I love to write; I love the process of writing, of putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. I even love editing what I write, sharpening sentences and parsing paragraphs until I am at least moderately satisfied with them.
But the best part of writing is the actual writing, finding the words and phrases that will clearly express my thoughts. Sometimes this part is easy; often it is difficult.
Sometimes the words filter down from my brain to my fingers to my computer screen without any pregnant pauses or lapses of creativity and it is those moments, few and far between though they may be, that help me believe being a writer is a worthwhile profession.
There are many other times, however, when I stare at the screen and rack my brain for the word or phrase or story direction I need and nothing comes. I confess it is at those times that I’m tempted to open a window, toss my computer out, making sure that I hear a satisfying crash on the driveway as mother board meets gravel and give up writing altogether. But I don’t.
Instead of giving up, I get up.
I find that trying too hard for too long inhibits creativity, so I leave my chair and turn to doing a mundane task. It doesn’t matter what I do as long as it requires little thought or concentration. Ironing laundry is good; so is vacuuming the floor or washing the dishes or the car.
I don’t think about my writing dilemma, but I don’t not think about it, either. My mind wanders around somewhere in limbo for awhile and then, perhaps while I’m ironing a sleeve, the answer pops into my head and I think, Oh yes, that’s the word I wanted, or as I’m putting away the clean plates I realize, That’s how the story-line should progress.
When this happens I immediately stop whatever is it I’m doing and write down what had previously eluded me.
I can’t stress enough the necessity of committing words to paper immediately. No matter how great your memory is or how great you think your memory is, it’s been my sad experience that memory is not to be trusted when it comes to storing wonderful ideas for retrieval later on.
Quite often ideas come to me while I’m in the shower, but if I take the time to dry off and dress and then of course make the bed and think about what to take out of the freezer for supper, I find that my memory has stored my ‘great idea’ somewhere deep within its cavernous black walls where I can’t reach it.
Sometimes it returns to me in the middle of the night and my eyes fly open as if I’ve heard a burglar on the stairs, but most times the ideas are buried too deep for mere sleep to dislodge.
When I’m old and living in a nursing home the long-forgotten words will probably spout out of my mouth and I’ll have no idea why or what they mean and it will be too late for me to use them as I had originally intended.
So I write them down. I have notepads spread throughout my house and it is not unusual for me to run from the supper table to the nearest notepad to scratch a few words down on paper, or dash, towel-covered, from the bathroom to my computer to record ideas while they are still wet. My late husband used to tell me that this habit was just one more of my little idiosyncrasies that made me all the more endearing to him; other family members are not quite as kind with their remarks.
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“Mom, for goodness sake please put some clothes on,” my son says when he finds me tap-tapping on my laptop at the dining room table, clad only in a Sears bath sheet.
“Sorry dear,” I say, when I raise my head from the keyboard. “Oh hi, Larry, hi Scott–I didn’t know Shane had friends over,” and I quickly exit stage left, like Snagglepuss the tiger, to don pants and a t-shirt and to locate my modest-mother persona that I had apparently misplaced. (Sometimes I find it hidden in my sock drawer; other times it has crawled under my bed to chat with the family of dust-bunnies living there.)
Besides using notepads to write down new thoughts, I also use them to keep track of ‘found’ words or ideas that pop into my head. I figure they arrived for a reason and sooner or later I’ll discover what that reason is; in the meantime it’s my duty to write them down.
For that same reason I also write down phrases from radio and television and conversations that catch my attention. If words jump out of the airwaves at me, they must be important. I’ve written down such things as “Private Demons”, “When I was a little girl”, and “Searching for wealth in a war zone”. I’m sure I’ll need those phrases eventually and when that time comes I’ll be happy I captured them when I did.
So my advice to writers everywhere is to never give up, even when words taunt you with their elusiveness. Sometimes they are hiding in plain sight and will reappear when they think you’ve lost interest in them.
Never ironed a pillowcase before? Try it–you might find a new short story tucked in its folds. Never waxed your car? Could be golden words in that chamois.
Do whatever you have to do to keep those words flowing like wine. Oh–wine! It’s five o’clock somewhere, I’m sure; must be time for a glass of wine.