The most important moments in the writing of a novel come when the writer isn’t writing. That’s when the best ideas germinate and gestate. That’s why I’ve been in Tuscany this week.
There are plenty of other reasons for going to Tuscany and I indulged in all of them. But I’ve written here before about the need for writers to spend a good deal of their time doing either nothing or something other than writing — thus taking a long holiday is a very productive thing to do (That’s why I also plan on writing off the vacation against my taxes…)
Meditation is the most concentrated method of switching off the conscious writing faculties – and all other conscious faculties. I also use other techniques, like yoga. Perhaps surprisingly one of the best ways is to read good writing. (Reading bad writing, by contrast, makes you edit the stuff in your head and your writing faculties are painfully heightened.)
I happen to be taking a vacation in the country in which my next novel is to be set (and in which my current release, A NAME IN BLOOD, is set, albeit four hundred years ago in the time of Caravaggio.) But that’s not necessarily the point. I loaded up my suitcase with research materials and I devoted an hour every day to something approximating work. But that work was fairly speculative.
At this stage of a book (ie. almost the beginning; I know where the book begins, but I don’t know the end and I’m far from knowing the middle, which always comes last) I sit with a blank page in my lap, pens of several colors in my hand, and I draw something akin to the “Mind Maps” that were popular in the 1990s but which I didn’t hear about until a couple of years ago.
In the center of the page, I write the title of the book, or a character’s name, or a clue. I focus my mind on that page, at once allowing anything to come into my head and at the same time directing my thoughts outward, radiating away from the narrowing down that we tend to do when we believe we’re “thinking.” From there, I draw connections to whatever comes into my head. When I’ve been at this for a while, a picture or diagram of that element of the book appears before me. That’s the way I organize the book – lists or pages of notes don’t work for me.
I’ve done this kind of thing often enough at home. After all, I live in Jerusalem, which isn’t exactly dour or everyday in the influences it brings into my consciousness. But Tuscany produced a relaxation in me that allowed my creative energies to flow.
And even when it didn’t, I managed just fine with the Brunello di Montalciono and the Rosso and the Fiorentina steak and the perfect espresso and the… Well, you get the idea. Try it yourself.