Writer’s Block — A Cure

writing a blog

I realize that talking to a bunch of bloggers about writing is like trying to teach a dolphin how to swim.  (It isn’t really necessary and annoys the hell out of the dolphin.)  However, here I am because I know that anyone who’s ever touched pen to paper has suffered from writer’s block, writer’s cramp and — that worst of all literary maladies — writer’s fatigue.  I’m sure even the great Billy Shakespeare sat around, on more than one occasion, twiddling his quill and thinking, “I’m going to quit this bullshit and sign on with Drake.”  (Sir Francis, not the other guy.)  So, in the interest of keeping literature alive in these troubled times, here are a few tips to get the ink flowing again, when, for some reason, it gets stuck in the pen.  (I know, I know!  Nobody writes with a pen anymore – but I like the metaphor.)

Walk Away – It took Margaret Mitchell 10 years to write Gone with the Wind.  Turning your computer off for a couple of hours isn’t going to kill anyone.

Make a Cup of Tea – The Brits, who are the most literary people in the world, use tea as a cure-all for everything from a broken leg to a totally botched Brexit.  And they’ve been doing it since John Milton versed out Paradise Lost in the 17th century.  (That’s a lot of words under Tower Bridge, my friend!)  What tea does is slow you down.  It separates you from the real world.  It gives you a wall or a window to stare at.  It’s warm, it’s cozy and it forces you to think.  Which leads us to Item #3

It’s About You – Instead of trying to forge a Brave New World out of thin air, you need to get back to basics.  Start with you, because even though you might be the most kale salad, whole wheat, Friday night Netflix, middle-class-dull person in the history of ordinary … life has happened to you.  You have memories.  A red house.  A stupid Tweet.  A grocery clerk.  Morgan Freeman’s smile.  Grab one (it doesn’t matter which one) and write it down.

Ask The Questions – Every story from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales to Niall Ferguson’s The Square and the Tower is merely who, what, where, when and why.  It’s not brain science or rocket surgery – that’s all there is.  Answer those questions and you have a story but …

Don’t Paint A Picture – Insisting on the exact right word ad infinitum eats up creative energy, so keep it simple.  Lose the adverbs; lose the adjectives.  This isn’t War and Peace, for God sake!  Call it a sleigh not a seasonal horse-drawn transportation device.  Less is more.  Tell the tale.

Some Things Don’t Matter – I don’t know how long it took Herman Melville to come up with “Call me Ismael” but he could have written “Call me Brenda.” and Moby Dick would still be unreadable.  So, don’t waste time sweating the details.  Your job is to get words on paper.

And finally:

Remember – If you have the audacity to string words together, you have a responsibility to your audience.  Because, as Galadriel said to Frodo in The Lord of the Rings, “This task was appointed to you, and if you do not find a way, no one will.”

And that’s a sin.

10 Side Effects Of Being A Writer (Plus 1)

writer4I have spent half my life writing for money.  I truly believe I’ve got the best gig in the universe.  However, there are some serious drawbacks.  So, for all those people who think that touching pen to paper is a worthy way to spend their time, here are some of the evil side effects of being a writer.

1 — You must take an involuntary vow of poverty.  Unless your name is J R Rowling, Stephanie Meyer or that soulless word whore, E.L. James, you’re going to be poor.  The reality is 99% of all writers make less money than Bulgarian shepherds.  If you’re content with that, great: if not, buy some sheep.

2 — You spend a lot of time (A-LOT-OF-TIME) alone.  Political prisoners in China have more human interaction than writers do.

3 — You never actually get a vacation.  You just go to work in a different city.

4 — You learn to like all kinda weird crap like cold coffee, warm Pepsi, celery, carrot sticks and the gooey bits in the middle of Oreos.

5 — Every person you meet has a “fantastic” idea for a novel that would “really sell.”  All they need is someone to “help” them write it.

6 — Over the years, you become a fountain of useless information.  Unfortunately, by the time you’ve amassed this trivia encyclopedia, you’re too damn old to go on Jeopardy.

7 — You pray for rain.

8 — You discover everybody’s a critic.  Your family, your friends, acquaintances, the woman who recognized you at the gas station, the guy whose email isn’t even close to coherent, people you’ve just met, people you’ve never met, people you’re never going to meet. In fact, put words on paper and it’s open season on your ego — get used to it.

9 — You become an absolute expert at avoidance behaviour.  My personal favourite is still Spider Solitaire.

10 — You spend more time worrying about things like the difference between “only had” and “had only” than you do about buying a car.

And the worst (or best) evil side effect of being a writer:

11 — If you’re not very, very careful, you’ll start having more fun with fictional people than you do with real ones.

The Mess Of The Desk

clutteredI have a drop-lid desk.  It’s very small and sits in the corner.  When I go away for any length of time, I organize it, shut my computer off, push it back in its place and close the lid.  My desk becomes an attractive piece of furniture — until I get back.  Unfortunately, once the lid is closed, nobody knows what goes on in there, and every time I come home and open it up, all hell breaks loose.  This is what I invariably find.

Mail — Here’s the deal: my bank pays my bills, my job is electronic and my friends (normally) live in the 21st century — so — I don’t get mail (except one monthly magazine that hasn’t figured out my subscription ran out in the 80s.)  However, the minute I leave my desk for more than one sleep …
Every pizza joint, realtor, Sham-Wow salesman, car dealership and landscaper has a burning need to tell me how cool they are.
Junk food throughout the known universe is on sale.
The federal government suddenly has two new pension options they want to share with me.
Tony, from high school, found some old photos he thought he’d just “send along.”
Great Aunt Vera got the dates mixed up and sent, not one but two, birthday cards — three months early.  (Yay!  Lottery tickets!)
And the whole stack, teetering on self destruction, just needs the vibration of my footsteps to slide backwards into, and get irretrievably tangled up with, the other evil — paper.

Paper — Clearly, the 3 or 4 hand-written notes-to-self I left neatly in the corner were overcome by separation anxiety and panicked — ’cause there’s paper everywhere.
Post-it notes, in colours I don’t even own, stuck in places I never stick them.
Telephone numbers, written on scraps of paper — without names, area codes or explanation.
A napkin with the address, 1641 Vine #202, written in scrolling script.  (Holy crap! The “i” is dotted with a heart!)
Receipts — lots of receipts.  (Who bought the toilet paper, mushrooms, ice cream scoop and hand sanitizer?)
The warranty card from a can opener that broke two Christmases ago.
A refund cheque from Costco.
The airline itinerary I couldn’t find.
And one cryptic message (in my handwriting) that just says, “Freeze the meat!”

Then, after fighting with the paper for hours, I make the mistake of turning on my computer.

WTF? Nobody gets 282 emails in a week!