Tag Archives: writer’s block

Inertia, a Writer’s Dangerously Pleasant Anchor

26 Aug

I just don’t feel like writing today. This makes no sense because I love to write. However, today I just want to lie here, wrapped in this cozy blanket of summer memories, and watch the world pass me by.

Corn and bean field: Succotash

Have you ever wondered where succotash grows? Well, here’s a crop just outside Lancaster PA. 🙂

It has been a wonderful summer, filled with travel and family, good food, and idleness out the wazoo. I played in the salt, hung out with Marine buddies I haven’t seen in nearly ten years, and stumbled upon a succotash field—all adventures that would not have been possible if I hadn’t left my writing chair. All the while, my trusty laptop has sat idle by my side. Sure, I checked email and played a few crossword puzzles with the thing, but I wrote only two blog posts in six weeks. I thought about writing. I pondered various blog topics. I felt inspired to write on many occasions by my surroundings. But somehow, no words actually made it to the page.

Regrettably, I’ll bet that if I were to add up all the moments between actual adventures, I’d probably realize that I spent much of my summer doing absolutely nothing…staring at the miles upon miles of Iowa cornfields as we drove past, sitting in hotel rooms gazing at mindless television just because the thing was on, watching other people go about their lives. Prime, inspiration-filled writing days down the drain.

Boats on the Trent River

Watching the boats at sunrise. What would I name my boat? That could be an entire blog…

On my most recent trip to a U.S. Marine Combat Correspondents conference in New Bern, NC, I spent much of our non-meeting time looking out the hotel window at the lovely Trent River Harbor, a relaxed and peaceful boat-packed city where time practically stands still. By my third day there I’d given names to the two SCUBA divers who leave every morning on what are surely the most amazing quests I’ll never know about; to the dog walker and her Westie, who stopped to greet everyone on the path; and to the man with the bucket and hose, who moved methodically from one pier to the next, scrubbing yachts in preparation for weekend voyages. But instead of writing about them, I just stared and thought.

I wasted nearly an hour one morning trying to catch a train bridge in motion. Every time I looked out the window, it would be either opened to boat traffic or closed to let a train chug across the river…yet I could never catch it in the act of rotating.  I’d leave my post for only a second and, bam, it would change.

I wasted more time wondering how many copies of Caged Sparrow I’d have to sell to afford a yacht of my own, what I’d name my yacht if I had one (so far, I’m leaning toward Page Turner), and wondering what I’d actually do on it because I wouldn’t want to sail it myself. I think that if I couldn’t convince my hubby to skipper the thing, I’d just keep it moored and spend every waking minute on the shaded deck enjoying the rhythmic rocking and smell of salt water while I write…or think about writing.

I told myself it’s okay.

You’re on vacation. You can write when you get home.

But I didn’t. I kept watching the world. It feels terrible to not write, as if there’s an anchor pulling my creativity to the bottom of the river, and potential beauty is just sinking away…but I’m lying here, letting it happen.

This morning, after being back four days and finding myself still in idle mode, it struck me. I’ve inertia-ed myself into a state of mind atrophy. I liked doing nothing. I liked it too much. I think our minds react to laziness the same way our bodies do, and the only way to get back on the writing track is to actually write. So here I am, with nothing special to say but the urge to say it anyway. We’ll call this blog my stretching exercise, and hopefully I’ll be back running next week.

Hey, would you like to help? Let’s try a writing experiment. Give me a topic, any topic…preferably something that’s not math-related. Either add it to the comment box below or send me an email at RoseFitz.portraitwriter@gmail.com. I’ll blog about the top three suggestions throughout September (right after I tell you why I think retired Marines are the greatest people on earth.)

Who knows, perhaps you’re the one who will wake me up, for which I thank you in advance, or I will after my nap.

______________________________________

How long will you lie there, you sluggard? When will you get up from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest—and poverty will come on you like a thief and scarcity like an armed man. — Proverbs 6:9-11

Real Freelancers Don’t Wear Flannel: ADD and Other Time-sucking Distractions

24 Apr

I’m learning some valuable lessons about working from home.

