Pickle Lemonade: Getting Blocked
This is a new series of posts that will deal with making the best out of a bad situation. Because when life gives you lemons, you can definitely make lemonade. But when life gives you pickle juice…wtf are you supposed to do with that?
If you’re a creative individual, you have probably run yourself into walls on several occasions. The dreaded ‘block.’ Sometimes it’s a full on creative constipation: nothing comes out no matter how much you try and you’re just stuck in an uncomfortable funk. Other times, you start a piece, get halfway through and then have no clue how to move forward.
No matter which one you’re dealing with, it sucks. Nothing, short of a nasty rejection or an asshole-ish piece of ‘constructive criticism,’ feels worse than just not being able to create when that’s all you want to do. But there is a particularly fresh hell to the latter. You’ve jumped into a new project with all the vim and vigor of a newborn god, you’ve gotten right into the thick of it and then…you have a half-made mess of meat and gunk that it supposed to turn into a life. You stare at it, completely at a loss as to how to breathe air into this amalgam of half-formed gobbledy-gook.
What do you do now?
Here are a few tricks you could try to loosen up and get to that sweet, sweet place of completion.
- Re-establish the end goal: This works with both writing and visual art. For a story, it can be, “I want this character to die and this character to parade over his corpse.” For a painting, it can be, “I want this red wet wheelbarrow with white chickens.” Sometimes you have to know the end destination before you get on the road.
- Work backward: Once you have an idea of where you’re ending, think about what needs to lead up to that. This doesn’t have to be fully formed or permanent, but just decide what needs to happen to get to that place you established as the end.
- Give it some space (but not too much space): Maybe your piece needs to do its own thing for a while. Maybe you’re suffocating it with your constant dialogues about ‘what it should be’ and ‘why don’t you love me enough to finish yourself.’ That’s annoying me just thinking about it. Step back and do something else. Even an hour away can make a big difference. And when you come back, bring chocolate. On that note, though, don’t give it so much room to itself that you never come back. That way leads to tragedy.
- Get back to your roots: Ultimately, no matter what ‘audience’ you’ve decided you are creating for, your enjoyment and personal fulfillment comes back down to what you would want to consume. Look at books, movies and pieces of art that touch you. Think about what makes you come back to them time and again. Is there an element there that your own work is missing? Build off that. Just make sure you don’t copy. Then you’re being a dick.
- Write about it: Get out a piece of paper, open up a new Google doc, or just turn on a voice recorder and start talking it out. Be frank and open with yourself about your goals for the piece that’s giving you problems. Ask yourself why you got into it in the first place. What was the ideal scenario for after it was finished? What scenes did you really want to show? Where is your life going? Actually, keep that last one for another project entirely otherwise you might be stuck there all night.
Have you gotten stuck on projects you’ve started? What finally kicked things loose? Did you keep going with it or did it turn into something else entirely?
We’re Back With a Big Announcement!
UPDATE: today’s leg of the festival has been cancelled because of the weather. See you all tomorrow!
Hello again! I know it’s been a while, but we’re officially back in business with a new, cute urban design! If you’re reading this in RSS, you should pop by and check me out.
Also! I’m here with an awesome announcement of a new venture getting kicked off this weekend.
I tried this out during my book event for ‘Pickled Miracles’ — someone gives me any three words, $5 and five minutes of their time, and I will write a one-of-a-kind original poem. The customers who took part were very pleased with the results and I had a great time with it.
This will be available online soon, but in the meanwhile, if you’re in the Greater Pittsburgh area today or tomorrow, I am going to be at the Plum Community Festival with Rust Belt Creations selling these tailor-made pieces of writing in several unique notecards. Stop by and see me!
Plum Community Festival
Friday, June 23rd 5 to 10 pm
Saturday, June 24th 4 to 10 pp
Larry Mills Park Plum Soccer Fields, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15239
Editing a Monster: Index Card Therapy
I’ve mentioned before that I’m still editing my monster of a novel I did during last year’s NaNoWriMo. And y’all? I do not like editing. I am not good at it. Ask me to write something – anything – any length – and I’ll do it. Ask me to take that mountain and whittle it down into a terrarium, and I lose my damn mind.
As I consider this crazy, meandering thing, I’ve found that I have a lot of characters. So I’m trying a technique that uses a tool I’ve read about many writers employing when they are working on books: index cards.
Here is the process I’m using. For now. Until I get tired of it. But you might find it helpful!
- Take an index card. Write the name of your character on the blank side, including possibly a picture if you have one or a brief physical description.
- On the back, it’s bullet list time. Write down what part you want that character to play — are they the hero? The villain? Someone’s foil?
- Next, write down what they want, ultimately. Their best case scenario. Where they seek to find themselves.
- Write down a few of their favorite things and who they are most linked to in the story.
- Write down what you like about the character. Maybe it’s their dialogue. Maybe it’s just the fact that they seem like someone you would want to be friends with (or, on the other hand, someone you’d like to be running from).
Now, take the cards and lay them out on a table or flat surface. How does your cast look? Did you struggle to find things to write about them? Are there characters you could put together into one MEGA AWESOME CHARACTER FUSION? If your book was a movie, would you want to see it?
Over the next few weeks leading up to NaNoWriMo, I’d like to talk more about my editing process. If there are any aspects to this you would especially be interested in hearing about, leave me a comment here or head over to my Facebook page! Or Twitter! Or homing dolphin!
