Writer’s Block: The Obligatory Post

Some writers insist there is no such thing as writer’s block, and they are blessed with steady production for as long as their writing careers last. Not every writer is so lucky. Writer’s block can strike at any time, for any reason. Sometimes it lasts for a few hours. Sometimes it goes on for a day, or a week, or a month. When it goes on for more than a year it can jeopardize the writer’s career and make them question everything they ever put on paper.

Writer’s block doesn’t mean you can’t write any more ever. It means that for whatever reasons, the idea train isn’t leaving the station. There are myriad articles describing methods of jump-starting stalled creativity, but the same answers don’t work for everyone. Keeping on creating is a very personal and individual process for every writer, and sometimes it’s possible to try too hard and make the problem worse.

It was October, and I had just finished my second novel. I sat at my desktop computer waiting for inspiration to strike, but nothing was coming from my fingertips. What was I going to do for my next book? I had nothing. No new ideas, no fresh emotion, nothing I felt passionately about to set down on the page. I was empty. The blank white screen was mocking me, intimidating me. I held down a key and a stream of Ks raced across the page. There, no more emptiness, but I still didn’t have a book to write. I deleted the page and opened a fresh new page–another blank space. I needed a break from the emptiness on the page that mirrored the emptiness inside me.

I checked my email. I read the news. I made sure there was no frost tonight in the weather forecast. Then I went to YouTube. Cute animals provided me with twenty minutes of distraction, but I still had forty minutes left of writing time. I examined the thumbnails on the right side of the page. Mixed in with pet cats and dogs were various wild creatures, and one of them looked very unlikely. It was a fish, but a fish like I had never seen before. It had to be a fake, a movie special effect or something. I selected the video and watched the long, sinuous eellike body, the strange rippling fin, the staring robot eyes. This thing was no fake, it was real–a weird, ugly fish I would have a nightmare about that night.

But I had my inspiration, my evil force, my “bad guy” which would inspire the book I was about to write. I closed my browser and started typing furiously. That’s how Eve of Darkness was born.

 

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My Haunted Village

This month I will give you a brief tour of my haunted Halloween cemetery. This idea sprang from the day I picked up three cheap plastic tombstones from the local craft store to put on my windowsill for Halloween. Now it covers a 3 x 3 end table and a 1.5 x 2 foot addition, and it keeps growing every year. Please forgive the photography. I have decided to blame my camera, which is an older digital one, and not my own poor closeup picture-taking skills.

monuments

I have collected these cemetery monuments from various places. A portion of them are from Lemax, as is the fence and all the figures. In the background on the right you can see one of my two skeleton gunslingers. Behind him is the haunted resin tree stump that I painted for inclusion in the cemetery.

monument and Cthulhu

Resurrection Cemetery prides itself on being open to all faiths. On the lower right you can see a small gravestone with a representation of Cthulhu. I bought the statue online and made a base for it out of polymer clay, matching the color of the statue as closely as I was able. On the top left you can see the blurry image of my second skeleton gunslinger.

Death and coffins

On the left Death is hovering over a pile of coffins. In front of the coffins is the small (dead) pond outline that I created from pebbles. You can see a silver fish skeleton just over the top rail of the fence.

violin player

This is my newest acquisition, the violin player. To his left is the entrance to the cemetery, with a bench for mourners. On the right in back are the two Louis XIV skeletal figures in a dance pose. Note in back of the French figures the bare tree with Mothman hanging upside down. The background I created for my cemetery is a special combination of several types of sand and glue layered in a special method. I chose the dark coloration to mimic the visual effects of moonlight in a cemetery.

I have expanded my real estate to include a farm (not shown). I’m looking forward to doing a little more each year. Eventually I hope my setup will cover a full tabletop, and I would like to add a chapel, a mausoleum, and perhaps a haunted cornfield for my farm.

Many people have Christmas villages. But heck, never mind a Christmas village–I’m having too much fun with my Halloween graveyard!

 

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Renasence

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–image from Wikimedia Commons

I’d never seen anything like it, that pool of foul black water filling my kitchen sink. A faint watery sound was coming from the cabinet under the sink. I opened the cabinet door and saw a rivulet of filthy water trickling down the side of the garbage disposal unit. This time, the offensive machine was completely borked–all was lost. When I recovered my presence of mind and the use of the speech center of my brain I called the plumber’s emergency number. After stemming the awful rotting tide and replacing the bad pipes, at my insistence he also removed the broken garbage disposal forever from my home. Out, damned thing! It had made my life a misery one time too many. Now I had new pipes and a brand new normal drain, whew! And I was also left with the aftermath of the disaster.

The sink needed to be scrubbed and bleached, and the counter where the plumber had rested his tools and parts of the old pipework. The clean dishes stacked on another counter had to be washed again to make sure there were no stray splatters on them. Whatever was stored under the sink at the time of the disaster was covered in wet awfulness. I went wild with the trash can, tossing in an almost empty can of Raid, two almost empty bottles of Windex, and a full bottle of Goo Gone that I hadn’t used since I bought it five years ago. My favorite old scrub brush was beyond salvation, just like that new scrub brush with the handle that made it too awkward to use. A damp box of old SOS pads disintegrated in my gloved hand. When I was done scrubbing and bleaching and throwing things away, only three items were left out of a cabinetful. I had been forced to make a clean sweep whether I wanted to or not. And I was…glad. Glad that it happened, and glad that I went through it without blowing chunks.

