MG McClintock, author of “Bastard Sons of Ireland,” tells amusing anecdotes about famous authors’ rituals to keep themselves writing. Benjamin Franklin soaked in the bathtub. Truman Capote wrote lying down. Maya Angelou used legal pads, sherry, cards, a Bible and thesaurus while lounging in a hotel room. Shakespeare picked up his pen, turned around, rolled his pen between his hands, and spat over his shoulder before sitting to write. Yeats put pen to paper and let words ooze out. McClintock says, “I’m like Yeats, the words come and I let them.”
But what do you do when the words (or the plot) don’t come? These past two weeks, I struggled to create a worthy protagonist for a mystery I’m plotting. In the process, my thoughts knotted up like a tangle of yarn, and my mind struggled to break free. When I’m blocked like this, my feet get itchy to gallop away from the blank computer screen. I am absolutely not like those writers who say they write for hours every day, effortlessly exceeding their daily word count goals.
A week ago, a light-bulb flashed—“Create a Lizzy-do list!” Maybe that would free me to focus on my writing project. So I wrote down, and powered through, tasks that needed doing—pay bills, buy groceries, make phone calls, wash laundry. My monkey mind chattered less. I concentrated on writing more.
I read that taking 5-minute breaks every half hour is a great way to increase productivity. Aha! Every so often, I stand up, look away from the computer, stretch, and gallop slowly through the house. This sweeps the clutter from my mind. Oops! Sometimes five minutes stretch to 50. Guess I’d better set a timer.
Yesterday, I was stuck again. On impulse, I brainstormed, writing nonstop in a stream-of-consciousness style about my writers block. Voila, my writer’s block blew apart, a clear story path opened before me, and new ideas blossomed.
Today, an idea came to me, that writing away from the computer for a change, using pen and paper, might get my creative juices flowing. So I sat in my car in the parking lot at the Down to Earth health food store in Honolulu, listening to some jazz. Ideas for my mystery started percolating. I carry a small writing tablet with me, and I was able to jot down ideas before they dissolved like ice cream melting on a hot summer afternoon. I determined to start carrying my digital recorder so I could capture my thoughts anywhere. If I need to grab an idea before it flees, I can always text myself on my Android.
How do other writers stay engaged and excited? Please tell me, fellow scribblers, what works for you?