Letting the miracle happen

I ended an earlier post with the sentence, “There’s a hole I have to write myself out of.”

Parse that and you’ll find it equal parts wish, bravado, pretense, and humbug.

I had no idea how to write myself out of that hole. I thought I’d have to scrap “A Day in the Life of a Rancher’s Wife” and replace it with “A Day in the Life of a One-Room Schoolteacher.” Or anything else I could both start and finish.

But I gave it a shot, opened the document, and began revising. For the Rancher’s Wife, that meant squeezing 700 words into under 500, just in case I came up with a conclusion.

And in the middle of all that deleting, adding, shuffling, it happened. I knew how to end the story.

By the time the epiphany occurred, it was after midnight. I tacked on a couple of sentences to hold the thought and the  next day continued reworking the piece. The result is a story I’m satisfied with. Almost. There’s still time for tweaking.

When I was teaching English in the late ’70s, the latest fashion was to teach the writing process: brainstorming, prewriting, writing, revising, editing, polishing, proofreading. Sometimes prewriting was put before brainstorming. Sometimes editing and polishing were rolled into one. It was neat and tidy and linear.

But there was no step to describe that epiphany.

If there’s frustration here–and there is–it’s that I can’t explain that missing step. I had given up. I wasn’t trying think of a solution. I was playing with words. And then I knew.

Maybe that’s the heart of the process: relax, play, stay in the now, allow ideas to come. Maybe the process isn’t a process at all.

I’ve read that creativity has something to do with the frontal cortex, the anterior cingulate, the temporal lobe, the limbic brain, alpha brain rhythms, gamma brain rhythms, warm showers, long walks, and happiness. When scientists have it all observed and assimilated and indexed, I’ll try to understand.

For the present, however, I like to think that extra step is Gertrude Stein’s miracle.

Not knowing. Knowing.

And the process is letting the miracle happen.

6 thoughts on “Letting the miracle happen

  1. Can we have an epiphany without the experience of feeling stuck? Mmm. Well, yes. I do have flashes of initial inspiration that send me flying to the keyboard or scribbling on the back of credit card receipts. But I don’t think that’s quite the same as what you refer to here.

    Stuckness may be a gift?


    1. Maybe there are little epiphanies and grand epiphanies. It seems to me that all those sudden ideas are epiphanies, but so is whatever prompts us to produce the sentence, paragraph, and chapter that follow. Then there’s the one that comes when you finally say, “I can’t do this,” and bang! you can. And the amazing solutions that come to you when you’re almost asleep.

      I hate to think of stuckness as a gift, but maybe I should stop fighting it. Thank you for that insight. Rather, that epiphany.


  2. I agree–sometimes, I just have to walk away to get unstuck. And, I used to teach those steps, too–prewriting, drafting, revising, editing–when really, my process goes back and forth in wild patterns all the time. And plus, there is, as you said, that unnameable missing piece. When the story pops into place.

    Great post!


    1. Do you think there’s a minimum amount of time we have to wait before walking away? Would it work to give up after twenty or thirty minutes, or is all the stewing we do over being stuck necessary to prepare our synapses for the story to pop? It occurs to me that I keep stewing over these questions, I could avoid writing anything at all and never be stuck again.

      Thanks for visiting and for commenting. (I keep thinking about the almost-three throwing rocks at his brothers, and wondering whether the camping trip included naps. Or whether the conflict was simply fate. I love stories about almost-threes.)


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