He’s Writing by the Seat of the Pants

He’s writing again. I was getting worried. I mean, a muse exists for this sort of thing, and he’d stopped creating anything. No writing, no off-the-wall calculations, nothing. He was only coming up with puns, and no muse is going to take the blame for that. All of it was from things going on in the real world, and for some, that’s normal. But this had been going on for a while, and I was wondering if he’d create anything ever again. Oh, he forced it with two or three blog posts, but most of the time he’d go to the keyboard, look at it, and go “Naw,” and move on to something else, leaving me twiddling my thumbs. Even Mong was getting bored.

Then he started writing. Just sat down at the keyboard and started typing. He dusted off an unfinished novel, filled in the gaps between scenes, then tweaked it with a subplot to maintain tension in the more boring parts, finished it, and started a new one. Just like that.

Now, any muse will tell you that every writer is different. My writer first visualizes a story. He sees the beginning, middle, and end in his mind, with some scattered scenes, and connects them. But if he doesn’t, it goes nowhere. Some would call it seat of the pants writing because he doesn’t do an outline first, but it’s not. He’s like a drunk homing in on a street light; he knows where he’s going, but how he gets there is anyone’s guess.

This time he did something different. He had exactly one idea in mind when he started, and it wasn’t really a scene, but he wanted to start with some action. So he wrote a fight scene just to grab interest, and then everything went from there. Another scene popped in mind, and he wrote to that point because he liked it, and it fit with an idea that I’d nudged him about before this dry spell. Then he went back and punched up a scene leading to that, then he started looking at the logical consequences. Then he wrote about the consequences of the opening fight scene, and that led to more complications, and then he found a way to tie in the fight scene with other events. What I thought was going to be a toss-off scene is now become a central part of his work in progress.

When he stopped last night, soap had become a crucial element. Yes, soap. All this takes place in the early 14th Century Europe, and back then most soap in Europe was soft. See, he happened to think that potassium carbonate soaps, what were made from lye dripped from ashes, are normally soft while sodium hydroxide soaps are hard, and that until sodium hydroxide became cheap, most soaps were made with potassium carbonate. But there were two types of hard soaps known in early 14th Century Europe, both due to a chemical reaction that changes potassium carbonate to sodium hydroxide. In the early 14th Century, these hard soaps were a bit pricey in parts of Europe, because they came from the Mediterranean and the Iberian Peninsula. He thought about that and how it would make an important clue, and then how it would provide motivation for events, and changed where the book was heading.

Yeah, that’s weird, but that’s how his mind works.

This is full-fledged seat of the pants writing. He now has a final scene in mind, and a climax, and maybe a couple of battle scenes, but it’s all changing as it goes. Things, like that that deal with the soap, are coming out of nowhere. I can work with that, but it’s scary. I don’t see how other muses do it. He’s compared it to reading a book and not sure where it’s going. I’ve heard muses talk about their writers writing for themselves, but this time he really is.

That has him thinking this will never see the light of day. He’s been chortling over the phrase dreaded by slush pile readers the world over: “I hope you enjoy this book as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it.”  Hey, I’m a muse: if it’s creative, I can live with it.

One bad thing about writing by the seat of the pants is the do-overs, going back and changing something so it all works better. Writers who don’t write by the seat of their pants seldom do that until the edit. Not seat of the pants writers. That’s like editing, and I’ve been holding my breath every time he does it. Editing while writing can kill a project, and I’ve seen that happen with one of his books.

I just don’t know. I mean, he’s creating again, and that’s good, and he’s thinking about all sorts of things, like whether magnetic fields in the sun can act kind of like a Tokamak and have an effect on fusion (he has a weird mind, okay?). But this plunging ahead with no clear destination? It’s scary.

At this point, I’m holding on for the ride. I just hope he doesn’t run out of gas before we get there.