The Writers Circle: The Power of Words

TWC
One of our goals here at Today’s Author is to help all of the writers among us to do what we love to do: write. One of the best ways to accomplish this is by talking to each other and learning from each other.  Our Writers Circle series is designed to do just that – provide a chance for us to discuss writing, editing and publishing questions.

This week’s topic is:

Today let’s talk about the power of writing. Has something you’ve written been so powerful that your entire process of writing has changed? What have you read or written that has changed your life in any way, good or bad?

Let’s discuss this in the comments and see what our community thinks.

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The Writers Circle: Inspiring Words

TWC
One of our goals here at Today’s Author is to help all of the writers among us to do what we love to do: write. One of the best ways to accomplish this is by talking to each other and learning from each other.  Our Writers Circle series is designed to do just that – provide a chance for us to discuss writing, editing and publishing questions.

This week’s topic is:

As writers, there is often a time where we lose focus and lose our confidence.  This is especially true for young, inexperienced writers. Today let’s discuss how we can find inspiration when we need it and how we can (and do) work to inspire others to find their creative stride. 

Let’s discuss this in the comments or on the forums and see what our community thinks.

Games to Inspire Creativity

I’m a nerd.  My kids are nerds. My wife is a nerd (that’s a compliment, honey).  What this means is we often get gifts that are intellectually stimulating (along with the occasionally absurd varieties).

Two of the games we have on our shelf tend to spur a lot of creativity in our house.  First, there are Rory’s Story Cubes.  Rory’s Story Cubes are a set of dice that have pictures on them.  You roll the dice and then make up a story based on the pictures that come up.  As far as I know, they have three sets:  Original, Voyages, and Actions.  Each set of dice can be used individually or together to build wild stories that are generated by the random rolls.  It is a pocket-sized game, so it is easy to bring along with you wherever you go.  When you want to make up a quick story, whip out the Cubes, roll them out and start writing!  I find these to be a lot of fun with friends or kids and they can really kick start the creativity if you just want to write something fun or different.

Another game we have received is called You’ve Been Sentenced.  In You’ve Been Sentenced, players select a hand of 10 pentagonal cards from the deck. Each card has various conjugations of a base word.  There are nouns, verbs, adjectives, indefinite articles, proper names — everything you’d need to write complete, grammatically correct sentences.  The goal of the game is to build the longest sentence you can (again, properly formed, grammatically correct).  When a player has achieved what they believe is their best sentence, they set a timer and the other players have until the time runs out to complete their own.  Any player in the game is allowed to argue that your sentence is improper or grammatically incorrect or just doesn’t make sense…then you both defend opinions to the rest of the players (The Jury).  The sentences that result from this are often quite hilarious, on their own, but as you can imagine, the arguments against or in defense of a given sentence are often even more hilarious.  We have had games where in defense of a sentence we’ve spun up entire tales explaining back story and side details about the character(s) within it.  Other times, I have attempted to make each of my sentences (each hand of cards) be part of a single storytelling universe- as you might imagine, this is not easy to do with a random set of words every few minutes.

I’m sure there are many other games out there that can provide similar creative sparks.  I have a box on the table next to me that is called the “Writer’s Toolbox”. In it there are flash cards and popsicle sticks that have words, phrases and ideas written on them. There are also spinners with different words on them.  Selecting a card or stick from the various piles or spinning the word wheel provides different ideas and story arcs.  Similarly, I’ve taken a standard dictionary, closed my eyes, opened to a random page and dropped my finger onto a word… do it a couple times and then use those words to build a story.  (In fact, my wife and I used to do this together… we’d select words, write stories and then compare the results — I told you we’re both nerds…).

In the end, I look at any and all opportunities to find creativity.  Games, prompts and other idea generators are great tools, but ultimately they can just be a means of kick starting the creativity that is already there.  Do you know of any other games similar to these which you use as a means of generating ideas? Share them in the comments!

