Category Archives: Thoughts on Writing

Getting Unstuck: Colorful Distraction

mandalamaroon

I tried to write about process in a succinct manner for a couple of weeks and I have failed. I tried to separate the discussion into two or three separate posts and failed there, as well. Perhaps that tells me it’s not time to write about it. Maybe I’m too new to or too close to my current process to talk about the psychology and methodology of it, even though I’ve been writing stories since third grade.

Instead, I’ll limit this to one small aspect of my process which is the meditation mandala.

I learned about mandala coloring in a book on contemplative prayer. I was intrigued that mandalas, much like walking labyrinths or Zen gardens, might be useful in prayer and similar spiritual endeavors. I sought a trick of sorts to help me find my way back to my faith. That’s another story but suffice to say, tricks don’t work.

However, I realized coloring served well to distract my inner editor when I was stuck. If I have a difficult paragraph or chapter, I pull out my colored pencils, gel pens, and coloring book, and start coloring. With the editor worrying about what shades of blue and green work well together or if I can throw some maroon in the mix, the writer can get to work on the story. This works all the better if I can talk aloud to myself and ask myself questions. It’s a little embarrassing if Husband is home, but it is the most effective way for me to think through a story problem.

There’s nothing new in this concept. You’ll find numerous links online about the many ways in which we come up with ideas or solve problems when we distract our minds with mundane tasks or white noise.

For myself, I do feel that often I am manacled by Analytical KC. Putting that self to work on a separate problem allows Creative KC to work without feeling judged. I’m sure there is more to it since I still have to analyze to a degree while I talk out the various ways I might fix something. I might say, “I could have Fred get angry and drive off in a huff and get in a wreck or I could have Fred lash out and knock Joe dead. Maybe Fred just leaves with his tail between his legs and has a wreck because he’s crying because he’s such a wuss.”  Meanwhile, I’ve chosen dark blue to fill in all the small triangles in the mandala and pale green for the ellipses and dark green for the circles, etc.

It’s not multiplexing/multitasking in the modern sense. It’s more like driving a car. One must keep a number of processes going to keep the car moving at a particular rate of speed, going a particular direction, and ready to respond to the road. With the mandalas and writing, coloring is operating the accelerator and brake of which I’m barely aware. Talking through options is using the steering wheel and turn signals. Writing is the destination. Dumb metaphor, I know. Still, it’s accurate and the fact that humans can operate machinery like cars is testimony to our ability to analyze and make decisions while performing other tasks. (NOT TEXTING! That requires sight. You need that to watch where you’re going.)

So, how do you get past those little stuck moments? Do you get up and go for a jog? Do you stop and get a fresh mug ‘o murk (coffee or tea, per my dad)? Do you switch projects? Wash dishes? Just power through? Never have stuck moments? I’d love to hear from you. Maybe what you do will be of value to me or others.

mandalafpalm

Ghosts, Dead Heroes, and Subatomic Particles: A Short Essay on Inspiration.

I’ve been grieving since Monday, August 11. In this time, I’ve written and rewritten a short-short ghost story, but the ending eluded me. Without an ending, there really is no story. I don’t mean putting it in a nice box and with a bow; I mean just giving it words that inform the reader, “This is all I have left to say.” I couldn’t find those words no matter how hard I stared at the two pages of story, or meditated on it, or lay with eyes closed trying to picture its scenes. Nothing said, “Here! Right here! These are the words for which you are looking.” So I put my story aside and wallowed in grief some more. I watched some wonderful old videos and some bad, distracting television. I did some hardanger. I tried not to think about those two pages.

Wednesday night Husband and I went on our nightly two-mile walk and I asked him for input on the story. He talked about the ghosts in the story and how sometimes ghosts haunt people “in a positive way.” That didn’t help me directly but I liked the theory. I’ve certainly thought about it plenty of times and I’ve written stories in the past that have drawn on it though I’ve never made much of those stories.

We arrived home and I took one last look at that danged short-short. As I read it, I thought of Husband’s comment and of a “good haunting” and thought how I hope Robin Williams could look down now and see that thousands of schlubs like me thought he was amazing and inspirational. I carried these thoughts in parallel as I read through those two pages, thinking of ghosts and death and trying to find the clue in my piece to finish that damn story.

Suddenly it was there. ending edit

Two or three words in the piece jumped out at me and I knew how to end it. They had nothing to do with ghosts or haunting (or comedy) but were entirely independent of those thoughts. I raced to get a pen, scratched the ending on the page and set about cleaning up for the night.

I was struck, however, by the strong sense of not having found the ending but having it presented to me.

It isn’t a new or unique idea, the thought that when a person dies, their energy goes out into the world. Different belief systems have embraced it for centuries. As I got ready for bed I had to ask, why not? Why couldn’t the energy of someone brilliant be making its rounds throughout the world, touching the fevered creative minds of those trying to paint pictures, sculpt forms, write plays or books? Why can’t that energy be a catalyst in the universe: a spiritual butterfly effect in which it bounces off one particle in space and from there spreads out and makes its way to League City over three days where a struggling writer says, “Damn, I’m going to miss that guy. I wish I had one-tenth of his genius. Maybe then I could finish this damn story.” Poof! That particle tweaks a neuron where the idea has been hiding and the neuron fires and the idea is ready to go on the page.

Why the hell not?

About twenty more pages of thoughts followed from that thought but I will spare everyone. Besides, as I said, these are not new ideas: positive thinking, getting back what you put into the universe, blah blah blah. Much of it is just downright controversial and I’m no philosopher, just a writer thinking about how I got my story ending.

Well, I have my ending. I had, I know, Husband’s help most of all. Perhaps I also had a stray subatomic particle that leapt from the bounds of that wild, brilliant soul and, in a roundabout way, struck a nerve.