Tag Archives: Hobbies

At a Loss for Words

Every writer runs out of words – at least good words – at some point. I’ve come to the conclusion that this is both normal and inevitable. Nature goes in cycles, from the seasons to the life, death and rebirth cycles of everything from stars to mayflies. From writers to dancers to architects, everybody hits points where our creativity and energy go dormant. Stars and mayflies, however, do not have to meet deadlines, performance schedules and project completion dates.

What do I do when words and energy run out? I remind myself of the opening to Ecclesiastes, Chapter 3: “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven…”. So the first thing to do is not panic. The words are gone now, but they’ll come back.

The first thing I don’t do is not write. It’s frighteningly easy to say “The words aren’t coming, so I’m not going to try today.” Next thing you know, you haven’t written anything new for a week, or a month. Or longer. For me, not writing is never an option. Even if you can’t do more than journal and brainstorm, write something every day. I also edit previous scenes. They get me back into the story and (hopefully) remind me of why I wanted to write it in the first place.

Or maybe you don’t have to write out a full scene. When I’m really desperate, suffering from severe ‘page fright’ – the conviction that everyone down to chimpanzees could write the story better – I resort to my fallback habit: lists. In this case, it’s what I, as the author, need to have happen in a scene, and with whom. Mine often look like this:

  • Introduce Imogen and mother
  • Morgan panic
  • Alix lie to save him
  • Morgan disgusted at lie
  • Reaction of servants? How can A. be guest and employee?
  • Study or entry????

Far, far, far from a full scene. Not even the bare bones of a scene. But at least there are a few building blocks of life swimming around in the primordial broth. I can see the major players and necessary action, which gives me something to work with.

And I know from personal experience that the thing with the most question marks behind it is where I need to start. Sometimes I’m stumped for the location, as above. Sometimes it’s whose point of view to write a scene in. Whatever it is, the question marks tell me what is not nailed down that needs to be.

It helps to leave a scene that’s not working. Is there another scene you can imagine more clearly? Write that one instead. You might discover that the problem scene might not need to be in the book, or it could work better in another character’s point of view.

An excellent way to avoid blockages like this altogether is to allot time in your schedule for stuff that you like, but which has nothing to do with writing. Physical activity is crucial for good health. We don’t all have the time or money to join health clubs (I sure don’t), but we can take daily walks most of the year. Take a few minutes to put on a good song when you’re alone and boogie around the room. Seriously. If all you can do is chair dance, do that! The music alone gives you a mental break.

People do a lot of things when they’re stuck. I also find cooking and needlepoint soothing. What do you suggest to refresh yourself?


Filed under Writer's block

A Brick in the Wall

I am writing this post with my feet up and an ice pack around my left ankle. No, I haven’t suffered a dramatic injury. It’s more a matter of running into a wall I’ve seen ahead of me but haven’t had to acknowledge before now: age.

Not old age, yet. Just age. My ankle is on ice because I had my weekly ballet class last night. For several weeks, we’ve been working on a complicated section of petits battements, small jumps and footwork. These movements require speed, strength and elasticity. Until recently, I was pretty decent at them. Now, repeated practice has resulted in swelling and tenderness along both Achilles tendons, to the point that I am in pain not only when I dance, but when I do other things. Like walk down steps.

I’ve danced most of my life and know what to do to minimize injuries.  I’ve also tried to dance through the pain, but it has worsened progressively. Despite my attempts to avoid a doctor’s appointment until June, I’ll go in sometime in the next two weeks. Online research about my symptoms keep bringing up articles about tendonitis, and they all have variations of the phrase “often afflicts people over 40″.  Well, I am over 40 all right. Way over 40. Over ten years over 40, in fact.

As walls go, this one is more an annoyance than a serious, stop-you-cold-in-your tracks issue like catastrophic illness or losing your retirement savings. But it IS an annoyance. I may have to cut back on an activity I love because my body can’t do it any more.

That weekly dance class is a huge stress reliever. No matter how rotten my mood is when I go in, I am calmer and happier when I leave. I don’t pretend to understand how movement and exertion affect human brain chemistry. What I do understand is that the stylized posture and movements of ballet require my complete attention.  I can’t pirouette and let my mind wander to the car repair bill or the chapter that is not working. If my attention wanders from the steps I’m doing, I lose balance or fall behind.

There’s also the pleasure of mastering a new skill, or at least improving it. And I’m not going to lie — it’s an ego boost to know I can keep up with girls my daughter’s age. At least I could before now. Grumble.

If I can put my poor baby self-image aside, there are solutions to my aching ankles. First, I need to get to the doctor and get her diagnosis. Second, I will discuss my dilemma with the dance studio director and ask for her recommendation. I once joked in class that I’d continue ballet until I had to hobble to the barre with a walker. While it seems less amusing today, I do know that adjustments are possible.

But nobody says I have to like them.


Filed under Ballet

More Passion!

We all need a good passion in our lives. I don’t mean sexual passion, although that’s fun, too. I refer to those activities, objects and relationships that make us want to jump out of bed and seize the day. Or if you’re like me, to at least shove the covers back and stagger to the nearest source of caffeine without as much whining.

One of the greatest encouragements I ever heard for giving in to passion came from a sermon. The priest said that those things that make our heart sing are what God means us to enjoy. Whatever you believe (or don’t) about God, we human beings are not meant to slog through life with a mental chorus of ‘should do’ and ‘ought to’ making us miserable. Among the obligations to do things for others, we also have the gift of  intense attraction to certain activities or objects.  These are our passions, and they deserve exploration.

What makes your heart sing? Old houses? New houses? Gardening? Hiking? Movies? Dinner with family? Gaming with friends? I get excited by writing, ballet, period movies, roses, sitting under a shade tree on a hot day. There’s more, but hopefully  you get the idea.

Note that I said “good passion” in the first line. Those feed our souls. People who are drawn to activities or behavior that hurt themselves or others need to explore their passions as well, but under the guidance of a professional who can help them heal or master their urges.

Granted, any unmastered passion causes problems.  It’s a matter of balance. If you indulge in your love of restoring hardwood floors 24/7, you’re going to alienate the people around you who don’t share that particular passion, and you’ll neglect practical matters like washing the sawdust out of your clothes and eating right. Much as I love writing, at some point I have to turn off the computer or put the pen down.

Souls are smart. Once you discover a way to do things you love on a regular basis, your soul knows it will have another chance to sing. The trick is finding or making the time to feed it in the first place, and then keeping that commitment to yourself. Have you always wanted to learn to dance? Maybe there’s a beginner’s class out there somewhere if you can set aside the time and money, although I’d be careful and ask to observe the class first. The director of our family dance studio believes that dance benefits anyone of any age and sets up ‘adult beginner’ classes so no one is intimidated. It is better to forgo classes if the atmosphere does not nurture you.

If you explore your passions, you might find an activity that brings you so much joy it gets you through the work week. You might even end up with a new job that gives you a sense of purpose and wonder. Either way, a good passion brings out the best in you.

If I had not explored my fascination for telling stories, I would not be published. How many of you have discovered things, big or small, that make your heart do a happy dance? What have you always wanted to try?

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Filed under Goals, Occupations