NOTE:  I am not trying to sell these games, but if you are interested in learning more, I’ve provided links to them on Amazon:

Rory’s Story Cubes

 
You’ve Been Sentenced

10 Beautiful Words

nanowrimoI love words. I keep a list of about three hundred favorites, the ones that draw a mental picture that involves taste and feel as much as sight and sound. I browse them when I’m editing my manuscript, sometimes for inspiration but just as often as a reminder that writing requires a vast collection of great words.

I’d love to compare the average person’s vocabulary (approx. 17,000 words) to a writer’s. I’ve read that Shakespeare used only 15,000 words in all of his plays while Milton used barely 8,000. The problem of course: How many words do you have to sort through to find those perfect 15,000 or 8,000? Because those two gentlemen are about as perfect as a writer can be.

I’m working on a mid-level draft for my current WIP. I’m just about done with the plotting and will begin wordsmithing in about a week.That’s where words come in. I used to be comfortable neologizing words that would fit my story, but have been disabused of that habit (not fully disabused because I just verbized the noun ‘neologism’). Now I stick to words other people invented.

Here are ten you can actually use in your writing without sounding stuffy:

  1. abecedirian–means what it says–a beginner.Rudimentary. The abc’s.
  2. bandog–a large and fierce chained dog. This one’s appealing mostly because I love dogs.
  3. caliginous–murky, dark. Say it aloud. It sounds good.
  4. carabinieri–Italian national police force. This has a strength, a foreign power that I’ll probably never get to use because my characters aren’t going to Italy. I might have to plot a trip.
  5. cobble, as in ‘cobble together’. Can’t you just see that 1700’s cobbler tap-tapping at your plan, creating a beautiful mental quilt from scraps of disparate ideas
  6. confluence–a flowing together a coming together of people. ‘A confluence of events’. Comes after you’ve cobbled for a while.
  7. concatenation–interlinked series. MS Excel users know this word. It’s how you cobble together clues and discover a confluence of events. I love problem solving in quirky original ways.
  8. dappled–mottled, spotted. A dappled meadow, or horse. I see the dancing spots of brilliant color
  9. deus ex machina–a powerful image of an unexpected problem-solver. I’ll get it into my writing eventually. So far, it’s sounded contrived.
  10. doppelganger–Alter ego. I know in my writer’s soul I can turn this ghostly double into a problem-solver.

You have to admit, these are cogent and pithy words. Let me know how you use them.

I write a lot about words. Here are some other articles:

I’m not the only one who writes about favorite words. Here are Yorick Reintjens’ 117 favorite words. Or Imgur’s list of 100.


Jacqui Murray is the author of dozens of books (on technology in education) as well as the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for Examiner.com and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. In her free time, she is editor of technology training books for how to integrate technology in education which you can find on Structured Learning (a collaborative publisher).

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Charades

charades_imageCharades is the game of finding the correct words to translate a silent pantomime. It’s a time filler when the party runs up the alcohol level and winds down the intelligence quotient. Writing is about finding the correct words to describe what’s going on in your book. Good writing sets the standard for intelligent expression and evokes authentic experience. We learn as young writers not to write, he was in despair, she was terrified, they felt horror run through their veins. What does any of that say? Is it the same despair you felt when you weren’t invited to the prom? Probably not if it’s the despair of a boy taken from his village to be turned into a soldier to fight an adult war. Is it the terror you experienced when your grades arrived in the mail and your parents got the envelope before you did? Not likely in comparison to the terror of a little girl snatched from her mother’s arms and pulled into a stranger’s van. Is it the horror you bore as your kid stuffed her dirty underwear down your toilet and flushed? Not quite like the horror of the child that stands at his mother’s bedside and sees the rise of her final breath, then wonders who will care for him.

Yet all we writers have is words. How I’d love the throb of a deep drum pounding out the steps of the boy as he is marched into the army. A volcano to erupt when the little girl is taken from her mother. A torrential downpour as the child stands beside his dead mother and doesn’t know where he’ll sleep that night. Those words – despair, terror, horror – have so many labyrinths of suggestion, depending on context. Context is everything. Writers must explain what we mean, how it really is.

Explain what you mean in too many disjointed words and your reader closes your book. “It was a jungle so dark that the leaves overhead blocked all the light, the way that a canvas tarp blocks out the sky when you go camping, but this was much more terrifying because they weren’t camping, they’d forgotten their compass and they were lost.” Your reader didn’t get that far – yawning with disorientation, he quit reading a description of a jungle the writer had never experienced.

