… or Brain-Doldrums?
By Jeff Salter
We’ve been in this group blog – my first experience, by the way – since Feb. 1st and every week we’ve had a theme of one kind or another. All five of us are expected to make some connection with that week’s theme. That’s usually fine with me, since I can typically manage to cobble together a few cogent remarks about nearly anything.
But there have been a few weeks when I’ve wished I could just write about this-and-that instead of thus-and-so. You know that feeling: something on your mind and you just feel a hankering to ‘jaw’ about it.
Liberty and Freedom
So we finally have a ‘bye week’ – so to speak – and I have complete freedom to write about anything I dadgum want to. Fantastic.
Er … one problem: my mind suddenly went blank.
All these months I’ve wanted to pontificate about Topic A, B, or C … and had to shove aside those urges to focus on the theme at hand. Now I have the liberty to brainstorm to my heart’s content … anything over the Seven Seas and to the edge of the horizon. However, I sadly discover my brain’s ‘storm’ has become a ‘dead calm’ — no waves, no wind … not even a meek breeze. Doldrums.
So what do you write about when you could write about ANYthing … but, freakishly, can suddenly think of nothing?
Block? Blockage? Blockade?
What does a writer write when he can write anything … but really has nothing to say?
Is this what my colleagues refer to as writer’s block?
It feels a bit like being on a date with a pretty girl and I’m suddenly tongue-tied. Can’t think of a single utterance which won’t make me sound like a blithering idiot.
And what is ‘blithering’, by the way? If it’s what I think it is … I’m ‘blithering’ right this moment.
Or … maybe I’m ‘blathering’ instead.
Okay, I know what to do: grab a catalog and turn to page 21. The first object which catches my eye is my prompt. Hmm … didn’t work. This particular catalog has mostly clothing in the first half. That page has four women wearing coats, jackets, or sweaters. All four are smiling. No story there. Maybe if one of women were scowling — that could be a story. Yeah … Stephen King already wrote it.
Perhaps there’s a writing prompt on the other pages:
Page 31 has men’s shirts and trousers
Page 41 has boots
Page 51 has shoes
Page 61 has hunting stuff
Page 71 has shooting supplies
Page 81 has automotive stuff
Page 91 has bedding
Well, not much to work with.
Okay, Jeff, here’s the challenge: draft a sensible short scene which includes one key image from each of those eight catalog pages.
Dicky seemed more shocked that his khaki Iron-free Cotton Pants were suddenly soiled … than he was about the five rapid-fire shots from Jane’s revolver. She left one live round … in case the SOB twitched.
Jane yanked her arms out of the Full-Zip Fleece Hoodie and tossed it on the couch. She didn’t want to get it bloody and the cabin was too warm anyway for this kind of activity. “If Dicky had just nailed my BF Irene, maybe I would’ve let him live. But he couldn’t resist Irene’s sister … and their mom!” So Dicky had to die.
She shoved the five empty casings into her jeans pocket and put the good cartridge back in the ammo box. Then Jane placed her revolver on the Spinning Hyskore Pistol Rack and locked the gun cabinet. She’d have to clean the pistol later.
She needed something to wrap around this bleeding carcass. Yeah, that Luxury Microfiber Sheet Set would do just fine — those were the same sheets Dicky had cheated on. It was probably such a tight weave that the blood wouldn’t even leak out … if she hurried.
Jane was able to drag the neatly wrapped body down the steps to her gravel parking slip. She couldn’t lift him all the way to the high truck bed, but was finally able to heave him up on the Hitch Hauler Rack she’d already anchored into the towing coupler.
Then Jane went back inside and kicked off her stylish Women’s Skechers D’Lites Digginits — no good for digging deep graves in the isolated swamp … and no reason to get them muddy. It’ll be a lot easier to dispose of this body if she’s wearing her Waterproof, Scent-Free, Insulated Swampwalker Boots.
Nobody would think to look for Dicky out here in the wild … because he was a pampered city boy. From her garage Jane grabbed two gallons of C’Mere Deer Attractant to spread over the grave she still had to dig. If she could attract deer to trample Dicky’s new resting place, maybe it wouldn’t even look like a body was buried there.
So what do you think, folks? Should I ‘sub’ this to an agent? Ha.
When you suddenly have a blank slate to work with … do you let loose? Or forget that you even know how to type?
