Writer’s block. We’ve all experienced it, and chances are we will again. But just remember, it’s a block, not a wall. Blocks can be jumped over, moved, or built upon.
While attending (that seems such a formal word for such casual, intimate gathering of writers) the Texas Writer’s Retreat a week ago, I had the opportunity to get to know John Grogan, author of international bestseller Marley & Me, and The Longest Trip Home. I’m always surprised when I meet people who have a certain celebrity status because, more often than not, they are just normal people – well as normal as writer’s can be. 🙂 And John was no different. Very down to earth and full of great stories.
Over several dinners and glasses of wine, John shared some of his insights on writing. He encouraged us all to read an essay in The New Yorker by John McPhee, Draft No. 4. The essay gives a great tip for dealing with writer’s block. I won’t spoil it here because it’s well worth the read.
“We trade the magic to learn how to create the illusion.” -Joe Clifford
As young readers, we found ourselves escaping into various worlds created by our favorite authors. Narnia. Camelot. Middle-earth. We walked through fantasy lands in search of nothing more than adventure and story.
As we discovered our own words, and began to believe that our stories were worth telling, we found ourselves reading the same books again, only this time we were searching for something more, something hidden between the lines that stained the page, the visions that bloomed in our minds. Instead of asking who,what,where or when, we toyed with why, and how.
We wanted to understand how the author got from point A to point B, and why he chose either point to begin with. We started to dissect the stories, stripping away the colorful layers of adjectives, exposing the veins with actions coursing through them, and studying the organs, both minor and major so that we could understand the anatomy of the story. And in doing so, we began to hone our craft, and create our own magic.
Perhaps the only magician we have is the artist. -Anais Nin
We are master magicians. Page performers. Word wizards. It’s who we are. It’s what we do.
I’m off to cast a spell on some unsuspecting characters now.
One of the first sessions was with Joe Clifford, author of December Boys, Junkie Love and Lamentation, to name a few. He focused on the importance of knowing the setting in order to create truth in your writing. The details will then give verisimilitude to your work.
He challenged us to create a piece using the setting of the ranch. Here’s mine:
Go Big or Go Home
I am sitting on the floor of a quaint Texas ranch house decorated in the finest Asia has to offer. Above Panasonic, the god of TV, sits an ornately carved statue of Buddha guarded by two Chinese dragons. Each wall offers an escape into another world. Hanging wooden masks seem to poke their heads through the veils of time and space merging two unlikely cultures. A bull’s filigreed skull hangs above the doors exiting to the front porch reminding me that I am in Texas.
Once outside the sound of a distant gunshot announces the symphony of late afternoon birds trilling alongside the chuffing of the resident horses, and the chirping of the crickets that lie hidden among the pines. A naked oak dips her moss covered limbs to me in the whispering breeze—an invitation to be here now. I feel an urgency take hold of me – an aching to let this peace soak into my pores—a repository for the days to come.
I close my eyes and I am nowhere and everywhere at the same time. This moment is a big piece of a small part of me that has been crying out for a place to belong. I am embraced by my tribe, both human and wooden.
If Texas is a place where everything is bigger, I must be colossal. The tree soaked landscape surrounds me and yet I tower above it all. I am a tall tale waiting to be told. I am big and I am home.
Stay tuned for more writing tips, and stories from the retreat.