This is the jungle of the 1959 Belgian Congo in the hands of Barbara Kingsolver from The Poisonwood Bible:

Vines strangling their own kin in the everlasting wrestle for sunlight. The breathing of monkeys. A glide of snake belly on branch. A single-file army of ants biting a mammoth tree into uniform grains and hauling it down to the dark for their ravenous queen. And, in reply, a choir of seedlings arching their necks out of rotted tree stumps, sucking life out of death. This forest eats itself and lives forever.

Here is the Nigerian jungle from Little Bee by Chris Cleave when Little Bee walks into it with her big sister, Nkiruka:

When we reached the jungle it was silent and dark…We walked for a long time, and the path got narrower, and the leaves and the branches closed in on us tighter and tighter until we had to walk one behind the other. The branches began closing in on the path so that we had to crouch down. Soon we could not carry on at all…We carried on for a little way, weaving around the plants, but very soon we realized we had missed the path and we were lost.

In this excerpt, Ann Patchett describes Marina Singh’s first view of the Amazon jungle from State of Wonder:

At dusk the insects came down in a storm, the hard-shelled and soft-sided, the biting and stinging, the chirping and buzzing and droning, every last one unfolded its paper wings and flew with unimaginable velocity into the eyes and mouths and noses of the only three humans they could find. Easter slipped back inside his shirt while Dr. Swenson and Marina wrapped their heads like Bedouins in a storm.

Three views of the jungle with very different depictions, each authenticated by distinctive detail. We didn’t have to read the books with the dictionary on our other arm; the words are basic. Master writers use words precisely and we get the image. Novice writers must learn to apply that kind of expertise and insight to their stories.

The convergence of characters and divergent life paths becomes our story; how we describe those characters and divulge that action becomes our voice. There is no voice without adequate words. Our point of view suggests the cultural focus of character choices and reactions, and the multitude of words provides the means of expression.

How to choose, what to choose, what words will do the job best? It might be the smallest words, those that let us see details that reveal the truth because other words are rife with ambivalence or too many definitions. When describing the process of marquetry in The Inlaid Table, I couldn’t write, “A complex machine forms an intricate shape.” I want the reader to look through the pin holes pierced by a thin needle so they can see the precision of placement for tiny shards of wood to create a sunburst pattern. It’s the same information but one take is broad and general, the other, specific and detailed. The first example hints at the finished product; the second lets the reader see the breadth and skill of the task. And all just a few carefully chosen words.

A book is as much charade as the party game. The audience/ reader tries to figure it out by watching/reading the clues. The master paints a more vigorous picture – that’s the level I aim for.

Be well, friend.

Baring it All: The Challenge of Short Poems

It was the evening of April 30, the final day of National Poetry Month, and I had just realized that I was four poems short of my goal of 30 poems in 30 days. Dinner was almost on the table, Game of Thrones was cued up, and wine was ready to be drunk. I knew if I waited to write until after all of that, it would be too late. So, I decided to write some very short poems to get my count. I felt a little like I was cheating, but I reminded myself that short poems have as much a place in poetry as long poems do—haiku and senryu, being the most recognized forms of short poetry. I reminded myself, too, of the power and punch of “The Red Wheelbarrow”by William Carlos Williams, one of my favorite poems:

so much depends
upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
chickens.

 

With the clock ticking, I returned to an article I had recently read in Outside Magazine by Eliza Griswold. Griswold researched and wrote about an ancient Pashtun folk poetry form called landay which is two lines and 22 syllables long. According to this article, landays are written primarily by women, and share intimate life experiences, including heartaches, sex, reflections on war, a woman’s position in society, and more. Landays pack a lot into 22 syllables. Take this one, for example:

When sisters sit together, they’re always praising their brothers
When brothers sit together, they’re selling their sisters to others.

(Incidentally, the syllable count changes when the poem is translated, which is why the above poem has more than 22 syllables.)

I decided to give the form a try.

