No, turn off the seventies porn boom chicka wow wow track playing in your head. I’m talking about writing. Specifically, I’m talking about relating to your subject matter and getting words on the page.
There are days when the muse is on your shoulder, and you know exactly what should happen in your narrative and what your characters will do and say. The words flow, and you plan your Pulitzer acceptance speech. I had one of those days…once. When it comes to writing, I am a grinder. I stare at the screen. I reread what I’ve written. I stare some more. I have learned the discipline to keep my ass on the seat, but the words, they don’t come easy.
My current novel is set almost exclusively on the Appalachian Trail. A couple years ago I hiked about six hundred miles of it. I know the trail. However, sitting in a convention center hotel located in some city I’ll see nothing of except a conference room and the airport, it is tough to conjure the smell of dirt and the sound of birds taking flight.
The professor/writer/friend/deity, Jessica Anthony gave me a trick when I was whining about this. She told me to make a playlist of songs for my character. What music would he listen to? It allowed me to feel the writing instead of just thinking it. I added more tricks as I went along.
*Youtube! There is a video for everything you ever might possibly want to write about. For my current WIP, just thirty seconds of someone’s home video of their hike brought a flood of recalled sensory input.
*Flickr. Same concept as videos. Don’t always be literal. Instead of just looking for pics of the Applachian trail or backpacking, I looked at photos of churches and farms; things that suggested solitude and quiet.
*Read. My go to books for my current project were The Heart of Darkness, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and The Monkey Wrench Gang. You know the books that have inspired what you’re writing. Open them up to a random page, read a paragraph or two, and put ass back in seat.
*Journal. I am still not good at all with this, but I try. I had the privilege of learning from Craig Childs. I saw him with writing on his hand, his backpack and his pants. His pockets are full of napkins with scribbles. He jots down everything. Does much of that scribbling make it into his finished work? Probably not, but he records memories and sensory experiences and replays them when he has ass in seat.
*Ass in seat. I’ve mentioned it several times. Yet another mentor, Merle Drowns, permanently burst the anguished writer slaving to create art myth. He told me to park my ass and just write. As I said before, I’m a grinder. I agonize over every word. Merle’s advice gave me permission to just put crap on the page. Without fail, some of the crap was good, and all of the crap led to me writing meaningful contributions to the manuscript. Hack, slash, and burn later. Just put words on the page.
*Look really closely at things. At anything. I once crawled under a hotel room desk and looked at the assembly, the nuts and bolts and wiring and pieces of gum, and I wrote one of my favorite scenes about a toad on a mountain. Scrutinizing anything flexes the muscles of our writer’s eye.
*Listen. Stories present themselves all around us. Walk around a grocery store and hear what your fellow shoppers are saying. Watch them, what they’re buying, how they interact, their demeanor. They have a story you can tell. Sit at the end of a bar, any bar, at happy hour and listen to blue collar workers or investment brokers talk about their day.
*Fuck around on facebook or twitter or tumblr. Yes, I gave you permission. Since I gave you permission, I’m also setting parameters. You get 10 minutes. Go see the newest cute kitten picture posted. Update your status. Bemoan the writer’s life. Spend 10 minutes remembering you are part of the world you are striving to capture in words.
Then, put your ass back in your chair and write.
I’m D.R., and I’m a writer.