Friday, December 9, 2011

Finding Your Inner Puppy

You guys know the scene. Distraught writer sitting in a pool of light from her laptop in the pre-dawn darkness. Tap, tap. Pause. Tap. Pause. PAAAAAUUUUSE. Sigh. Shift. Sip coffee. Tap, tap. Rinse. Repeat.

I had to drag every single syllable from the basement of my brain with bowling balls attached to them. Time slid by and the word count flatlined. The dog—the relentless, demanding, who-agreed-to-dogsit-a-beast-with-a-morning-walk-routine, dog—stood in front of me wagging her tail, panting and making it plain the walk deadline had arrived.

Timber clearly didn’t understand my dilemma. Nora needed to be in the empty farmhouse in the middle of the night so the villain could pull a gun on her. But how was I going to get her there in a plausible—or at least plausible in the mystery world—way? Time was running out. Not for Nora, but for me, who has a regular life and day job and a word count woefully unfulfilled.

Sentient beings can be so distracting and inspiration so illusive. I slapped the laptop closed, dressed, and in a grumbling fit of impatience, rounded up my snowshoes, poles, and the gators hiding at the very bottom of the winter accouterments box where I’d tossed them last spring.

We had the first big snow dump of the season the night before and I was not looking forward to trudging through a freezing forest in the gray dawn. Not. At. All.

Timber, on the other hand, was ecstatic. She raced ahead, dodged trees, dug and scooted and zoomed, acting way more like a puppy than the her fourteen years on this Earth would belie.

This isn't a great picture of Timber but, hey, it was really cold to have my bare fingers exposed to click the pic.
The crisp air started to blow away the heaviness of my mind. I laughed at Timber’s antics and bypassed the short loop, deciding my plotter’s brain needed fresh air and exertion to problem solve. Natalie Goldberg, among others, recommends walks to jumpstart inspiration. My solution rested just beyond that snow-crusted pine.

The sun burst through the morning clouds sparking snow diamonds and dazzling the forest around us. I spent so much energy I had endorphins dancing through my system all day. And I felt good. No more grumpy-gloomies.

I know you were all expecting that when I found my inner-puppy the answer to my plot tangle would miraculously present itself. It didn’t. But I was a better human being for letting go of the frustration and gaining clearer perspective. The words won’t come by damming myself with a wall of frustration. Even if the floodgates don’t open because of my commune with nature and Timber, I’m sure my coworkers and the Man With Endless Tolerance (MWET) were pleased with my improved attitude.

This isn't Timber but she was having this much fun.

It wasn’t until much later, while sitting in the hot tub listening (or making a face as if I were listening) to MWET discuss the pros and cons of refinancing and the likelihood of renting as opposed to selling, I had my Eureka! moment. Perhaps my slacker imagination enjoyed the mini vacation and coughed up the nugget I needed as reward. Probably not. At any rate the romp in the snow didn’t hurt and it might have helped.

What about you? What do you do when the words won’t come?


Author R. Mac Wheeler said...

Yeahhhh! Puppy pictures.

I never get too many puppy pictures.

Did you say something?

Beth Groundwater said...

When the words won't come, I usually sleep on it and let my subconscious work on the problem.

Darrell James said...

Shannon- When I'm stuck, I drive. There's a long strecth of mostly deserted two-lane road called Old Spanish Trail that serves to lull me out of reality and into fantasy.

ps. I like your voice on the page.

Robin Allen said...

Great post, Shannon. I compose everything on the computer, but when I'm stuck, I go pen and paper and start clustering. That usually unsticks me.

Shannon Baker said...

Mac--you figured out my secret!
Beth-- your subconscious is so much more cooperative than mine!
Darrell--after this snow and cold in Flagstaff, I'm ready to head south for a desert drive, even it it doesn't yield inspiration!

Kathleen Ernst said...

I've read that we *must* reach a state of blockage and frustration before our mind kicks from right brain to left and new ideas start to flow. I think breaks like yours are essential! Your subconscious was still at work, even if the answers didn't immediately present themselves.

Shannon Baker said...

Kathleen, I like the idea that frustration and blockage is somehow a good thing. Sort of like dieting--it hurts but the results can be satisfying.

Shannon Baker said...

Robin, somehow your comment slipped in and I didn't see it. Do you use a yellow legal pad? I do. "They" say yellow is the color of creativity. Personally, I think the chocolate that I also use in this ceremony, is the more creative component.

Linda Hull said...

I am sitting in front of the computer having exactly the same day. In fact, my street ought to be called Writer's Block. Thanks for the laugh and the idea of a walk.

Robin Allen said...

I usually use whatever scrap of paper is at hand, but if a yellow legal pad will help, I'll start using it.

Unknown said...

Wow, somehow I missed this post - I was probably out playing with my dogs! That's one of the things I do to get unstuck, or work through a writing problem. Or I walk, alone, for miles (3-6 commonly). No iPod, no distraction. I've found many answers in the ground beneath my sneakers!