What’s deceptive about short poetry, and short form poetry, specifically, is that it looks so easy. You’ve got limits, both line and syllable limits, and often, as is the case with haiku, senryu, and landay, you’ve got content limits. Haiku must be about nature, senryu about human mishaps and quirks, landay about life stories. Simple, right?

Writing in a truncated form like this requires you to leave things out. And knowing that you must leave things out to fit the form, means that what you leave in is all the more important. With only a handful of syllables, your poetry becomes bare, almost raw. An awkward line, or not-quite-right word can’t hide behind its better counterparts. It’s all out there, which means, of course, that any neuroses you might have already harbored as far as your writing goes, gets heightened, amplified.

As I began to piece my landays together, I looked again at the ones listed in the article and thought about “The Red Wheelbarrow.” None of these poems employ complicated language. There are no clever turns of phrase. No difficult literary devices to speak of. Nothing immediately sensational. They are simple, spare. What they all do, however, is withhold something, and this doesn’t just apply to their form.

Take “The Red Wheelbarrow.” We are told that “so much depends” on the wheelbarrow, but we don’t know what. We are given a scene, but no overt characters. The characters are implied: someone must exist to push the wheelbarrow, someone must feed the chickens.

In the landay above, we don’t know why the brothers sell the sisters, or why the sisters continue to sing their brothers’ praises, even after being sold. We don’t know precisely why this separation and inequality exist between the sexes.

This conscious withholding in content is what allows these short poems to be so powerful. With what little information provided, readers are left to fill in the blanks, to lend color and substance to the image that has been just barely sketched for us by the author.

In the end, I wrote my four landays. It was an exercise in holding back, and in being careful with language. I felt the weight of my words more so than I usually do. I felt as if I was playing with a Rubik’s cube, turning words this way and that, sliding words in, sliding them out again, until I had my perfect line-up of syllables, until each word packed just the right punch.

Here’s one that I produced, on the eve of April 30, just before food, fantasy, and wine:

Discharging

The boys come home, each in their time. Some look for-
ward: cabs, dates, summer; others burn to go back.

 

8 Things Writers Can Do No One Else Can

writerThere are a lot of difficult parts to writing. I mean, besides the whole write-edit-revise-rewrite thing. That cutting a vein and bleeding on the page can get touch-and-go at times. Channeling your muse at times gets someone you’d prefer to avoid. And it’s well documented that trying to make a living as an author is pretty near impossible unless your last name rhymes with ‘Fancy’ or ‘Brawling’.

Despite all that, it’s a profession people flock to, spend thousands training to be, and wouldn’t give up for anything. Widely-accepted studies show 80% of Americans have a book we want to share–despite the fact that industry stats show it takes five years to hone and deliver an acceptable novel. It may–or may not–surprise you to know that pursuing a writing career has less to do with that magical feeling you get from turning words into pictures and more to do with what writers get to do that no one else gets to do. Here are eight things we can do that no one else gets to do:

Create new words

We can–and are expected to–create words to fit a situation. Did you think only politicians, speechwriters, and Merriam Webster could do that? Writers are the original neologists. We get to turn nouns into verbs and the reverse (called ‘nounizing’ and ‘verbizing’). True, with our excellent command of vocabulary, we usually come up with the perfect word, but when we don’t, we create it. The Global Language Monitor reports that a new word is created every 98 minutes. No one will notice if you slip one in. Just the other day, I added the verb ‘Snowdened’ to the lexicon.

Stare at people with impunity

As a writer, people watching is studying our craft. We need to know exactly how everyday individuals react to common occurrences, so we watch them eating, reprimanding their children, walking their dogs, talking to the postman, fighting with mates–everything. When doing this, hang a sign around your neck ‘Writer at work’ so everyone understands you aren’t staring, you’re developing your craft.

Be quirky and call it cute

Have you noticed writers often are quirky dressers? In fact, if you see someone dressed like they’re going to play golf, but they aren’t, they may be a writer. We wear hats, bright colors, hair that’s too long for our age, lipstick that’s too loud for our age. Men can hang out with a roomful of women if they’re a writer and no one thinks it’s a pick-up line. With writers, quirky is cute.

