Posted by: jeannineatkins | November 2, 2012

The Goddess Kali at the Computer

Yesterday I had lunch with a friend who told me about drawing day after day until at last the girl under her hands felt like the one who’s been in her head. She’s now happily progressing through a dummy for a picture book. This made me think of hands rubbing over and over, trying to start a fire. It made me think of me the last two weeks, hunkering down with an idea both murky and compelling. I started scenes, but they were still warm on the page when I recognized they didn’t have the spark that would tell me, Yes, that’s mine. I’m a believer in storing up ideas so I don’t have to face too many blank pages, but the notes I’d put under labels with a variety of attempts at titles didn’t seem like ones that would grip me for the year or so it may take me to fulfill them.

Starting a new project seems more full of stops than starts, whether or not that’s mathematically possible.  I recently celebrated finishing a major project, but this was quickly followed by an uncomfortable hole, which felt drafty no matter how much I tried to call it freeing. I’ve got my main character, sort of, a theme, and a pale vision of a rickety plot, and have spent mornings dreaming up sisters, brothers, and friends who I kill off by the afternoon. Dads and a magical bird come and go.

Dreaming up ideas means you have to be willing to let many go. One of the students in my writing for children class is an illustrator, and when I recently brought in colored pencils, she asked where was the eraser. Sorry, I said. She told me she always drew with an eraser in her other hand, which opened and closed around nothing. She managed, because she’s flexible and kind. This reminds me of how I don’t even think of how close the delete button is to my pinky. It reminds me of Kali, the Hindu goddess of destruction and creation, who makes space for the new by clearing out the old.

Then three days ago I had an idea that still makes my eyes shine. I told Peter, around four in the afternoon, about an hour before I had to leave the house, that I was going to my writing room to write, not delete. And I did. Yesterday I might have let more words stay than I struck out. I don’t know what I’ll get today, but I do know that I have to write a lot of trite, flat, wishy-washy, just plain bad scenes before a plot snares or sparkles. So I’ll continue with my Kali files, the scenes that no one but me will likely ever see. And I let one of my favorite goddesses rant, so she will be my friend.



  1. Your posts are so instructive, Jeannine. For their content, yes, but also for their structure – the step by step revelation of your process: your thinking, your actions. It’s like reading a novel – full and rich and gripping.

    • Thank you, Sarah. I think this marks the first time my work has been called gripping, and I’m most appreciative!

  2. Oh, I’m so hoping for a day like that today–plot “finished,” time to write Scene 1. But I know I may have to have the patience you’ve been showing for the past couple of weeks. Oh,and if I have any vote, I’d kind of like to see the magic bird come back. 🙂

    • What a process. I don’t revel too much in saying “finished,” as I know what seems finished to me may not seem so to others, but you remind me there’s something to mark at least celebrate. I know you’ll have these days, as well as the patience to circle around and begin with someone new.

      And I’m feeling pretty positive about my bird. Thanks for your vote. Fingers crossed she will survive!

  3. Hooray for the idea that made your eyes shine! And good for you for having the patience to cope with all the stops and starts you needed to get to it.

    Have you ever read EB White on his wife Katherine’s writing process? “She would write 8 or 10 words, then draw her gun and shoot them down.” For me, it’s lines, not words, but otherwise the process is similar, at least at the start.

  4. Thanks for your cheers for patience. I had not heard that EB White quote, and it made me smile. I expect there were a lot of flying bullets in that house. I know he said that after some of his drafts were given to the archives at Cornell, his fire insurance went way down.

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