The Ashy-Blood Night Mist

Some days, such as today, everything’s good and then something happens.

I have a fantastic egg & bacon sandwich, and then pizza, and then a little gin (but not too much). My wife and I watch a terrific movie I’ve been meaning to see for ages (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang). We compile a 150+ song playlist for a 30+ person party we’re having next weekend. And the last five days were very productive, so my relaxation feels deserved.

And then it’s 10:30 P.M. and who the hell knows. Maybe a neuron misfires. Maybe my ghost starts haunting itself. But a peculiar ashy-blood night mist descends, and it’s as if some inexplicable sadness is waking me up instead of depressing me. It’s like being sentimentally buzzed without being alcoholically buzzed.

I’m creatively minded in this state. It’s a state I’ve known since, oh, I was a moody teenager or maybe even earlier, and it’s possibly the #1 reason I write fiction. It’s not a bad state to be in, but it’s not summery glad beachtime, either.

When the ashy-blood night mist descends upon me, I often respond…

  1. Defensively
  2. Wholeheartedly

…by making stuff up and writing it down. When I do this well, the stuff is emotionally true, even if it’s unrealistic on the surface. I go into a semi-dream state, in other words, where the night mist not only makes strange emotional sense, but allows me to see and feel things I can’t experience in happier, more quotidian hours.

The ashy-blood night mist doesn’t come only at night. Some days I actually need to summon it in order to write, which means my average day is oddly tinted and there’s probably something a little off about me.

The upside is that I’d be way worse off without writing, because the mist would probably have dissolved me like emotional acid long ago, and God only knows if I’d even exist as a functional human being right now.

Strange Creative Surge

I’m feeling a strong creative surge this week and writing a lot of fiction, but a head cold is draining me like a vampire leech.

So now I’m living in this bizarro state of inspired energy and a constant desire to nap. Fortunately, even my nap dreams are conjuring up strange, exciting ideas. I don’t have a fever or anything, and I’m not on anything harder than coffee. It’s just that in spite of my physical exhaustion, I seem to have tapped a good mental flow.

I try to maintain creative openness on a regular basis, so storytelling feels less like something I do at certain hours and more like something I’m always doing. Because who knows when and where the right idea will materialize? What happens if I dwell on my novel between 9 A.M. and 3 P.M. and some fantastic idea wants to appear at midnight?

It’s great when that consistent openness works, and I’m suddenly writing about things that feel emotionally electric and — in a thrilling way — incomprehensible. These might be terrible ideas I’ll need to cut from later drafts but they’re worth pursuing, even when I’m sick.

So far this week:

  1. A talking deer corpse
  2. A ritual chant recorded onto an old cassette of The Carpenters’ greatest hits
  3. Coma milk
  4. The logistics of temporary suicide
  5. Ghost lovers seeing each other for the first time

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How to Write a Novel

  1. Accept you’re not like other people, then develop excessive wonder and shame — preferably both — about this condition.
  2. Obsess over the world’s brokenness until you glimpse how it works, and maybe how it’s not completely broken after all.
  3. Explain your feelings to people. Fail badly.
  4. Recognize that no good explanations are possible, but that stories can convey things in mysterious, irrational ways that are similar to occult magic.
  5. Think of an original story that will not merely become a bestseller, but will profoundly affect the hearts of millions of readers.
  6. Understand that no story is original.
  7. Understand that being killed by lightning, while simultaneously being eaten by a lion, is more probable than writing a bestseller.
  8. Understand that profoundly affecting the heart of one reader, even if that reader is yourself, is a dynamite goal.
  9. Get excited! You’re writing a novel!
  10. Continue writing after the first few days, when the early excitement dies and you need to animate 50,000-150,000 words into a strange, living thing.
  11. Fail badly six days out of seven, for seasons or years.
  12. If that one good day out of seven fills you with a deep, crazy joy that prevents you from quitting both the story and your life, right on!
  13. Doubt that day.
  14. Doubt the story.
  15. Despise yourself and despair, and don’t talk to anyone for a while because of your embarrassment, and consider a proper job like cutting lawns.
  16. Finish the novel.
  17. Rewrite and revise until everything feels perfect. Don’t cheat. It has to be perfect.
  18. It’s not perfect. It’s nowhere close to perfect.
  19. When the novel is done, survive everything that comes next — submission, agents, editors, reviews, readership — by emotionally divorcing yourself from the cherished work and writing something frighteningly new.
  20. Accept you’re not like other people, then develop excessive wonder and shame — preferably both — about this condition.