Choose reading over anything else

The Huffington Post reported that 28% of Americans have not read a book all year. That’s amazing, considering as a writer, it’s part of our skill set. So why don’t people read? As an adult, reading is considered a leisure-time activity. Adults talk about reading as though it’s that finish line of a day they never get to. It’s something they strive for and rarely reach. My reward is to read. I’m going on vacation and planning to read.

Not writers. For us, reading is part of the job. We have to keep up with what others are doing, learn new words, recognize the consequences of flaws, research a topic we are writing about. While others are forced to drink, boy-watch, girl-watch, attend work-related events, we must read. If you love reading, this might be a reason you pick being a writer over, say, becoming a plumber or a politician.

Talk to people who are not there

We’re not talking to No One. We’re talking to our characters. They’re talking to us. We listen and respond. Sometimes, we fight with them, argue, cajole. Sometimes, we’re trying to find out why they did something or what-the-heck their plan is because we have no idea (it would be nice if they’d share it with their writer, but this is more complicated than it sounds).

Talking to individuals others can’t see is in the job description. Get used to it.

Be anyone we want to be

Not quite the same as ‘be all you can be’, but it’s a cousin to that. With a sweep of our pen, we create a whole new world, drop ourselves in as a brains-and-beauty heroine, save the world, or just save a puppy. Doesn’t matter. With words, we can be and do anything we want.

I love that.

Handle rejection

This we do better than anyone has a right to do because we get a lot of practice. Writers finish on average a novel a year (although Russell Blake seems to write one a month, but then, he doesn’t have many rejections to contend with). So every year, we submit to agents who reject us. My goal is one hundred query letters per novel before moving to Plan B. That’s one hundred times I hear No, F*** no, Are you crazy No, Don’t call until I’m dead No, What were you thinking No.There are dozens of ways to say No and I know most of them.

By the time we reach three novels (the suggested number required before new authors can find agents), we can quickly recognize, categorize, and move on with a minimal amount of tears.

I’m sure there are more great reasons to become a writer. What would you add to this list?

More humor about writing:

14 Things Writers Do Before 8am

How to Talk to a Writer

Labor Day Thoughts: Do You Really Want to Try to Earn a Living as a Writer?


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for Examiner.com and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. In her free time, she is editor of technology training books for how to integrate technology in education. Currently, she’s editing a techno-thriller that should be out to publishers next summer.

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Mainlining Iced Tea

I didn’t always enjoy writing—in fact, I can still remember a time when I hated to write.  Through public school all the way up into high school I wrote for school assignments–and did well at it.  But only occasionally did I ever find it enjoyable.  And then it was generally because I liked the assignment more than deriving any real pleasure from crafting something that people would enjoy reading.

It’s difficult to pinpoint when that changed.  I’ve been thinking about it for days, and I guess it happened slowly through my college years.  That was when I had the freedom to pick classes that interested me.  Sure, I had to take a history class, but I got to choose the Peloponnesian war over WWII and it’s effects on Modern Society.  That class had a lot of writing–and a professor that was a real nitpicker–but I remember enjoying writing my essays.

Later, as I moved into advertising courses, and a host of creative writing classes, and essay-centric classes that explored interesting subjects, writing became more and more of a joy.

I’m certain that much of that had to do with my ability to tackle interesting subject matter.  Added to that was the fact that I was now skilled enough at writing that it wasn’t a source of undue stress.  But there was something more.  I had finally stumbled upon the truly artistic side of writing.  I had begun to feel about words what painters feel about paints and colors.  The words began to have beauty in and of themselves.  Words became things–sure, things with specific meanings–but still they were things. Building blocks.  Paints.  Notes.  Colors.  Rhythms.

This was when writing stories and essays became fun.  When I would take my notebook and pen, find a 24-hour diner, stake out a booth, mainline iced tea, and produce pages and pages and pages of…well, sure some of it was crap.  But a lot of it was good.  And even the stuff that wasn’t good, was fun.

My whole writing career, that’s the feeling I’m trying to replicate.  When I sit down with my favorite fountain pen, and some mid-quality paper, I’m trying to rid my mind of all my problems and get back to that booth with the endless iced tea, and the steady stream of words.

