It’s no secret that I love stories: reading, writing, or telling them. Reading stories is easiest for me to do; all I need are the words and my glasses. Once I find the narrator’s voice, we’re off and all I have to look for is when to take a breath. Telling a story is scary and a whole lot of fun, especially if there’s an appreciative audience. When I’m telling stories, the hardest thing for me to know is when to shut up. (I’ll admit it, I’m a natural-born ham.) Writing stories is a different cat altogether; in fact, writing is a cat with claws. As soon as my fingers hit the keys and letters show up on the screen, my inner critic emerges and starts pointing out the obvious flaws. At that point, the tale that was bubbling and aching to get out locks itself behind a gate in my brain. So, what do I do? I’ve learned to take a walk.
Taking a walk is something Stephen King mentioned in his wonderful book, On Writing. (Seriously, I’ve read a stack-load of books on the craft of putting down prose and this one makes me believe I can do that. That means it’s either a great book for unlocking the would-be writer or Mr. King is a terrific snake-oil salesman. Your choice.) When he’s unable to see the way to move his plot forward, the man takes long walks. Of course, it was during one of these walks that he got hit by a van but, so far, that hasn’t happened to me. When I walk, two things happen.
First, I get away from the problem. I know this sounds a little like run-away-Leslie but when the screen is white and the words aren’t coming, away is where I need to be. Once my mind is focused on something else, the pressure is off. And when that happens the words come back. Maybe an idea, a scene, or just a sentence or two, but enough to move the tale a bit further. Do that often enough and you can walk your way out of trouble. Or you’ll start losing weight. All it takes is getting away from the page. Well, it takes one other thing.
|Hit the Trail!|
My sister once told me of an early exercise she saw that helped a small boy with autism. A counselor sat the kid in a swing and tried to interact with him. No dice. Kid seemed like he had turned to stone sitting there on the seat. The counselor started pushing the swing so the kid’s form was in motion. The little boy began to talk, laugh, and react. It took the motion of the swing to unlock the kid’s communication center. I think that’s what happens when people walk. The legs get moving, the arms start swinging, and the frozen communication center cracks open. All you have to do is remember what the unblocked brain released and stay away from the traffic.
Does that mean the secret to great writing is a treadmill desks? Perish the thought. Creating is just the first part of the task; honing and revising sentences until the paragraphs begin to sing requires long-term focused, not creative thought. But if you need to write something and it feels like your brain’s in concrete, don’t panic. Just grab your walking stick, your sneakers and music and hit the trail. It’s amazing what you’ll see during a walk.