First and foremost, it’s nothing like the pictures in the brochures.

You know what I mean, all those things we imagined back when we were thinking about quitting that Day Job to start our own business—hanging out in pjs and slippers, tossing down the bon-bons and sipping from a glass of Chateau Morrisette’s Sweet Mountain Laurel while somehow creating reams upon reams of productivity every day.

Well I’m here today to tell you, that’s all rather bunk-ish.

Thinking of taking the leap? It’s not for the faint-hearted, my friends. And by faint-hearted I mean people who like to eat…anything other than Ramen noodles. Right off the bat I can tell you that bon-bons and Sweet Mountain Laurel are NOT in the budget. Nor are they conducive to prolific prose (although I do believe that some of my greatest work was—no, never mind…I just re-read it).

Sadly, I realized almost from Day One that the pajamas would have to go. It’s difficult to take work seriously when dressed in flannel strawberries. Also, there seems to be some strange subliminal connection between pajamas and sleeping that makes it impossible to stay awake for any great length of time. In fact, the first reams of production that this writer produced consisted of 24 forehead-induced pages of the letter “h,” in seemingly endless rows. When I awoke and tried to read it, my first thought was, “How cool, church pews!”

And, of course, to keep you from breaking away to type a bunch of “h” rows on your computer, I shall provide:

hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh
hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh
hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

And then, of course, I had to type 25 other letter rows to be sure the “h” has the coolest character. I decided the “m” is rather intriguing as well, because it looked like something I could fall asleep on…

mmmmmmmmmmmmmm

…which brings me to the second giant oak tree of a barrier that has fallen across the road ahead of me: Attention Deficit Disorder.

I’m learning that I will break for anything.

  • I break to watch the cat bathe. It’s mesmerizing how he can move his leg like that. I can verify that it’s not a feat humans should attempt to replicate because I gave it a shot (ADD at its finest moment) and nearly had to call 911. Fortunately, I was in my pajamas so I just slept it off until my limbs unfolded.
  • I break to check my blog traffic…every fifteen minutes. (By the way, whoever you are in Brazil, boa tarde and thanks for noticing me. Your visits make me feel like an international star!) Watching blog stats can be addicting if you aren’t careful. Every time someone views my pages, I know it. Sadly, that’s all I know: someone was there. I just wish the data could tell me if you read it all, if you liked it, if you hated it, if I made you giggle at least once, and if right now you ‘re lifting my words for some motivational poster that’s going to come to me on the next social media mass-mailing, or worse, to be used in a class on how NOT to write. For the most part, checking stats makes me smile. Plus, I’m still so new at this blog thing that every time someone “shares” a post rather than just “like” it, I do a grateful little happy dance, which, for someone with ADD, could also lead to a 911 call.
  • Even the food mocks me

    You Rack Diciprine!

    I break for food. Sometimes when I’m not at all hungry. The fridge has a telepathic ability to serenade me from the kitchen, and, as with any other earworm, I cannot get its song out of my head. The avocado will go bad in three minutes if you don’t eat it! …Chicken, I got some chicken heah! And the worst: Ahh, sweet, velvety chocolate; Easter is over, you can’t leave this stuff lying around!

  • I break for email. Even e-mail from stranded Sudanese princes who need to put millions in my bank account to protect it from Somali pirates.

OK, that last isn’t true. Everyone knows even the Somali pirates have my account numbers.

My point is, I still haven’t mastered the art of what I’ve heard writer (and probably quip-lifter) Alton Gansky call “butt-in-seat” focus. I’m averaging about five hours of real writing each day.

On the helpful side, I’m fortunate in that my current project, Joe’s story, still fascinates me, and that some days he’s my greatest distraction—I really want to see how this book is going to end. I keep the pages open on my computer so whenever I DO untangle myself and sit down, I’m immediately drawn into them and start typing.

So,

  • Get dressed: check.
  • Turn off the computer sound, so the email ding doesn’t: check.
  • Keep sitting back down: check.

