Big Sky, Blank Paper

July 23, 2019

I don’t feel like writing. Creative writing, I mean – the novels and short stories I write that bring me such pleasure. It’s not writer’s block, at least not how I understand writer’s block. I have plenty of ideas floating around in my head that I’m itching to write down. I’m not avoiding or procrastinating. There are plenty of days when I don’t feel like writing, yet I sit down and do it anyway. This is different. I. Just. Can’t. Do. It.

As I’ve struggled to find my way back to my happy writing place, I read a blog post that helped. It’s titled “Motors” on “Andrew’s View of the Week”. He has a clever writing style using metaphors interspersed with engineering terms. Anyway, I think I’ve run out of creative energy and I need to recharge my batteries.

How do I recharge? People. I’m an extrovert, so social situations energize me. I’m very high energy, and I like new and different stimuli – people, places, food. Cities are filled with energy. So, what better place to recharge than going to two new cities on vacation?

In my last post, I talked about going to Portland. Here, I’ll talk briefly about Seattle and our train journey across country. I was especially looking forward to the train where I’d meet all new people and recharge. But first…

Seattle has hills, not quite San Francisco hills, but big ones! I’m sure we lost weight. We stayed by the Space Needle, but the highlight for me was the Chihuly Glass Garden. All I heard was there were amazing glass sculptures. A perfect description.

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Was I inspired to write? No.

The waterfront tourist area was fun; we had some great seafood. We especially enjoyed Pike Place Market, where we watched them “throw fish” and had the very best clam chowder and seafood chowder at…. Pike Place Chowder! If you go, it’s well worth the wait. And DON’T waste your time and money on an underground tour. That was stupid.

I still wasn’t in the mood to write, but I had high hopes the train journey would alleviate that.

After a couple days in Seattle, we boarded the train for our 50+ hour journey across country. We got a roomette, which is a sleeper room about the size of a dinner booth. Really.

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Meals in the dining car are included in the roomette price, and since there were just two of us, the hostess would seat us with other travelers at the booths for four.

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When we went to dinner the first night, I didn’t feel like talking to strangers, a feeling I attributed to being tired. However, I felt the same way the next day at breakfast. I put on a happy face and was social but I didn’t enjoy it. I wanted to be by myself.

I strive for balance in my life and that includes some solitude, but I’d never felt the need for it on vacation. The new people were draining me. For a description of this feeling from a self-proclaimed introvert, check out Quaint Revival, where Shelley describes how an introvert feels in social situations, an eye-opener for me.

So, there we were on the train with hundreds of strangers in close proximity. And, I admit, we were a bit disappointed by the view. We were in the Great Plains. The flatlands. There’s nothing there except some distant mountains we saw for about 10 minutes.

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I had gone back to the roomette after an energy-draining lunch, while my boyfriend went to the observation car. I decided it was time to write, whether I felt like it or not, and I definitely did not feel it.

I pulled out the small table, and retrieved my writing tablet and pen. My arm felt like dead weight. It was all I could do to lift my arm and rest my wrist on the table.

I stared out the window determined to find some beauty. Gratitude welled up within me for seeing the country in a way I never had before. I continued staring out the window looking for something… anything. And then I looked up.

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It was like being in a snow globe. The sky went on forever. BIG SKY. Images of cowboys and campfires and roundups flooded my brain. The clouds were amazing.

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I saw submarines lined up. I saw a pig relaxing on its back. Go ahead, you can think I’m crazy. None of my friends saw anything other than clouds. (And do submarines even line up???)

I went a little nutty snapping pictures of clouds. And I started writing… not a whole story, just fragments.

Then the rain started, bringing contentment with it.

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The desolation frightened her a bit but the new life she was steaming towards had to be better than the one she had left behind…

What had she done? Where was the town? Her mother had told her repeatedly not to do this, but she was determined. Having grown up in the city, she hadn’t known there was this much unpopulated land. Arrgh. Then a dark-haired man strode through the rail car, his boots clomping. She caught her breath as he tipped his cowboy hat her way revealing bright blue eyes. Maybe this would be okay after all. (yeah, yeah, mostly cliché but it’s a start)

Big Sky country. Montana. I want to go back. Stay on a dude ranch. Ride horses.

