A Writer's Love Affair

I’ve had several love affairs in my writing life. I’ve carried a torch for the semi-colon, for little used words and old books, and for fine writing tools that inspire beautiful penmanship, fast fading into a lost art. But my long-standing affair has been with the public library. It’s my haven, my safe house, my desert island, my escape hatch – shelves lined with books brimming with conversations waiting to be had, lessons to be learned, and friends eager to be discovered.

My family had immigrated to the United States just before I was born, so when I started school, English tiptoed around in my vocabulary. In the beginning, reading was non-existent, but my classroom had a small library, a treasure chest of picture books, which became a magnet for my attention. My first favorite was filled with bold, somewhat terrifying drawings that lifted the imagination to soaring heights. Could I, a small person, command an army of large monsters? Of course I could. Every time I opened Where the Wild Things Are. I didn’t have a magic wand, but I learned all about the power of drawing in Harold and the Magic Crayon.

By the time I exhausted the school library, my English had sprung to life, and I found a teacher who fanned my newly discovered passion. She pointed me to the nearest public library. A book lover’s paradise. From that time on, I became a regular, a follower of all public libraries. Many a kindly librarian pointed me to books that entranced and happily consumed me. I blame my addiction to libraries for my myopic vision. For my preference to view things up close and personal. To understand and make sense before moving to the next step. For creating and expanding my imagination. For making my world a wondrous one.

Writer's Block or Writer's Rebellion

Yesterday, in a fit of writer’s rebellion, I refused to write. Instead, I turned to a nearly foot-high pile of long neglected, fluff magazines. I started by reading the cover headlines:

“99 Ways to Look Super,” “Be Prettier,” “Get Gorgeous,” “Lose Weight Without Dieting,” “A Food Lover’s Guide to Weight Loss,” “Sweat Free Ways to Lose Weight,” “How to Turn Him On,”  “Sexy Sex,” “Sexy Exercise,” “Get in a Better Mood,” “Get Happy,” “Get Ecstatic,” and “Diseases You’re Likely to Get.”

These came from the covers of four magazines geared toward women. Do you notice any pattern? That’s right. I need to subscribe to a wider variety of periodicals. And if I write an article about looking good, losing weight, better sex, altering attitudes, up and coming diseases, or any reasonable combination of the foregoing, it’ll likely get published.

Then I picked up a few magazines geared toward writers. Each covered the topic of  “Writer’s Block.”

I don’t believe in Writer’s Block. Perhaps it’s part of a conspiracy to keep novice or jittery writers off the bookshelves.

Before I graduated law school, I was told by one and all: “There are too many lawyers already.” “You’ll never get a job in the entertainment business.” And, “You must work for a law firm first.”

I was fortunate in my legal career. Thanks to an exceptional, saintly attorney (not an oxymoron in this case) who took me under her wing, I went straight to a studio job. Why am I telling you this? So that you don’t believe everything you hear or read. Just because a magazine or other seemingly reliable news source tells you that you may be unhappy, overweight, or that something cannot be done or may be done only in a certain way, doesn’t mean it’s necessarily so.

Back to Writer’s Block. Does it exist? I think it occurs only because, sometimes, we writers don’t feel like writing. After all, if we were motivated, we wouldn’t be blocked.

Each magazine provided the same basic formula for overcoming blockage:

  • Use a journal to jot down ideas;
  • Break down the task into tiny pieces;
  • Try writing exercises;
  • Set deadlines and keep them; or
  • Start in the middle.

Perhaps these tips do help writers get motivated, and if so, that’s simply grand. However, I’ve found the strategies listed below to be personally more useful. I’d like to humbly share my means of kick-starting my writing when I’m not in the mood or suffering from a bit of rebellion:

  • Take a shower – I believe I could write the Great American Novel if only I could do all of my dictation and writing from within my shower walls. Water shooting over one’s person is a great source of mental stimulation.
  • Switch gears – Instead of trying to write, make friends with your vacuum, do the dishes, take a drive, exercise or work in the garden; sometimes these simple tasks elicit a flurry of creativity.)
  • Read – someone else’s book or a magazine may generate a new idea. I wrote an article about my sociopathic Australian Shepherd after reading a chapter of The Scarlet Letter. Sounds improbable, but true, and the article was published.
  • Do something you’ve never done before. (I tried weed whacking my back field; I managed to eradicate all errant weeds in a square foot strip, ripping only one pant leg in the process and requiring just a few stitches above one knee, before becoming sufficiently motivated to return to my literary pursuits.)
  • Keep the vision in your mind of how marvelous you’ll feel when it’s done.
  • Go out among the masses (for heaven’s sake, if this doesn’t give you stuff to write about, nothing will).

Be patient with yourself and realize everything starts with a little thought and desire, both of which are easily within our reach.

Jumping to Conclusions In Life and in Writing

One spring, several years ago, I discovered that my chickens were smarter than I was. That did not bode well with me. I have college and graduate school degrees. I speak 2.75 languages (meaning besides the two languages in which I’m somewhat fluent, I speak enough French and Spanish to order a glass of mineral water in a small, uncrowded European cafe). I even know how to color coordinate clothes.  And I’m capable of realizing that I should feel full after eating three slices of lemon meringue pie. But still, my chickens were smarter.

I feed them every morning. I give them water. All I expect in return, are a few eggs now and then. They’ve been fairly cooperative. But one hen, Coco, feeling rather broody, gathered sixteen eggs beneath her bottom when I turned away for a few moments. Then another hen, Ethel, climbed into an adjacent nesting box in a concerted attempt to monopolize all eggs.

Although their nesting boxes are separated by a two inch high wall, these hens managed to drive me crazy with their silly chicken games. One morning, I’d arrive to find Coco with ten eggs beneath her and Ethel with six; the next day, Coco sat on two with fourteen under Ethel and so on. When I dared reprimand them, they gave me the evil eye, throwing me looks that said,

“Don’t even think of touching these eggs or you’ll be at the bottom of our pecking order.

After two weeks of this nonsense (or hensense, in this case), I announced to my family that I planned on collecting all coop eggs and tossing them. These hens’ behavior was not conducive to hatching chicks.

“Doesn’t it take three weeks to hatch a chicken egg?” I asked. Son #2 reminded me. “Can’t you just give them another week?”

I caved in, knowing full well that there’d be no chicks. The same thing had happened last year.

Early one chilly morning, I stumbled out to the chicken area for the feeding. As usual, I peeked inside the coop to exchange dirty looks with the hens, but they ignored me. Instead a tiny gray head, no bigger than my thumbnail, stared back, covering me with a thin film of guilt.  A beautiful little chick.

I always periodically jump to conclusions about people and situations. It’s a habit that’s hard  to break.  You’d think I’d know by now that thoughts should be weighed carefully before being expressed, and only then with wisdom and understanding. Giving careful consideration to our thoughts, and our writing, gives time for ideas to fully develop and hatch into something that could end up quite beautiful. When I don’t give the written word the time and attention it deserves, I end up wasting energy and words. Pondering even just a bit, can make all the difference.