I’m sure there are many other words of wisdom my fellow ADD freelancers can share that will help us all up our game. Care to share? We’re all ears…what are your tricks for keeping at it?

(Ha! I just realized how mean that question is. I’ll understand if you don’t answer…but you can’t not, can you?)

Fire and Water: Wrestling with Doubt #739

30 Oct

The fire crackled with life as it swept its way across a stack of manuscripts, greedily consuming page after page. Through tears I watched the pristine white papers transform into thin, black feathery curls that peeled off, danced momentarily with the updraft and then drifted resignedly down into the ashes.

Fire consumes a life's work

Death of a Dream

I thought I might be able to rescue a scrap or two by pushing some of the charred lumps to the side of the fireplace, but my mother must have read my mind. She grabbed the metal poker and stabbed at the carbon-coated mass to separate the blackened pages; she was determined to destroy every remnant. I could smell the words in the stench of burnt ink that wafted around me. I was 14, and newly enamored with the life and writings of Laura Ingalls Wilder. This was my first experience with death.

“Writing is a waste of time,” she spat, her breath so laden with alcohol I worried the fire might flare if she got too close. Her eyes were bloodshot and her hair was matted against her head with the sweat from days of neglect. She pointed the poker at my chest and slurred, “Don’t you dare tell me you want to be a writer.  It’s a pointless dream that will amount to nothing, and 40 years from now you’ll be a sorry loser, wishing you’d never started.”

She flung the poker wildly, just missing my head, and staggered from the room. I stayed there for hours, sobbing and staring at the black pit long after the fire died, trying to come to grips with the idea that every word, every sentence, and every page of every story my mother had ever written, was gone forever.

Today, nearly 40 years later, I am profoundly aware of the significance that moment has had in my journey. Somewhere in my heart, I believed her. I’ve spent the past 40 years skipping along the edge of the sea, yearning. Occasionally I’ve ventured ankle-deep, savoring the warmth and trying to imagine what’s “out there.” But I’ve never leapt with abandon. People ask me what I’m afraid of, and I remember the charred remains of dreams and the scent of unread words. It is my image of hopelessness.

That was the image in my heart this morning after I missed yet another self-imposed writing goal. I could hear my mother mocking me, reminding me that I have no business dreaming when there’s work to be done. Another failure. Who am I fooling?

But I cannot quell that constant, gentle song of unwritten words that calls to me above the din of the world’s demands. As is my habit, rather than follow the call, I tend to lash myself to the Siren of perceived obligation that is my “real job.” How did things get so backward?

Then this morning I read a familiar verse in the book of Jeremiah (29:11), and it spoke to me anew:
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

I’m reminded that I can start again and again, as often as I wish to, because I have hope and a future. There’s a whole big ocean of possibility out there and I’ve not even dared to snorkel across the top. The only thing stopping me is me. I can choose whether to listen to voices past or the voice of the future. It’s not a waste of time. It’s His plan.

And He says, “C’mon in, the water is fine!”

 —–

“Decide that you want it more than you are afraid of it” Bill Cosby

Sweet Summer Sunday

16 Sep

My brain has been dulled by a frantic search for unwritten words; I’ve been fooled by the calendar and its desire to propel me forward toward self-imposed deadlines. The leap-frog days of July and August have ushered summer off the stage, because that’s what days do. They usher in busyness.
On cue, school buses rev their engines, football stadiums open their doors, and mulch flyers find their way to our doorsteps. Candy corn is back on the store shelves. The woodpile has been stocked. It must be autumn.

