-working old material into the revised plan (yay!), I’ve come to think the percentage of ceiling-staring time is pretty high.

Words usually just don’t come roaring out of my head onto the page, because they’ve got to be preceded by mental imagery. Even though I’ve got my descriptive paragraphs all written and my scene sheets all neatly assembled, I still have to figure out precisely what’s going to happen in the moment-to-moment life of the novel. If a beastie is going to fling something at the hero (Colin), what’s it going to be? A spear? A cassava melon? Is Colin then going to get hit, roll, or dodge? If he dodges, does he go left or right? I could go on, but you would probably hate that, so I won’t. You get the idea.

The periods of staring come into play when I’m trying to work out all those details. For me, it’s a process of envisioning the action and hearing the dialogue in my imagination. Part of the scene will play through my head like a movie trailer and then I’ll write down the pictures, allowing the magic of wordplay to change them as it will. Then I’ve got a platform to stand on with one foot while I reach out into empty space with the other, feeling for the next bit of the scene.

This process requires me to avoid hurry. If I’m in a dither about getting to a certain point or spitting out a quota of words in my allotted hour, I’ll be too focused on putting words on paper to allow sufficient time for the meat of the scene to form in my brain. When that happens, I either get little written at all or the writing meanders all over without getting much of anywhere.

I hope I’ve now shown how important staring at the ceiling (or at anything) is to writing fiction. So, friends, if someone says to you that all you’re doing is staring into space, print out this post and show it to them. They will read it and be utterly convinced, or they will crumple it into a ball and fling it at you. In the latter case, I suggest a dodge; that seems to work for me, most of the time.

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One response to “Staring at the Ceiling

  1. Staring mindlessly may also for a moment allow a remembering of the deeper spontaneous selves we have always been and the inspiration that springs from there.