My mind likes to wander, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The trouble is when the mind acts like an errant child running off when there’s a task to be done. Interestingly, that happens the most when I need write. Seems it wants to do a hundred things first before sitting down and facing the keyboard.
And when I finally sit down, my mind refuses to cooperate and stubbornly goes blank. It’s not Writer’s Block nor is it lack of direction. It’s just that my mind doesn’t want to work, doesn’t want to agonize over the right word, doesn’t want to come up with a creative paragraph that basically says “He then went to the [wherever].”
So I have to coax my brain into writing mode. What sometimes gets the words flowing is reading Chinese Buddhist Poetry.
Like this one by HanShan:
Clambering up the Cold Mountain path,
The Cold Mountain trail goes on and on:
The long gorge choked with scree and boulders,
The wide creek, the mist-blurred grass.
The moss is slippery, though there’s been no rain
The pine sings, but there’s no wind.
Who can leap the world’s ties
And sit with me among the white clouds?
If that doesn’t work then I turn to The Chinese Art of Writing. I find the section on the various style of poetry to be inspiring.
At the present moment I have to write a battle scene. Having never been in a battle since I was a kid growing up in the Bronx, never mind a battle during the Crusades, I haven’t a clue where to start. But then I remembered something I saw in a Gore Vidal interview. He stated that the best action writer he knows of is Edgar Rice Burroughs who wrote the Tarzan series. Really? So, I found some excerpts and yeah, Vidal was right. Even these many years later his action sequences draw you in. Check it out for yourself. Tarzan of the Apes.
Of course, there are times my mind refuses to play along. I need new enticements to wake up the hamster to turn the wheel and spew out some really good words.
So, fellow writers, what works for you?
I never was a fan of Saint Francis. I dismissed him as a self-punishing, wimpy, ethereal saint who talked to birds and was best suited to stand in the small gardens of Italian grandmothers.
How little I knew.
I did recall one incident in his life that nagged at me. Before Francis’ conversion, he dreamed of becoming a knight. When war broke out between the towns of Assisi (his home) and Perugia, Francis in armor charged into the battle. His side lost and Francis was taken prisoner. So obviously, he wasn’t just standing on the sidelines.
Did the saint kill someone? In his zeal to become a knight, did he shed blood?
And so began my journey of discovery as I researched all I could find on the life of Saint Francis to write a novel I hope will take him down from the birdbath pedestal and stand once again on earth.
Nevertheless, as I write, there is a conflict. I get caught between conveying the earthly, determined and sometimes foolish aspects of the saint with the ‘sanctified’ image so many people love. I already know that some readers will think I’ve made up things he said and did; like the time he told a troubled brother being tormented by a demon telling him lies. Francis advised that the next time the demon appeared, he should say, ‘Open your mouth one more time and I will shit in it.’
A very different image of the saint, indeed.
The purpose of my writing is not to destroy anything but the pedestal. I want Francis to stand with the reader of the book, to bring sainthood, holiness and the light of the soul to be within easy reach for all who struggle to embrace it.
“Don’t Like to Write, But Like Having Written”
Dorothy Parker? George R. R. Martin? Frank Norris? Robert Louis Stevenson? Cornelia Otis Skinner? Clive Barnes? Gloria Steinem? Hedley Donovan?
No one is sure exactly who first said that. (see The Quote Investigator)
I suppose most writers have felt that way at some time in their careers. I did hear one writer of Romance novels say that she could spend all day writing, that she had no interest in doing anything else. I don’t remember her name (my version of writer’s block). Maybe I was in shock. I do remember thinking at the time, ‘So, you’d rather write about romance than actually experience it?’
Or, maybe that was just my defenses kicking in since I am one of those writers who need to duct tape themselves to the chair, face a blank wall and have all required refreshments close at hand. Even then, there are emails to write and answer, research that leads me far from what I was looking for in the first place, like ‘Gee, who really said the above quotation and who the heck is Hedley Donavan?’
So I have to find ways to trick myself into sitting down and actually writing. Last year I tried NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), which is a self-imposed marathon of writing. On November 1st of each year, “participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30.”
I made it to 40,000 and I am still working on it. (more on that later).
In my own defense, the delay wasn’t all the fault of procrastination. Family emergencies sent my life in a totally unexpected direction, which forced me to rent a new house, fly out East, a car accident in Missouri and a bunch of other surprises jumping out of the shadows for no other reason than give me more excuses not to write.
The interesting thing about dragging my feet when it comes to writing—or should that be dragging my fingers?—is once I do get started and the words are flowing it becomes a wonderful roller-coaster ride of exploration, discovery and joy.
Often I’ve had to ask myself, “Writing gives me a sense of fulfillment and pleasure. It’s like conducting an orchestra or painting on a blank canvas with words of colors yet to be seen. Why then do I procrastinate? Why do I find a hundred and one things to distract me?”
Yes, there are times of frustration like when your words are pouring forth and then suddenly come to an abrupt stop. Or when you know that one word in the sentence is so wrong but you can’t think of anything better. But I know that no matter what you do in life, you’re going to have some bad days.
And when those days happen, I go and find a way to trick myself into making my writing a priority so I don’t end up with a dozen unfinished manuscripts nagging at me.
If any of your readers have a few tricks of their own to vanquish procrastination, please let me know. I could use a few more.