And colors.

And notes.

And paints.

And rhythms.

Will Walk for Words

My writing routine begins with a walk outdoors. Not a long walk or a fast one. Two miles up the street and back, early in the morning in summer before our California sun blisters the city, or before rain turns a winter walk into a slog. Most mornings it’s a walk on the shady side of the street, a familiar trek that doesn’t require me to think about where to turn or when to start ambling back home.

I’m lucky if I can get going without returning for one last thing, like replacing the house phone for my cell, realizing I’m not wearing my contacts, trading stiff shoes for a more comfortable pair, one more trip to bathroom, another smear of sunblock. Once I’m finally on my way, it’s a slight uphill hike and a reverse easy jaunt down.

A walk is a great opportunity to get a bit of exercise, because I will never wear those dorky rubber band outfits I’d have to don to go to a gym. I work out problems, even if I don’t work up much of a sweat, like the chronic situations that give me nightmares if I sleep in too late. I worry about personal problems, because as much as I’m fortunate to have loving family and friends, there is always someone to worry about.  I worry about the injustices of my employment, politically inspired office intrigue affecting even my paltry claim to the working world. The walk uphill gives me a chance to excise those devils, though they’ll return like persistent hiccups. I walk more and more determinedly, relinquishing the pain in my calves for concentration on those cerebral irritants. Most days I realize there is little I can do except let go my worry, anger, and frustration, so I do, which is a resolution of sorts.

At the top of the rise my palm swings around the light post that signals my walk homeward, and I begin to write. I work in my head because I can’t walk with a laptop though I’ve considered it. Some of my effort will get lost on the way home, but I’ll retain the essence of my work.

I hunt when I walk. I am a bird of prey. I seek words and pluck them before they scurry to safety. I stash interesting words that say things other than boring things like thing, (could you be more specific?) or stuff, (could you please be more specific?) or something (oh come on now.) Words rally, inspired by the crack of a brittle tree limb, a flash of sunlight tackling a flag on a house balcony, the blap of a horn as a car zips by. Sensory imprints cast words like paladin (I want one of them for my very own, with sword or without), bleat (the sound of losers whining or of animals trapped in tales about Cyclopic pigs with batwings), contrafactum (just hum along here). I cache words for late night writing snacks.

Then I’m on to phrases, collections of words strung in movable pieces like fridge magnets, passages whizzing around pesky as gnats. Found this one after passing an odorous clump left by someone who owns a dog but “forgot” the blue plastic baggie: “a dapple of sunlight teasing shadows on the ground, the only beauty in this muck.” Technically the dog left it, but you know what I mean. This next phrase is a bit of a cheat as I discovered it after falling into the cul de sac trying to remove a stubbornly rooted weed, minutes after completing my walk: “I see myself as a force of nature but a submissive one.” Maybe this one is usable: “Why is it that when something drops, it always slides under a cabinet so massive and low-grounded that you can’t reach it without a backhoe?” Cheating again, a complete sentence but not a profound one. The idea came after the pretty stone I wanted to keep dropped and rolled under a tangle of weeds, lost forever. How many unidentifiable clumps did I want to turn over?

Finally it’s the serious stuff I’m gathering. Like the sight of the lady who used to push a baby stroller done up in hot pink tiger stripes with sequined bows on the sun awning. A close look revealed it wasn’t her child she was pushing. Well, not her human child, anyway. It was a shih-tzu-oodle-hua, one of those toy pooches bred not for walking or running like other wild critters, but a little fluff of squeaks to salve a lonely soul who doesn’t have a hope of having grandchildren. And then my pity rolls out, because as awful as I find the tawdry contraption in which the yapper rides, I also respond to the woman’s isolation, so removed from the world that she can best communicate with a mini dog that can’t talk. Or walk.

The sensations, images, and words I’ve collected on my walk will show up in my writing. I’ll bring them to the front when I need to feel an activity in my gut, when I want to describe something with authentic detail. I’ll twist, tweak, and change elements to suit, but they’ll end up in some story. The best walks deliver the opening to writing gridlock that’s kept me scribbling drivel for the last day or two. Engaged with story, I’ll delete crap, write passages, correct problems, or know how to get my main character rolling off the sofa to make a decisive move in my WIP.

