Once a week I get together with a group of folks for a writer's group. We use a prompt and do about forty-five minutes of freewriting, which we share at the end. Commentary is pretty light, we aim for encouragement, and I'm fine with that. It's fun, it's good practice, and I've come up with some usable material for short stories. Parts of both novels were written there (Barton's Women, in fact was actually started there).
Two weeks ago we read "La Recoleta," a poem by Jorge Luis Borges, as our prompt. It was a funny day; I was 'in charge' that day and was distracted by the unexpected arrival of three teens and a young adult from a different writing group who showed up wanting to 'sit in' (though the leader said, "We'll just watch." Huh? Why would you go to a writer's group and just watch? But I digress.). I also had the pressure of trying to end on time (for once), so I had to watch the clock. The prompt didn't quite grab me, and I stared out the window, trying to find something to write. A curtain of icicles hung outside the window, and as I watched the drip drip drip of droplets off the end of one of the icicles, and it started. What I'm going to do is mix what I wrote that day with commentary on what I was thinking (when I was thinking at all, that is). This piece is not edited beyond what I did at the time. Maybe because I was so distracted, I was able to remember the shifts and turns in my thinking. Anyway, here it is.
'Water drops bulged at the end of the icicle, fell with the same steady rhythm of the a saline drip pumped into Frank's arm. He watched it—the ice, not the saline drip, he got
Three things. First, I noticed how steady the drip off the end of an icicle is, and that put me in mind of IVs, so I worked that in. Also, less conscious, those were pretty damn sharp icicles hanging off the roof, which perhaps put me in mind of needles in veins. Frank is a definite reference to a a character in a lengthy piece one of my writer's group colleagues has been working on. And, in hindsight, I'd say that 'bottomed out' may be a reference to how I was feeling at the moment. When I resort to writing about things I see and hear at the writer's group, it's a sure sign things aren't working too well that day. Though writing about icicles isn't as bad as writing about pens, though. When I write about pens, that's bottoming out.
I still had no idea where this was going, by the way, but I kept up with the idea of bottoming out in the next paragraph.
'This is what my life has come to, he thought, as a drop grew fat at the end of the
*I initially used razor, but razor is the wrong word for icicles, isn't it? Icicles are needles, not razors, and the hospital setting and the IV meant 'needle' was the right word. This was a conscious cross-out made before I went any further.
Now, at this point, questions came up. Who is Frank? What's he doing in the hospital? I didn't know. What's more, Frank didn't know. I suddenly had an idea that Frank in this place with no idea why, and no memory of anything, really. I was writing myself into something. It's great fun when it happens. On I went.
'And it was, too, that was the sad thing. He couldn't remember how long he'd been here. He couldn't remember why he was here. He couldn't remember the last time he'd seen a familiar face, besides the
So, at this point I tried to tap into the hospital experience a bit. I've never been a long-term patient myself, but have seen enough of hospitals in the last ten years for a lifetime. In this and the next paragraph, indeed, in all of Frank's interactions with the nurse, I tried to bring in the feeling of being in a hospital, so any potential reader might nod their heads and think, "yeah, that's it."
I'm not 100% sure why I opted out of 'dark-eyed nurse' in favor of a more generic person. In hindsight, it works better. The bag of saline was something where I started to write a simple "they switched it" but thought I could use more description, so I went for the deflated balloon thing. I was going to write 'had nearly passed out' but went for the slightly more showy 'grey and spinny.' That whole section needs more cleanup, but I was on a roll. No time for revising!
Something began to work into my head about this story, and I started to see both a possibly sinister reason for Frank's hospitalization and a way to end the story. I saw a man who knows something, or almost remembers something (I still didn't know what), but can't quite get to it, and I wanted the IV to be why he couldn't remember, and tie it all to the imagery of the dripping icicles. There was a little more interaction between Frank and the nurse that I'll skip.
'Cold fingers pressed against the inside of his wrist. His pulse beat hard against them. There was something he was supposed to ask. It dangled there in his mind, not quite seen.The idea of it grew bigger and bigger, but he didn't know.
The thermometer beeped. The nurse pulled it out of his mouth and ejected the plastic sheath. Another note on his chart.
"I'll be back in a little while," she said. "If you need anything, just hit that button."
She was halfway out the door when Frank called her. "Nurse." His voice was rusty in his ears.
She stopped and regarded watched him, her eyebrows up.
The idea, the question, grew in his mind, bigger and bigger, but he couldn't form the right words.
Frank looked back at the nurse.
"Nothing," he said, and went back to watch the icicle.'
In the end, it didn't quite work the way I wanted. Like Frank, I couldn't quite grab the right words, the right ideas, to wrap it up quite right, and I didn't have time to go back and craft it. Still, I wasn't unhappy with it then, and I'm not unhappy with it now. This is one of those pieces I can see myself polishing. So that's a glimpse into the brain of a wingman. Writing on the fly like I do for my writer's group is different than what I do with novels, and I'll probably do another post somewhere along the line talking about that (no promises on when, though; I know better than to do that). How does this compare to your process?