North Dakota boasted the bluest sky I’ve ever seen, a sky almost as big as the Montana sky. And then I saw the rainbow. God’s promise. The sight filled me with joy.

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We traveled through a few more states, and I wrote a bit more. By the time we returned home, my batteries were about half charged. I’ll continue to seek out solitude and big nature, and I’m confident I’ll be back in my happy writing place soon.

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Sketch Me a Story

April 30, 2019

I write longhand. Yes, with a sketch pad and a rollerball pen. When I get into my zone and write thousands of words at a sitting, I get callouses from the pen rubbing on my fingers.

Typewriters were once the writing instrument of choice. Think Ernest Hemingway, Mark Twain, Agatha Christie, Tennessee Williams. Even today, some writers choose a typewriter rather than a computer. Think Larry McMurtry, poet Maya Angelou, Danielle Steel. (That’s not me in the picture. I think it’s Agatha Christie.)

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Although I’ve never used a typewriter for writing fiction, the idea prompts feeling of nostalgia — writers long ago, solitarily pounding out stories.

When I began delving into writing fiction a few years ago, I wrote on my laptop. The advice I googled online and found in books about the craft of writing went something like this: “Write as fast as you can, get it all out, and then go back and fix it.” Sounded right.

I rose every morning at 5 am, another suggestion I found. I’m a night owl, yet I groggily sat at my laptop and spewed out the words to my story, all the while devouring online writing advice, most of which made no sense to me.

I wrote ferociously, and it took me 3 months to finish my novel. Then, per more advice, I set it aside for a month. What a sense of accomplishment. I had written a novel! It was 120,000 words.

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Photo by Quentin Dr on Unsplash

When I brought it back out to “fix it”, I couldn’t. It was crap. The writing was awful, and it needed to be completely rewritten. Spewing didn’t work; I needed to figure out what did work.

The early mornings, unfortunately, remain the best time for me to write. I wake up thinking about my characters and before the day’s activities and distractions start, I sit down and write.

I also recognized that I needed to write more slowly, more thoughtfully. As I looked over my writing, I kept going back to a scene I had written one evening while laying in bed watching TV. I had been compelled to write, so I grabbed a notebook – an actual paper notebook – and pen, and I wrote. It was good, and it made me realize that I feel more creative with a pen and pad of paper. I write thoughtfully, creatively, slowly. I contemplate each sentence and each word.blank sketchpad

In what I can only label divine inspiration, I bought a sketchpad. No margins, no lines, just blank paper. This, too, makes me feel creative. After all, writing is a craft, something it took a while for me to understand.

When I took my first cross-country, overnight train trip last year, I went armed with my writing sketchbook. As we traveled through the Rocky Mountains, I sat in the observation car and attempted to capture the view and the feelings the scenery invoked. I took pictures, but mostly I wrote:

I wake as the day brightens. The train’s motion, coupled with the choo-choo sound of the wheels, had rocked me to sleep like a newborn in a cradle. Out the window of our sleeper I see snow-covered foothills of the Southern Rocky Mountains. Thick clouds hang low and I hope for snow.

Foothills give way to boulder-strewn mountainsides while antelope graze in the plain, the white tufts on their heads the giveaway to this city girl. Boulders and smaller rocks sit on top of and next to each other, reminding me of totem poles and Indians and the Wild West. Higher mountains in the distance show gradations of browns and oranges, and rivers and tributaries traverse the countryside.

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We cross into Colorado, another mountain range filling the windows, this one with rock walls going straight up and topped with copious pine trees. I can only imagine the size of the pine cones.

Snow begins to fall, coating the mountainsides and rail side scrubs. The wind picks up, creating eddies of snow, simulating tornadoes, swirling, swirling and breaking apart. The Colorado River is frozen here, having transformed from running rapids.

We cross into Iowa and see endless fields of corn and grain, the stalks swaying in the wind. Field after field, neat row after neat row, acres and acres of crops. The phrase “amber waves of grain” repeats in my mind, and I’m grateful we haven’t paved the entire countryside and built cities.

I’m going on another train trip in a couple months. The first things on my packing list: A 200-page sketch pad and 4 rollerball pens, black.

Tell me what writing method you use – Laptop? Typewriter? Pencil and paper? I’m curious if other writers have experimented with different tools. What facilitates your creativity?

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