Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Column A

After Beth Groundwater's wonderful post yesterday, I give you a short, simple, writerly tip of the day:

What goes in Column A comes out in Column B.
Several years ago I was cramming to meet a deadline. I had been holed up in my attic writing lair for about three weeks solid when a social obligation arrived out of which I could not wiggle:a long planned dinner with friends. Oddly, they called my significant other the night before and told us to wear sweats. They said they had a surprise.

Oka-a-a-ay. I know these folks, I'm not worried. Maybe a little. But we wore sweats. When we arrived, they served wine, light appetizers and bottled water, and in the other room they had booked a masterful masseuse (pardon my alliteration), and we each took turns for a forty-five minute session. The outcome was that I turned to jelly, went home invigorated, and wrote like the wind for the next two weeks. I finished my deadline on time, and I believe my writing (Column B) improved greatly from stepping away for that massage evening with my friends (Column A).

From The Writer's Life, Insights from The Right to Write by Julia Cameron: One of the mysteries of the writing life is the fact that an investment of interest in column A—say listening to a great piece of music—will pay off obliquely when we set pen to paper on an entirely different topic. Writing is what we make from the broth of our experience. If we lead a rich and varied life, we will have a rich and varied stock of ingredients from which to draw on. If we lead a life that is too narrow, too focused, too oriented toward our goals, we will find our writing lacks flavor, is thin on the nutrients that make it both savory and sustaining. Although we tend to think of it as a linear, writing is a profoundly visual art. Even if we are writing about internal experience, we use images to do it. For this reason, we must consciously and constantly restock our store of images. We do this by focusing on what is around us.

If you are blocked or frustrated today take a minute or twenty for yourself to take a walk, look around. Shut your eyes and listen to music from the viewpoint of one of your characters. Leaf through a magazine and clip items that remind you of your story and your characters. Go to the dollar store and buy one item representative of your protagonist, another representative of your antagonist. Put them on your desk or carry them in your pocket as talismans. Or, get a massage!

Happy writing.
Susan Goodwill
author of The Kate London Mystery Series
Little Shop of Murders: 2008


Jess Lourey said...

Susan, that is the best writing advice I've heard in a long time. It probably speaks to me because that's right where I'm at--head down, charging against a deadline--and I have a tendency to narrow my vision at these times. But the simplicity of the advice, "to be a good writer, you have to be part of the world," is perfect. Thank you for the invigorating brain massage!

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

This is not only great advice, but advice we need to hear periodically. I often cancel or consider cancelling social events when under the gun, but when I do pry my butt out of my chair and go I find I return home recharged. But do I remember that the next time - no.

Also love the idea of buying little items representing your characters. When I was first writing my new Granny Apples series, I kept an apple pie scented candle on my desk. It set the tone - and made me hungry.

Terri Thayer said...

After my first deadline left me with a painful right arm dangling from overuse, I found a masseuse. That has lead me to twice monthly massages and no RSI, despite being headed in that direction. I consider it a necessary part of staying healthy and meeting my deadlines.

Here's hoping the IRS agrees.

Cricket McRae said...

"The broth of your experience." I love that.

I also find your post very timely as I juggle an impending deadline with promoting a newly released book. Thanks for the reminder that it's necessary to recharge.

G.M. Malliet said...

SO timely. THANK YOU. You have no idea how timely.

I have become a fan of the pedicure. It is completely relaxing and it forces you to be still and do *nothing* until the paint dries. A mini-vacation at a fraction of the cost ;-)

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Great post, Susan. Loved the "unblocking" exercises.


Keith Raffel said...

Gosh I wonder if I can get inspired without a massage or pedicure. I'll keep trying. BTW, in the photo you look like you're really enjoying that massage, Susan.

Susan Goodwill said...

Thanks for all the responses, everybody. I'm glad I could be of service reminding those of you on a deadline to come up for air. Meanwhile, Keith, I plan to wear that table in the Fotosearch photo strapped to my front all day tomorrow---it looks so darned comfortable!