Friday, January 14, 2011

Back to the Chair

Sharon's post on Wednesday resonated with me, and judging by the comments, I'm not alone. It's difficult to keep up a level of enthusiasm and confidence in your skills when you're being stared down by a blank page.

At times like this when I'm struggling with BIC. (Butt In Chair) I feel my desire to write expiring. It's such a familiar feeling. Not so long ago, before I was published, it was my constant companion, and I was better at dealing with it. I had unbridled hope but no expectations. I had a calling, a love of story, a character crush. I was 'fed' by the act of writing. Satisfied and satiated.'s temporary, I know. And when I'm in need of a break or a distraction that leads back to the chair, I can usually count on:

1. Closet cleaning: My daughter moved to a more permanent college-living arrangement two years ago, and her old closet space is just waiting for utilization. As Sharon pointed out, tackling a job that doesn't take a lot of brain power can free your mind to work on plot issues or twists. To quote Agatha Christie, "The best time to plan a book is while you're doing the dishes" and I quite agree with her.
2. Favorite movies: I put on a movie I love that is so familiar I can get other things done and save my undivided attention for the best parts. Usually, I choose either The Philadelphia Story, What's Up, Doc, Casablanca or Dirty, Rotten Scoundrels. Fun stories. Great characterization. The stuff that feeds my imagination and stirs the pot of ideas.
3. Cooking: Homemade soup, cobblers and chicken pot pies. Apple butter. Homemade marinara with roasted roma tomatoes. Comfort food. I'm not saying every dish is a winner, but the act of combining the ingredients and playing with my options reminds me how gratifying it is to create and to take a chance on a new twist.
4. Good books: This may be a book from my TBR pile (just finished Snow Falling on Cedars) or a favorite read that I skim for my favorite parts. Ray Bradbury's Green Shadows, White Whale is one such book. What a storyteller! Rubbing cosmic elbows with writers through their thoughts and words is bound to pay off, isn't it?
5. Reading about writers: Author biographies or essays about their faith can be very inspiring. I have two essay collections that challenge me to think: Shouts and Whispers (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub.) and Going on Faith (Marlowe & Co.)
6. Be-ing time: I take my journal to the canyon rim or the American River and unravel to the tune of rippling water and birdsong (while keeping a nervous eye out for four-legged predators). Madeleine L'Engle said in Walking on Water, "...take time away from busyness, time to be. I've long since stopped feeling guilty for taking being time. It's something we all need for our spiritual health, and often we don't take enough of it." In the long run, being is more important (& productive) than doing.
7. Keeping friends: I cherish my writer friends at times of dryness. They tell me it's only a temporary state of affairs. Worry and stress constrict the flow of creative juices, they remind me. The sluggish economy works to discourage me. Above all, stay true until the day that I feel released, not simply discouraged.

In Walking on Water, Ms. L'Engle shares a story about a clockmaker who was asked to repair broken clocks and watches. Many had been abandoned by their owners, and he could only repair the ones which had been kept wound because they were the only ones that could remember how to keep time. "So we must daily keep things wound: that is we must pray when prayer seems dry as dust; we must write when we are physically tired, when our hearts are heavy, when our bodies are in pain." Keeping things wound, building in memory - that's what BIC is really all about.

Have I missed anything? What helps you in times of dryness or discouragement? We'd love to hear from you.


Wendy Paine Miller said...

I paint. I creative something other than a story.

Loved Walking on Water. Pretty sure I bought it because of something I read here.

I'm reading Half Broke Horses now and am enjoying it as much as The Glass Castle.

Hope you ladies have a wonderful weekend!
~ Wendy

jennifer said...

I like to go back to my childhood favorite,ballet. Classical music and movement seem to clear my mind and re-energize me.

Bonnie Grove said...

This post is soul comfort, Debbie. Beautiful.

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

Wendy, I checked out the two books you mentioned on Amazon and they look fascinating. Thanks!
Jennifer, how fortunate for you. I enjoy classical music, too, but the dancing is all in my head. :D
I neglected to mention that my husband and I belong to a chamber choir, which is a creative outlet that teaches discipline and commitment. Both are beneficial to my writing.
Thanks, Bonnie!

Ellen Staley said...

I turn Christian radio on really LOUD, with the sound system's bass bumping away and pretty much lose myself in the songs, through dancing, singing or crying.
Of course reading. Just finished a non-fiction, Heaven Is For Real. Very inspirational, about a little boy who visited heaven, for real!
When I hit the point I'm pacing through the house talking to myself outloud about a character or scene, then I know I'm out of the slump.

Anonymous said...

"Keeping things wound, building in memory." What a beautiful and uplifting thought. As a reminder, I'm going to find a picture of a clock maker at work and put it on my bulletin board. Thanks for a great post, Debbie

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

Love that concept of "keeping things wound". I'll remember that.

Henrietta Frankensee said...

I am so dull from 3 weeks of -20C that I can't think of anything more profound to say here than, "thanks." I relate very closely to these posts.
There is a bible saying, 'It came to pass.' Lets hope it passes quickly.

Susie Finkbeiner said...

I hate working out. BUT, I found that while writing my first novel that I was struck by A LOT of inspiration while running through my neighborhood. Something about the action + quiet + trying to keep my mind off the agony = good thinking.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a great formula, Susie. You address body, soul and spirit through your exercise, and get your creative juices flowing. Okay, time to clear the junk off the treadmill and get to work. Sigh.

Bonnie Grove said...

I was recently pacing the house, trying to work out a wording issue in my WIP when I accidently discovered I own an elliptical machine.



Susie Finkbeiner said...

Ha, Bonnie! That's hilarious!

I have to say, I tried "thinking" while doing a Salsa workout video this afternoon...highly inadvisable! All that hip movement made my brain all wonkie!

Oh! Another great source of inspiration for me is church! I always have my idea notebook with me!

Latayne C Scott said...

No question about it. If it weren't for the other NovelMatters ladies and their courage, their high expectations of me, I would have quit writing novels last year.

Susie Finkbeiner said...

LaTanye, I feel that way about my support system around here. I have a friend that pushes me with a gentleness that only another has. And my husband just believes in me...that is valuable beyond anything. After finishing my first novel I truly understood the purpose of the "acknowledgment" page!