Thursday, January 29, 2009

Writing Sediments and Sentiments

The writing day I envisioned evaporated. In its place I found what I considered sediment. Upon closer examination, it revealed its true nature. Not sediment at all, but condensed particles of a writing life devoted to God’s plan and timing.

ACFW tasks (always a joy, even the hard ones) kept me busy most of the morning, but I managed to make progress on a dozen other small projects. Then—sigh—grocery shopping. Whether it’s convenient or not, Tuesday is now grocery day because I can’t miss out on the ten percent senior discount. It is, after all, one of the few benefits of being older than Beatle memorabilia.

The aisles held not people but characters. An elderly woman shouted at her deaf husband who had a one-word vocabulary—“Huh?” A lost soul seemed befuddled that the pizza sauce isn’t kept on a shelf near the spaghetti sauce. A height-challenged woman (wait, that was me) strained to reach the two-liter bottles of Diet Coke which are—for some reason known only to marketing departments and chiropractors—in racks too high for anyone but NBA hopefuls. A mother chided her tactile-learner daughter, “Don’t touch!” A man read the label on a box of frozen, deep-fried mozzarella sticks. (If you have to read the label, trust me. This is not the product for you).

My cell phone rang as I negotiated the cleaning supplies aisle. A request for an errand for a person in need. It rang again as I exited the parking lot with my trunkful of groceries. A neighbor needed someone to stop at Walgreen’s for medicine the doc had neglected to order when the neighbor was discharged from the hospital earlier in the day. (Someone asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus answered, “The person who needs mercy.” And who are our characters?).

I tried the drive-through window at Walgreen’s, but the prescription had “issues,” so I parked and went inside, where I discovered another handful of characters. A customer apparently unaware batteries come in different sizes. A man staring long and hard at the glut of cold and flu medications (I kept a wide berth). The check-out clerk whose center-part told me her original hair color which was not even close to the color an inch out from center, or the one two inches beyond that. She pointed to the clearance rack make-up I’d purchased and commented that it was good stuff. Then she apologized. She wasn’t wearing any makeup at the moment and how could she promote a product looking like that? I told her—and meant it—that her smile went a long way toward beauty care.

A quarter mile from home, I delayed my progress toward my next novel yet again. This time the character was a young woman sitting behind the wheel of a car whose front end looked like the loser in a prize fight. Toothless and sporting a spectacular starburst where its windshield should have been, the car bore the marks of a tangle with a deer. Not a win-win situation. After determining the young woman had been Elvised (All Shook Up) but not injured, I flagged down the neighbor who is—conveniently for the neighbor-hood—a county deputy.

Crisis averted, I delivered the medicine, put away my groceries, speed-cooked supper, and wondered where the day went. I’d wanted to write. Instead, a cast of characters paraded past me.

Ah. Research.

It is the act of living that fuels our fiction. Sure, imagination plays a large part. But if I resent a God-breathed interruption because it interferes with my writing plans, am I shooting past the scenic overlook without a glance?

It’s been said that the things that threaten to keep us from writing are the things we write about.

If you’ll excuse me, I have some character sketches to flesh out and notes to take about a spectacular starburst windshield.