Last October I had the great pleasure of taking part in the first annual Murder by the Book, a two day event held at Bar Harbor’s historic Jesup Memorial Library. Is there anything more inspiring than autumn on the coast of Maine? As a rookie, among a dozen accomplished and award-winning Maine novelists, I was thrilled to have been included. On Friday evening, a handful of writers read aloud from unpublished works, gifting those in attendance a rare treat, a sneak peek at upcoming novels.
During one of the Saturday panels, Gerry Boyle and Julia Spencer-Fleming briefly discussed “the flow” that occasionally happens while writing. Being in the zone. Storytelling autopilot. Those times our stories take unexpected turns as they are being written. When characters begin to speak and act for themselves as the writer struggles to keep up. I used to believe this writerly flow was something that famous writers said to sound hip, that is, until it began happening to me. Any writer will tell you, those days are the absolute best, rare though they may be. If we could figure out a way to bottle that flow, manuscripts for entire novels would be completed in mere weeks. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. It happens when it happens, often departing as quickly as it came. Writing a novel is hard work, believe me. Endless hours sitting in a chair, staring at a monitor, trying to untangle thoughts into something comprehensible and entertaining. But still, there are those glorious times when it almost seems to write itself.
As the author panel continued, I began to mentally wonder off, though no fault of Julia or Gerry, pondering this anomaly. I wondered, where does this flow come from? Is it a vehicle by which some magical muse inserts ideas into our heads? Sitting upon our shoulders and whispering suggestions. Or leading our fingers to the correct letters on the keyboard, rendering it into some kind of electronic Ouija board. And why doesn’t it happen to everyone? Why aren’t we all accomplished raconteurs? After all, everyone has a story to tell. Our entire lives are comprised of them. Those things that happen as we traverse the long and bumpy road of life. But if that’s all it takes, if we really are all bursting with stories ready to be told, where is release button to make them flow? Does the muse only appear to some folks and not others? Or could it be something else entirely?
I think it’s far more likely that we writers, who spend an inordinate amount of time inside our own heads, have simply exercised and developed the imagination muscle more than most. We’ve spent so much time poking holes in that thin membrane of the creative mind, the mental fabric restraining our best thoughts, that the stories just flow freely from our mind to the page.
Other writers may disagree. Each of us probably have our own thoughts on the source of this creative wellspring. But whatever the cause, I am sure of one thing. We’d all be eternally grateful if it happened more often.