Tag Archives: the writer’s life

Fog

Photo: Steven Mosborg

Photo: Steven Mosborg

Outside my window this morning, dense fog obscured my view of the lake and furred the edges of the buildings and trees. The word that popped into my mind was Nebel, the German word for fog. The world outside reflected the way I’ve been feeling lately. Foggy mind. I know that when I’m like this, it’s not a good idea to work on fiction, or any project that demands concentration. Better to dream.

Photo: Steven Mosborg

Photo: Steven Mosborg

Then I stumbled on this blog post from Drew McManus at Adaptistration in my e-mail: “Monday Inspiration.”  I hadn’t realized that this fogginess was a result of feeling threatened by the recent political events in America. Drew called attention to a letter written 9 months ago by Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock about carrying on as artists in the face of horror.  The entire letter is here.  It’s not a step by step process to overcome my foggy mind, but it’s given my mind some things to begin to wrestle and wrangle.

  • First, Awaken To Your Humanity
  • Embrace And Conquer The Road Less Traveled
  • Welcome The Unknown
  • Understand The True Nature Of Obstacles
  • Don’t Be Afraid To Interact With Those Who Are Different From You
  • Strive To Create Agenda-Free Dialogue
  • Be Wary Of Ego
  • Work Towards A Business Without Borders
  • Appreciate The Generation That Walked Before You
  • Lastly, We Hope That You Live In A State Of Constant Wonder

Fear often makes my mind foggy. Art’s sun burns it away. Action burns it away, too. In light of the election results, I’m beginning to think that it’s important for all artists, but especially writers, to make certain that the GOP majority government does not take steps (that they’ve threatened to take) to deprive this country of the arts. They don’t get that they don’t get it.  The big question is: are they open to learning?

It’s important for everyone, not only artists, to be vocal about what they don’t agree with in the coming months. Contact all your Congresspeople, not just the ones you agree with. Contact the Congressional leadership to make your wishes known. They need to hear and recognize and respect the voices of dissent in this country. The president-elect has already demonstrated that he has no self-control and will take to Twitter over the most ridiculous of issues. We need to start a petition or something for Twitter to deactivate his account for the duration of his presidency or something.  The Dallas News published a commentary by Timothy Snyder about what you can do to stop tyranny.

My fears about this election being the beginning of the oppression and loss of freedom at the hands of the wealthy elite that occurs in Perceval’s Secret is playing out as I feared. The future is now here. How will you respond?

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Does Writer’s Block Exist?

In a word, yes. In it’s most extreme form, which I’ve experienced, everything the writer tries to write simply stops after the first few pages. If you foster your creativity, nurture it on a regular basis, however, writer’s block is less likely to be a problem. Ever.

Writer’s block can sneak up on a writer.  It arrives disguised as something else — a physical illness, a family crisis, a car accident — and makes it impossible to even think about writing words down to fill a blank page, much less narrative structure, story, developing characters.  Sometimes, life needs attending first.  Believe it or not, nurturing your life and your experiences will make you a better writer.  A humane writer. 

My experience with bad writer’s block occurred because of a trauma I’d survived.  The physical wounds had healed but not the emotional and psychological wounds.  My mind and heart let me know by not allowing me to write.  The problem was that I could not understand what was happening and was angry about the block.  It was two years — yes, years — before I figured it out.  During that time, I read voraciously.  I kept a journal, writing everyday in as much detail as I could to exercise my writing muscles and keep them limber.  Occasionally, I pulled out a writing project and tried to work on it, with no success.  I also learned patience with myself and my imagination during this time, something that was as difficult for me as feeling that I’d never write again.

How did I finally break the writer’s block?  I watched a movie.  I would also argue that I was ready to write again, and going to the movie, seeing a fine actor create and sustain a character through subtle gestures as well as costume and speech, proved to be the perfect messenger to tell me.  I saw Daniel Day-Lewis play Hawkeye in Michael Mann’s The Last of the Mohicans.  I had been doubtful Day-Lewis could truly pull it off.  I was as skeptical as a person can be and almost didn’t go, but a good friend persuaded me to give him a chance.

Hawkeye in action (photo: IMDb.com)

From the opening frames, it was clear that Day-Lewis had stepped aside to allow Hawkeye to animate him.  I was amazed.  I ended up seeing the movie five or six times in the theater — the first to get the story, and the following to study Day-Lewis and the other actors.  It was a lesson in creating and developing character.  The thing that still sticks in my mind years later is the way Day-Lewis used his body to convey Hawkeye’s personality — his walk, his hand gestures, his stance — this actor never relaxes. 

Daniel Day-Lewis as Hawkeye (photo: Morgan Creek Productions)

Day-Lewis and the other actors sparked thoughts about the characters I had created — how had I defined them in the story?  How did they behave?  Did they have any idiosyncratic gestures?  How did they live in their bodies?  How did speech set each one apart?  I spent months on getting to know my characters, visualizing them, developing their backstories, listening to their voices as I interviewed them.  In the end, it was really this work that broke the writer’s block. 

Hindsight reveals truth.  Looking back much later, I realized the true cause of my bout of writer’s block.  It forced me to re-examine how I approach my life as well as my writing.  I certainly don’t need to be so hard on myself, just on the writing.

I’ve heard that a common cause of writer’s block is a writer’s unreasonably high expectations for himself and his writing, expecting to perform at an award-winning level even in a first draft.  The only cure for such a block is to lower expectations and write, write, write.  Perfection remains impossible to attain, no matter who you are.  Striving for excellence, however, is a noble goal as long as it’s done without taking oneself too seriously. 

So, just keep it human…..