Spring is always a busy time around our household. My husband and I own a two-acre lot and like to garden, so the last few weeks have been dedicated to clearing out last year’s foliage from the flower beds and turning over the soil in the vegetable patch. All this in anticipation for that perfect May day when both weather and soil are dry enough to poke a few seeds in the ground, which in Wisconsin happens about once a year.
It’s also been a few weeks since I’ve written a new story. I sit down at my desk every morning to scribble down notes and observations in my notebook or play around with a few sentences on my laptop only to backspace, backspace, backspace. Am I worried? No, not really. I’ve come to accept it as part of my process.
In the early days, I chalked it up to writer’s block like everyone else, then ate a bowl of Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia to soothe the ever-creeping fear that I’d somehow lost my mojo—or worse that the mojo never existed in the first place. Nonetheless, I still showed up at my desk every morning to diddle around, mainly because I didn’t have anything better to do. After a few days, maybe even a week or two, characters took shape, they began to disclose their secrets, and we were off on an adventure.
This past week I read an interesting article in the May/June 2019 issue of Poets & Writers by Camille T. Dungy entitled “Say Yes to Yourself.” In her piece, she says she doesn’t believe in writer’s block. Instead, she believes in what she calls fallow periods where one takes a pause to regenerate one’s creativity. Yet, she makes the point to state “…even with fallow fields, farmers sometimes need to do a little work. Amend the soil. Sow seeds that speed regeneration.”
Often when the words won’t come it’s because one of the following has happened:
Life Ran Away with the Spoon
Let’s face it, life gets the best of you sometimes. I mentioned this in my last post, but it’s worth repeating. There will always be people to care for and love. There will always be ten loads of laundry. There will always be weeds to pull. Sometimes it’s tough to maintain a balance. We get burnt out because the candle’s torched on both ends. Apologies for the cliché, but sometimes there’s no other truth than the obvious.
Dungy talks about needing to “amend the soil.” The way I amend my own soil is by scribbling down those notes in my notebook. Some days it’s me standing in the kitchen waiting for the soup to boil and a few words jotted down on the back of an envelope. The simple act of getting those words down on paper often triggers something within the subconscious, making it less difficult to enter into story once I have the time to get back to my desk. It’s a known fact that a great deal of story development happens when we’re least aware, however those ideas still need fertile ground to take root. Consider those notes compost.
The Cloistered Writer Will See You Now
There are times I need to remind myself it’s just as important to leave my desk and live life as it is to sit behind the keyboard pounding out words into some semblance of understanding. Sounds ridiculous—yes, I know. But it happens more often than one would like to admit.
Julia Cameron in her book, The Artist Way, suggests taking what she calls artist dates. Visit a museum. Listen to another writer read his/her work. Take a class. Slip into a café for not only the coffee, but for the atmosphere surrounding you. Watch children play in the park. Go for a walk by the river or in the woods. Bake bread. It not only feeds the writer, but also the soul.
Experiencing life, evoking the senses, observing the world around you gives color and texture to your writing. It might also provide the idea itself. Once I visited an exhibit at our local museum where community members displayed their personal collections. A ten-year-old boy exhibited his bouncy ball collection in a clear glass cylinder. All different colors, all different sizes. The placard next to it said each ball represented a day he lived without his best friend. Makes you want to know more about the boy and his relationship, doesn’t it?
There Haven’t Been Enough Questions Asked
It’s easy to become overwhelmed and complacent when the world’s media, in all its varied forms, bombards us 24/7. All the sudden we’re David facing Goliath with a pebble in our hand unsure if we have the arm strength to take the giant down. I’ll be honest, on a bad day this can stop me cold.
There are two cures for this, I think:
- Turn off the distraction.
- Ask questions.
How can two people who were married for twenty years no longer love one another?
What if Sharon’s mother went back into the house instead of getting on the bus?
Why does Thomas feel the need to build a bomb shelter behind the barn?
What can she forgive, but never forget?
And the list goes on.
Curiosity begs for answers. Story is a means of unlocking them, but the questions must first be asked.
Regular practice, observation, and curiosity are my seeds for regeneration. What are yours? If you’d like to share, feel free to leave a comment below.
Also if you have any writing questions and/or topics you’d like to see addressed on this blog, please contact me here. I’d love to hear from you.