Category: News

One Writer's Slip-ups

We all slip-up once in a while by either saying or doing something we wish we hadn’t. This is nothing to be ashamed of. I say this, recalling that when I was a neophyte attorney, I once asked a seasoned lawyer an irregular question. The mere recollection of my query still makes me wince; it was idiotic of me. Don’t ask me to repeat it because I won’t. (However, rest assured, that for a small fee, I may be convinced).

The more we speak and act without thinking, the greater the risk of a slip-up. Sometimes, words or situations escape our grasp. We may be distracted, tired, naive (as in the case of my own wayward question) or otherwise mentally distraught, causing us to act uncharacteristically.

Words and actions depict us (and in our writing, they depict our characters), furnishing the elements of our personalities and dictating the direction of situations. These same words and actions can also deform us, if not properly presented. I experienced a near miss recently while volunteering at the library. I was placed in charge of tracing missing books, a task for which I seemed to have an uncanny knack. The head librarian patted me on the back because I’d located books they’d been seeking for weeks. I became known as the Book Hunter.

Soon after, I found yet another missing tome, and then did something that could have smirched my reputation. I put the book down somewhere and found myself a victim of ROA (Rapid Onset Amnesia). I retraced my steps (or what I thought could have been my steps), and thankfully, the matter of my idiocy remained private; I’d inadvertently shelved the book while pausing to skim a few paragraphs of another. I emerged untarnished.

In our writing life, however, these slip-ups make for interesting situations. For twists and turns. In my Book Two that I’m currently working on, my heroine leaves something incriminating behind at a crime scene because she was distracted. To make things worse, the discriminating item doesn’t even belong to her, but belongs to her best friend. Slip-ups in real life don’t work so well. In the writing life, they are a necessity.

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.