Butterfly in the garden

Sweet sip of summer

But apparently, Nature does not use a calendar. Nor does Nature rush. So, this afternoon, when I could have been writing, I instead found myself lying on a park bench by the pond—eyes closed, pen lost—letting the sun bake my to-do list as if it were a bonfire marshmallow. I savored the rustling of the lush green trees, which showed no sign of changing color, and the gentle clucking of the ducks and geese, who seemed in no hurry to leave. I breathed in a summer bouquet: grilled steaks, roses in bloom, and freshly mowed grass. For the first time in months, I just rested. It took valiant resolve to rouse myself at sunset and head home.
Tonight I lie awake, listening to the symphony outside my open window as crickets and toads toast the glorious moon. I’m pulled from my bed, enticed by their joy. Telling myself I’m going to regret this in the morning, I quietly slip outside to listen to the concert and stare at the stars. There’s a soft rustling in the trees as they sway—perhaps we’re listening to the same song. Nope, I won’t regret this.
It has been a lovely day. A lovely, summer day. And in this peace, in the quiet of God’s amazing display of beauty and perfection, at last, the words come.

I am not a-mused

23 Jul

I’m waging a valiant, but losing battle Spoon on the keyboardagainst the demons of distraction—those self-centered brain sprites who care not a whit that I have a writing deadline to meet today. I will NOT go online, I say to them, I’m writing! At least, I would be if you’d just hush.

But they dance noisily through my brain, screaming like late-night infomercial salesmen…

“Why so serious? Writer’s what? Well that sounds boring. Hey, you know what was fun? That movie…the one with that guy in it? You know, the dopey one with the girl who did that thing? Who WAS that? Perhaps you should look it up!”

No, I say firmly. No online. None. It’s just me, my muse, and my Word doc—hey, how did that screen open? Well, as long as it’s here I’ll just type it in. Yes, Richard Gere. I thought so. Now if you would just—

I look across the room and notice the sprites have lured my muse away with a quart of jamoca fudge ice cream. Useless ditz. Usually I keep her close with a box of chocolate chip cookies. I couldn’t get her attention now if I piped in chocolate direct from Pennsylvania. . .but that makes me think of—oh, what’s that place we used to go to for that incredible chocolate Easter candy? I’ll just search it really quick. Criminy! Who knew there were so many chocolatiers in Pennsylvania? Oh, my, that one has tours; and this one is right across the border. How far is that from Woodbridge?

Stop it, stop it, STOP IT!

My muse is now in a jamoca fudge stupor, dancing around the room like a wood nymph while the sprites clap with delight. She’s oblivious to the cascade of ideas trailing behind her, tumbling across the floor like dry leaves in the breeze and disappearing behind the furniture.

Hey, those were MY ideas, I shout. Pull yourself together! I race to save a precious few but they seem to disintegrate the moment they’re out of sight.

Speaking of leaves, did anyone from the north east notice that the ends of nearly all the trees are blighted with dead leaves? I did, and yep, I looked it up. See here, it says that’s called flagging. Those are the last traces of our recent cicada visit. The trees will be fine next spring.

Dash it! That was a 30-minute detour. And while we’re at it, I absolutely abhor the sound of sprite giggle.

I decide I’ve got to do something about that low-wattage nitwit before she loses everything, so I quickly start typing: “It was a dark and stormy, um, um…”

She can’t help herself; she twirls by to see where I’m going with it. Quick as a wink, I lasso her with a noun string and tie her to the chair beside me. She rolls her eyes, or perhaps she’s trying to focus. She starts patting her now-empty pockets and looks up all wide-eyed and innocent, but I have no sympathy for her fudge-faced self. I hold my hand out, palm up, and give her my sternest no-nonsense look.

She pulls out a crumpled, cocoa-stained, barely legible morsel of thought—the last measly scrap of idea she has left. I snatch at it and read it hungrily, but it contains only two disappointing words:

“Writer’s Block.”

I can’t write about writer’s block, I sputter. What kind of idea is that?

But my question goes unanswered; my muse is now slumped over and snoring with abandon. It’s pointless to wake her. She’s going to hate herself in the morning.

So now it’s just me. Even the sprites have gone to bed. I look back down at the paper and then return to my keyboard, because I have to post something

And so I do. Take THAT, my muse-less salad spinner.

. . .And because I just know you’re wondering, the search engine brought up 11,600,000 results for “Writer’s Block.”