A Little Something
Trying to sort of organize myself creatively speaking, so here is just something small. A pair of haikus inspired by the nice break in weather we’ve been having in Pittsburgh.
The sun still shines down
But it has become friends with
The promise of fall.
The still-green grass grows
Slower now, preparing for
The leaves’ homecoming.
Microfiction: Four Stories About Love
(This was fun! Stay tuned for whatever is coming next!)
There were three people on opposite sides of the park. An expanse of green spread out between them, dotted by picnic baskets, umbrellas, babies taking shaky steps. Above, a blue ocean of sky. They couldn’t see one another well, but they waved all the same.
They made up stories about each other. The old man was a war veteran. The young boy was his grandchild. The two women and the girl were a new family, brought together by love.
The stories were happy ones, and there were some truths in there, but it didn’t matter. It was a perfect day.
The yeti said ‘I love you’ with mushrooms brought to the seashore, and the mermaid always smiled. He would kneel down and she would braid his long, mossy hair with seaweed, and he chased the gulls away when they dove at her shimmering tail.
The mermaid said ‘I want you here with me’ with abalone and clams. He would build fires at night on the beach and dig tidal pools for her to lounge in, and they watched the stars shine and fade.
And even when her breasts sagged and his hair fell out in clumps, they still remained together.
“Please don’t go,” she said to him, through the tears only a seven-year-old in love could show. “Please don’t move. I’ll let you play with all my toys. As much as you want.”
“My parents are making me. We’re going to Alaska. I’ll send you pictures,” he said, as stoic as a nine-year-old can be.
“But you’ll come back, right?” She blew her nose on his sleeve, even though he made a face. “You’ll come back and see me?”
“I think so,” he said, believing the words.
And every month, there was a postcard with a moose in the mailbox.
They lived in the house together, all five of them, and there was always tea and fresh-cut flowers and blankets in the winter. The house smelled like lemon, and when any of them hurt or felt pain, the other four would enclose them in a circle of love.
Of course, there was talk of the strangers in the beautiful house on the hill. About how their love was something to be feared, something to avoid.
But the yellow walls and brown shutters held tight and fast. Inside, the five needed only one another, and they were happy in that knowledge.
Microfiction: Ending and Beginning
“I don’t want a last meal. I want a bath.”
The guard vouched for him. The prisoner was old, what could be the harm? The guard, who had been a young man when he started in death row. The guard, who had grown to know the man who would die for a crime he didn’t commit.
When he took him to the small bathroom, his final act of mercy was unlocking the cabinet of cleaning supplies, dropping the keys down the toilet. The bleach and ammonia would do the rest.
“Thank you,” the prisoner said as he started to breath.
Fie found the ring in the carrot patch. She slipped it into the pocket of her dirty coveralls before going back to the weeding.
Then, it was a bouquet of roses in the cabbage patch, blood red and fragrant as day. She let them sit, save for one, which she placed in her wide-brimmed hat.
As she dug around the sweet potatoes, she found small, foil-wrapped chocolates, dirt clinging to their ribbons. The truffles melted on her tongue.
“I was already yours, you know,” Fie said, kissing the scarecrow’s cheek. “I’m not going anywhere.”
His silent stitched mouth continued smiling.
The doctor made the robot to look exactly like her. It wasn’t perfect – on the contrary, it had all her acne, her gray hairs, her fifty-two scars. Its voice had her gravelly rasp, her eyes the not-quite-color of evergreen. By the time she was done, she could barely stand to see it.
“Now what?” the robot asked.
“Just go be me.”
“To what end?” Its head inclined, curious.
“I want people to think I’m okay. I don’t want them to watch me die.”
The robot nodded.
“Just pretend until you can’t anymore,” she ordered, ushering it out the door.
Tippy kept a home for the ghosts of small pets. When the Jehovah’s Witness knocked on her door and saw Boogers the rat run through her ankle, he passed out cold.
She brought him inside, and, shooing away the ethereal birds from the couch, set him down. He woke up to a cup of tea, a biscuit and a surly specter guinea pig named Horace.
“I don’t understand,” he said, as a non-corporeal boa tried to wrap around the sofa leg. “Why…?”
“It’s easy for little lives to be forgotten,” she said. “Someone needs to remind them of their importance.”
Microfiction: Absurdity Squared
The plummet from the twenty-third story was surprisingly short. There was barely time to get accustomed to the rush of wind, limbs sprawling, the upward rush sending Tom topsy-turvy until he hit the ground, the whole journey taking three seconds before impact with the ground.
“Dude. You all right?”
Tom looked up at Finn standing over him. Well, his remains. Now, Tom was standing in the exact same clothes, and they watched his body fade into nothing.
“How many lives do you have left?”
“Five. I picked one up by the Starbucks.”
“Why’d you use one?”
He shrugged. “Slow day.”
“It looks like you’re having a burrito.”
The husband and wife looked up at the sonogram with vacant expressions, and as the doctor moved the wand over her jellied stomach, they could make out the curve of the tortilla wrap, the satisfying elongated roundness.
“The tests show beans, cheese, guacamole…ah, and chicken.”
He squeezed her hand as her eyes filled with tears.
“As you progress, we’re expecting sour cream. Maybe lettuce.”
She ran her hands through her hair, face tightening. The doctor smiled comfortingly.
“Just so long as it’s healthy,” the husband said, and she nodded, relieved laughter bubbling forth.