Interesting concept – the catalogue-thing.
At the moment I´m reading The Scene Book by Sandra Scofield, and find a lot of good ideas for those moments you are talking about. Imagine a movie scene for instance – it usually works. A walk to clear my head can work too…and sometimes, I have to admit, I just let it go and give myself space – read a good book, listen to music and take a bath. And in the middle of the warm bubbly bath I rush up with a brilliant idea…
Those sound like good ideas for prompts, Angeline. Glad you could visit today.
I haven’t seen Scofield’s book, but it seems like a handy resource.
My problems (in writing) seem more related to procrastination & distraction … than to anything I’d identify as “writer’s block.”
I don’t really believe in writer’s block. I do believe that I’m more creative at times than others, but when I know I haven’t made my word count for the day and need to, I will sit down and write long hand. The first couple sentences are usually crap, but after that I get in my flow.
Writer’s prompts, muse therapy, I say day what you can to continue to write:)
Yes, Tonya, I’ve read that writing long-hand releases the ‘inner’ thoughts with less ‘censorship’ (though that’s not the most accurate word) than if you’re typing. However, I do relatively little in long-hand, other than my morning journal. [Terrible hand-writing].
But since I’ve been typing — almost constantly — since about 1967 … I think my fingers on the keyboard are about as connected as they can be to my ‘inner’ brain. [Or whatever’s tucked inside my noggin.]
But, like you say: each of us should do whatever works for us.
I get a lot of ‘inspiration’ when I’m driving on a long stretch … and have attributed that to the perversity of my muse to ‘send’ me stuff when I can’t write it down.
Funny, funny example of using a catalog. I’m with Tonya–I don’t believe in writer’s block, either. If I do get stuck, it’s probably because my character doesn’t have a goal. Or because I’ve put her in a situation that’s foreign to me. So–a little consideration of the WHY behind the scene, or a field trip of some kind (even as basic as a YouTube search) gets me going again.
Chris, I’m inclined to agree with you and Tonya. I think the term ‘writers block’ is a catch-all for nearly anything that keeps one from creative production. Schedule? Interruptions? Illness? Being upset or disappointed about something? Any/all of those can prevent me from writing creatively.
But, as you will also understand from your journalism background, I spent many years working on deadlines. And the ‘copy’ was going to the type-setter at 11 o’clock whether or not I was ‘inspired’. So I learned to dive in and produce. Was everything stellar? Of course not. But a surprising amount of my published newspaper work is quite good. Considering the constraints of that time — much less the total LACK of electronic ‘technology’ — I find that (modestly) rather amazing. Ha.
Publication with deadlines is an excellent training ground, in my opinion.
Now the catalog stunt was just an exercise in imagination, of course. I simply wondered if I could do it. [And I do feel sorry for poor, wayward Dickie].
You had me at the whole “Yay, goody! I can write about whatever I want. Now what do I write about? Er….um….crap!” But the catalogue idea? I’m impressed and am going to have to try that one out sometime. I have one of those forwarded emails that I don’t think got passed around too much that you’d probably get a kick out of. 1977 J.C. Penney catologue along with commentary. It’s hysterical!
Yeah, send it along, Micki. I love old catalogs.
Have you ever seen reprints of the catalogs from the 1920s and 1930s?
When you could buy shoes for $2 and suits for $7?
It did throw me this week, though. After I’d sent out that email about how much I wanted to have the freedom of pot luck. Then my mind goes blank. Ha. Humility.
Since I am not a writer, I do not have to worry about writer’s block, but I am curious about that catalog. Was that a Sears catalog? Never noticed so much hunting stuff in any catalog that I have perused.
LOL, Sug. This is Sportsman’s Guide, a company in St. Paul, Minn.
I but lawn chairs, porch chairs, tools, equipment, military surplus, etc. They also sell those brown shirts I talk about.
They sell sporting goods, household stuff, clothing … you name it.
Me, I’m trying to figure out what catalog it was. Cabela’s? Lol You’ve opened my eyes to knew ways of breaking “the block” so I very much appreciate this exercise, Jeff. Thanks!
Sportsman’s Guide, Laurie. They have GREAT stuff … and a huge variety … as you can see by the sample pages.
Not as large as Cabela’s and not as pricey either.
