Wednesday, January 29, 2014

At a Loss for Words

Olympic Champions, Virtue and Moir

Most people believe that a writer, suddenly inspired, goes running to the nearest table and jots the ideas down. While it may happen that way sometimes, there are many more days when a hapless author stares at a blank page, at a loss for words.

What can be done?

You could run to the nearest search engine and look up Ten Tips for overcoming Writer's Block. I must admit I have done this more times than I can count. I have also come up with my own lists, but in the end, I decided to approach writing as a trained athlete does their sport. Years of figure skating began with the simple act of lacing up my skates. Once on the ice, we were wedded to our warm up. At the start, we just skated, slowly, and then with increasing speed, circling around the rink. With our arms whizzing through the air, the great muscles in the body starting to warm up, crossovers were executed, and smaller circles were covered. Then we turned and skated backwards, back crossovers were done, with our knees bending easily. Next a great jump, the simplest one, the three jump. Once, twice, aiming for greater height, aiming to nail the landing. With a feeling of confidence, we tried a more difficult maneuver.

For the writer, it is not so very different. It begins with coffee. I like to check Facebook, email, Twitter, and any other thing I can think of before I get dressed, take a brisk walk, or do Yoga and then sit down and open the great document. For me, this is the hardest. John Lennon once went years without picking up his guitar, but when he did, the songs flowed out of him like a river. Ernest Hemingway advised that one should not write to the last idea in your head the day before; it is better to leave a little something for the next day. That should make getting started easier, provided, of course that you can remember what that little something was.

Stick with the same place. I need to have my gaze facing water. I need a dedicated space. I do not wander around with my computer. I need to be in the slot.

Keep inspirational icons near at hand. Two pictures of my children sit on my desk. I want them to know that I did what I set out to do. I have a plaque of my strengths as given to me by Gallop:  Intellection, Arranger, Connectedness, Learner and Context. An index card stating what I need to keep in mind is at my left. A bit of crockery my son made in a pottery class holds my pens. Mail that needs answering and a few other things are scattered here and there. It is always personal, even when I worked in a cubicle, it had to have a few mementos, to remind me of home. The rest of the room is stuffed with pictures of the people I love, watercolors on the wall that have been around for most of my life, a mirror of my mother's and on and on. I favor clutter, and always have; it makes me feel cozy somehow. A pine book case with a glass door holds my diaries. A notebook at my right is a running portrait of my brain. All these things help me to get started.

I get up frequently and move. Too much sitting stagnates the thoughts. I think about lunch all morning. I hate being interrupted and will not take calls until the afternoon. I will not clean house, or tackle  any other big tasks until my writing is done.

Ten pages a day. If I am really stuck, I tell myself, I can do ten pages. So that is where I am: on the fifth draft with ten pages daily of revision. Often times it is more, but that does not mean I get off the hook with five the next day.

Read, read, read and read some more. Did you know that a recent study identified readers of fiction having different brain patterns for at least five days after finishing a book? Read the first sentence of each book on the shelf. That will set your imagination in motion. It is an active creature after all.

Give yourself as much quiet time as you can swing. Here in Windy Bay, on Lake Coeur d' Alene, there are lovely woodsy roads that are as quiet as a church. I soak in as much silence as I can each and every day. In order to have thoughts spring to mind, you have to make room for them. Worries, cares and strife of every kind must be dealt with systematically, with the hours for writing carved out. If it means the baby's nap time, or the wee hours before work, or the midnight oil after, we have all been there and done that.

Be stubborn. Be selfish, driven, focused and above all obstinate because everyone in sundry will try to get you to do anything else, but what you set out to do first and foremost.

Ask for help. Isn't it so often the case that what we put last should be first? This is by far the hardest for me, and I daresay the most necessary. If you are struggling, reach out. It may be just the thing to put you over the top.


Jennifer Rova said...

Excellent analogy. Thanks for the motivation and the useful tips.

Elizabeth S. Brinton said...

Thanks for the comment. Let me know if they work, please, or if you have any to add.