Back home in an hour, I’ve worked off 27 calories – 32 if I’ve walked fast – a paltry effort at improving my health. But I’ve started to write and can hardly wait to get on the computer. That’s my routine, odd as it is. For me it works. Let me know what works for you. Be well, friend.

Rekindling an Old Flame

Lately I’ve been feeling a little lightheaded and dizzy.  There have been knots in my stomach. My heart rate is elevated. I’m having trouble focusing on my tasks.  I feel kind of tingly.

Based on my search of the internet, I could have the flu.  It might be excessive caffeine use.  I might have swallowed a fish bone, balloon or pin. I could be showing signs of a drug overdose (cocaine, several narcotics and/or nicotine are the likely culprits).  Or I might have recently had a Botox injection.  These symptoms also could be caused by recent scuba diving activity, apparently…

Or, I could be falling in love.

You see, I’ve re-connected with my old flame – a long-lost love.  It’s okay, you can tell my wife. She’ll understand and won’t be jealous about it. In fact, she’ll probably be relieved that I’ve got something else to distract me for a while. But yes, I am in love. With words.  And I’m so grateful that they’ve come back to give me yet another chance despite the nastiness of our last breakup.

It was my fault, of course.  Over the past couple of years we had drifted apart.  It’s not you, it’s me, I’d say, but the hurt feelings and blank pages were not particularly forgiving.  Ultimately, our inability to communicate caused a complete breakdown in our relationship and eventually the words simply gave up and walked out.

But the other day we happened upon each other in a coffee shop.  I was drinking my morning Blonde Roast when they arrived. It was awkward at first… our conversation focusing meekly on a vague to-do list.  The little red notebook I carry around was soon fished out of my pocket and the pen started to move slowly across the paper, filling in little details about laundry that needed washing, garden seeds that needed planting and snow that needed shoveling. I’ve missed you, I admitted to the words dangling in front of me and they reached out and gently touched my hand.

Suddenly, we were in an airship on a search and rescue mission.  Sweat was dripping as crewmen barked orders at each other in the searing heat from the unforgiving sun. We battled the extreme heat, tremendous wind and gravitational forces no human or human-made airship was meant to experience in order to try to rescue Princess Latte from the evil clutches of Lord Chai who was planning to turn the princess into a weapon to destroy society as we knew it. Just as we reached the coordinates of his evil lair, the ship started shaking, we were tossed around the bridge and the engines failed, causing us to crash in an alien and unforgiving terrain.  The crash destroyed our communications equipment – our only link to the rest of civilization – and also destroyed our solar turbine drives– our only means of making coffee or getting ourselves and the princess home.

In between, from the moment we left the base to the moment we crashed… there were words. So many powerful, action-packed, emotion-filled, beautiful words.  There were tears, fears and laughs.  There were bad puns.  There were a few brazenly split infinitives.  Nearly 1300 words were scrawled on those pages in a matter of fifteen minutes.  When I finally put the pen down I found my coffee mug to be empty (I didn’t remember drinking it) and I found myself out of breath and shaking with an adrenaline rush I hadn’t had in quite some time. The power of words to take you from one moment and place and transport you to another… I love that power. I love embracing it and succumbing to it.

I especially love writing when I can totally immerse myself into the scene and become the characters.  Feeling their emotions, experiencing their pain, tasting their coffee– if I can get into a scene like that while I’m writing, it makes me feel a little dizzy and a little nauseous and a little distracted. It just feels right.

It’s kind of silly to think that the symptoms of loving something – whether it’s a person or the act of putting words on a page – are so similar to the symptoms of so many diseases or addictions or … scuba diving experiences (seriously, webMD, where’d that one come from?).  But for me at least it really is kind of like that when I write.

What about you?  Is there something about writing you love? Do you ever just write and end up feeling like a school kid navigating the minefield of your first crush?  In honor of Valentine’s Day, fill the comments with things you love about writing so that we might all fall in love again.