It was a fun exercise because I could select any item from each of those particular pages. For example I could have used “tow rope” instead of the cargo carrier. And I could have used a deer feeder contraption instead of the deer corn. The possibilities were endless.
Ah, naivete, “Jeff” may be thy name! You should have known that four women standing together AND smiling means someone is in deep doo. They are Jane and her friends, having just discussed Jane’s handling of the wayward Dickie. Now for Irene…
I don’t believe in writer’s block either. Very nice use of catalogs.
Good one, Llew. Since you are a wonderful writer yourself, you should take my catalog test and develop a scene.
And, yes, four women smiling at the same time means big trouble for somebody! Ha.
While I don’t use the expression ‘writer’s block’ to describe the times I can’t write, I do believe some writers have issues which ‘block’ them at times … for a variety of reasons. I couldn’t return to a particular manuscript for nearly 14 months after a family member died — he had been the inspiration for a key character in that ms.
Plus — as I’ve told you, Llew — I’ve been through long years of ‘dry spells’ when I produced little or nothing along the lines of creative writing.
I’m with Micki, I might have to give that catalog thing a try when I get stuck.
Ha. Or use it the next time we have a Pot-Luck week. LOL
Of course, I don’t think Cajun Foxes have much trouble with writer’s block … or talker’s block. Or any other kind of block. Ha.
Really enjoyed this post, Jeff! The catalogue sketch was hysterical, yet an appealing exercise. Don’t believe in writer’s block. Believe I’m not doing something well enough to bring the scene–or character interaction–to life. Usually physical activity works for me; take a brisk walk and absorb the peace, take the dogs to the pond and wreck said peace, cuss because they went swimming and surrounded me to shake off the excess water. When it sit back down I find I’ve managed to distance and distract myself from the situation enough for the ‘fresh eye’ to take effect.
And you’re right about writing under pressure. Working as a staff writer pushed my creative limits and ability to condense information to its most concise form. But those years of enforced word limits are probably why I’m excessively verbose now. I write the piece; then go in with a machete and hack out all the underbrush. But it’s soooo great to use all the words I want to! lol (My name is Runere, and I’m a Word Addict.)
I may need to borrow your machete, Runere. I tend to OVER-write in most of my ms. drafts.
I’ve even recognized that tendency in some phases of my poetry (over some 5 decades). I remember one particular example because it was such a dramatic cut: I sliced 12 lines — 3 entire stanzas — from a poem which wasn’t working well. Might not sound like much, but when you realize the end result was only 24 lines … that’s a cut of about one-third.
So where were you a staff writer?
Interesting idea using a catalog. Not sure it would work for me, being the dark, cinematic historical writer that I am. Besides, my problem when I get stuck is not so much a writer’s block as it it my dyslexia acting up. (HAHA! Sounds like a condition. Wonder if there”s a cream for that.)
Not sure if there’s a cream for that, Jenn, but I know of some cough syrup that’ll make you forget you have any problems. LOL.
Try the catalog exercise. And to make it REALLY interesting, pick a very eclectic catalog like Heartland.
I’ve never experienced writer’s block. But, if I am asked to write a parody or a funny presentation, I begin with a few witty items I know I want to include in the piece. Then I am so pleased with myself, giggling and chuckling over my own cleverness, that I get almost a “high” and the sheer joy pushes me forward, with words just spewing forth! Editing too soon kills the buzz, I have to just let it all come out and THEN go back and revise.
Glad to see you here again, Betty.
Your writing process sounds very effective and quite enjoyable. I suppose I’ve done that accidentally … in a scene for my 4th novel ms. And I would laugh at the funny part everytime I revised it. Then a beta reader suggested I expand that scene since it was so enjoyable. After that, the funny part only elicited a chuckle. Hmm.
My problem is that once in a while I worry that I can’t write. However,I have found that if I nake myself pick up,(open file), on something I have previously written or had started work on,I am prompted get into the swing again. I happily surprise myself or find I should make complete re-write.Either way, I am inspired.
[I guess we should be grateful that you weren’t looking at a Victoria’s Secret or Frederick’s of Hollywood catalog,Jeff…]
Oh, great idea, Tonette! That should be my next writing exercise — Vickie’s Secrets! Ha.
Uh, oh! Jeff goes X!
Well, that would be more like PG-17. Ha.