June 5, 2005 | Articles | 3 comments

I don’t know if you have noticed, but I have added “the last 5 books I read” and “currently reading” to my sidebar. Little hint, if something shows in currently reading and then doesn’t make it into “the last 5 books I read” it means it isn’t something I recommend. ;-)

Anyway the last book I read was Bellwether by Connie Willis–who I love. It was an interesting book, if not her best. It was about a scientist who is trying to track down the originating cause of various fads – mainly hair bobbing. (FYI, the story is also basically a romance or at least qualifies as having strong romantic elements.) What I found interesting about this book was how it related to writing.

First, the whole bellwether thing. A bellwether is (according to “One that serves as a leader or as a leading indicator of future trends.” In the book it is also used in the sheep reference. Apparantly with sheep there is one sheep called the bellwether and whatever this sheep does all the others follow. The thing is though, this sheep isn’t a leader–you don’t see him/her leap ahead. She just inches a little this way or that, leading away without it ever being apparent.

How does this relate to writing, you ask?

The ever popular chasing of trends. Vampires now–what will it be tomorrow? If only we could figure out which one of us was the bellwether and direct that person to a nice stack of Romantic Comedies or our genre of choice, we would be set.

Is it you? Are you directing the flow of book publishing, money, and careers?

The other part of the book that struck me as being related to writing was the protagonist’s conclusion that for a grand discovery to be made the discoverer has to have been working in chaos. An example being that penicillin wasn’t discovered from years of careful controlled study but because a petry dish was infected.

This reminds me of my own creative process. I write with my kids screaming (sometimes at me, sometimes at each other), my dogs complaining (never enough cookies handed out), and while checking email every two minutes (yes, I am an addict). There is no other word for it than chaos. But while all this is going on, my mind is still whirring and frequently the next quiet moment I have something jumps into place, and I know the direction that stalled scene should take.

Maybe, you say, that scene wouldn’t be stalled if I just wrote in quiet all the time? I doubt it. I write in spurts. I can only sit down and out and out type for so long before I hit a wall. I think I have somehow trained myself to write with the chaos. It makes me make better use of the quiet times. :)

How about you? Do you need a little chaos or are you a total peace-and-quiet type? And don’t forget the bellwether question. If you are the bellwether of novels – I have a book I want you to read. ;-)


  1. terri shaw

    Have you sent it to Oprahshe maybe the bellwether your looking for? LOL terri

  2. Mary Stella

    If you find the bellwether for romantic comedies, please send him/her my way! :-) I can’t write in total quiet and I don’t believe that noise and chaos are the reasons that scenes stall.

    I think scenes stall when I’m in a tug-of-war with the characters, trying to yank them in the direction that I think they, and the scene, belong. Meanwhile, they’re telling me, “No. Go this way!”

    Usually, they’re right. When I give up pulling and let the process take over, the scene usually begins to flow again. Whether Armageddon is erupting around me doesn’t matter.

  3. MartyK

    I usually write with the television on. I’ve always done it this way, term papers to novels. I need background noise. Usually when I hit a wall, it means I’ve made a wrong turn somewhere. I have to go back and find it…I’m getting better at staying on the road ;)