Sometimes the sludgy ugliness of life looms larger than the goodness and sweetness of it all. That taint can creep into the nicest things, and what was once a pure pleasure is a half-pleasure, an unfinished joy. Something must happen–a purge of some kind, a sweeping clean all the nastiness that blots out the sun in your soul. And when that clean sweep takes place, hard as it is, the beauty and happiness of life can enter your soul again and wash that bitterness away.

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A Mazement

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–Longleat Hedge Maze (England), from Wikimedia Commons

I can’t speak for others, but for me the journey of writing is like walking through a maze—specifically a hedge maze, set in a sunny clearing in the middle of a deep, dark wood.

A maze that I must create the map for as I go along, because I have no idea where I am going. A maze that bewilders, scares, and delights me, like a new ride at an amusement park. A maze that is fresh and green, and goes in unexpected twists and turns until I arrive at the center…to find what prize? But that is the question I came here to solve.

Then I have to find my way out the other side, arrive there safe and well, and show others how to navigate the same pathway I did.

And then I have to do it all over again. And again. It’s the anxiety and uncertainty of not knowing where I’m going, the thrill of discovery, the thankfulness once I find the right path, and the relief of closure at the end. Because to me, that’s what writing is all about.

 

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Fire and Ice

opal

                                              — image from Wikimedia Commons

I have always had a passion for learning and the curiosity to match. It’s amazing how little I know about English poetry so this summer I have started on a self-improvement kick, studying one famous poem each month. This month I have chosen “Opal” by poet Amy Lowell:

Opal

You are ice and fire,

The touch of you burns my hands like snow.

You are cold and flame.

You are the crimson of amaryllis,

The silver of moon-touched begonias.

When I am with you,

My heart is a frozen pond

Gleaming with agitated torches.

It’s obvious by the end of this poem that Lowell is talking about more than an opal, she’s writing about love and desire. Her vivid visual images work in opposites–cold and flame, fire and ice, a frozen pond and burning torches. Fire and ice are a simple but powerful contrast and opal, a gemstone with rainbowlike inclusions, fits the poet’s purpose exactly. The frozen pond gleaming with torches evokes the thought of a frozen heart warmed and melted by the lover’s presence and his touch.

A good poem vibrates long after the verses have been read and admired. How much of fire and ice were there in my past relationships? Could there have been more? I wonder what I would want if ever I had another love relationship, and whether my significant other would feel the same.

What poem will I choose next month? I haven’t decided, but you know what? I am really ignorant about famous painters. If I can read a poem a month, surely I could study one painting a month too, or maybe take up a second language, or learn the clarinet…what do you mean it’s time to go to work? I don’t have time to go to work! There’s too much cool stuff waiting for me to learn…

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Perfect Pizza!

PerfectPizza_SM

Available now on Amazon: Perfect Pizza and Other Low Carb Delights

 

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Choices

 

1024px-Toothpaste

— image from Wikimedia Commons

I stood in front of the display, trying to clear my mind. Tartar control? Cavity protection? Whitening formula? Mouthwash crystals? Baking soda? Tea tree oil?

“May I help you?” said a clerk at my elbow.

“I’m looking for toothpaste.”

“We’ve got it.”

“Yes,” I replied uncertainly. “I see that.”

“What are you looking for? Tartar control? Cavity protection? Whitening…”

I zoned out and didn’t follow the rest of her spiel. After her mouth stopped moving I grabbed a red and white box, walked up to the counter, and paid. It was fluoride-fortified whitening gel-striped minty cinnamon organic fresh toothpaste but I no longer cared. All I wanted was toothpaste.

I’m not confused by multitudes of choices in general. Just buying toothpaste, and maybe athletic shoes. Something that doesn’t confuse me, has a million choices, and that I can spend hours or days choosing is character names. Choosing character names for a short story or a book sounds like a trivial detail, but the wrong name choice can grate on a reader’s nerves like a faucet dripping in the middle of the quiet night, or that one mosquito in your bedroom that you can never catch.

I can’t just grab any old name and say, that’s the one. It has to have just the right ring to it, and it has to be a good fit. Does the name sound too much like another character’s name? Three main characters named Nathan, Nathaniel, and Nancy sound potentially confusing and repetitive. Do the names reflect the time period the book or story is set in? Dorcas, Tamsin, and Bildad are good names but also instantly recognizable as from Colonial America, just as Flavius and Domitia are from ancient Roman times. Addison and Jaden would set the stage for modern times, but don’t feel right if the author was writing about the 1970s. Do the first names sound good with the surnames? Does the feeling behind the name fit the character? I take my time and mull over these questions until I find the answers. Just toothpaste, but not just any name. It takes time, and care, and love.

Do other writers go through this process in naming their characters? Probably not all, but I’m sure some do. Are their books or stories any better for agonizing over their name choices? Again, probably not. But that’s how I roll.

PS: Let’s bring back Lavinia. I love that name so much.

 

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