May 28, 2015
When people find out you’re a writer, they tend to ask four questions: what made you decide to write, where do you get your ideas, do you ever get writer’s block and, of course, how do you get over writer’s block?
The answer to all four questions is the same, and it goes by many names. Inspiration. The Muse. Or as some of my writer friends like to call it, the girls in the basement, who lounge around collecting bits of this conversation and pieces of that thing they heard on the news, occasionally mashing them together and tossing them up to the top of the stairs–aka, the writer’s brain.
I started writing because I was bored and looking for a particular kind of book to read and I couldn’t find it. Along came this sneaky little voice whispering in my ear: Why don’t you tell it yourself? And the rest is history, along with huge chunks of my time, my already limited attention span and a sizeable portion of my sanity. All these characters wandering around in my head take up a lot of space. Of course the bonus of being a writer is that you can talk about your imaginary friends like they’re sitting next to you at the café and people think it’s fascinating instead of picking up their coffee cup and edging away slowly.
The trouble with writing for money is that you’re expected to be inspired on schedule, generally one set by the folks who are making out the check. And that’s where writer’s block comes in. It’s not some mysterious ailment unique to the creative mind. It’s the literary equivalent of coming up to bat in the bottom of the ninth with two out and the winning run on second and crumbling under the pressure like a stale cookie.
Luckily for me, I have sure-fire ways to cure writer’s block. Say I’ve been staring blankly at my screen for two hours, typing and deleting different reincarnations of the same sentence. Then my husband bursts into the kitchen and declares, “The heifers just busted out and took off for Duck Lake, I need you to come and help me gather them up.” Boom! The scene that has henceforth eluded me will pop into my head fully formed, and if I don’t type it out right that minute I will forget all of the most clever bits. Which is why, if you drop by our ranch, it is not uncommon to find my husband pacing back and forth in front of the barn while I frantically pound away on the keyboard.
Also effective is to have some other pressing issue that requires my total concentration. Far be it from me to criticize my muse, or complain when it presents me with a new and brilliant idea, but it’s a tad inconvenient when that blinding lightbulb flashes at a rodeo, mere moments before it’s my turn to rope. Plus I never have a piece of paper handy and it’s really difficult to read notes scribbled on the side of a black horse, even in Sharpie.
The ultimate weapon against writer’s block, though, is the climate here in our fair state. I am convinced it is no coincidence that three of the most successful novelists in Montana live in Malta, Great Falls and Livingston. What, pray tell, do we all have in common? The eastern downslope of the Rockies. I can’t speak for them, but I find that the harder the wind blows, the more creative my mind becomes. On days when the wind chill is significant, words practically pour out of my fingertips. Naturally I must capture the elusive beasts while I can, so I am forced to remain at my keyboard, which is conveniently located indoors.
Hey, maybe we could use that as a new slogan to attract visiting authors who are struggling to meet their deadline! Welcome to the east slope of the Rockies. Our cure for writer’s block will blow you away.
Kari Lynn Dell
Living and Writing the Real West – KariLynnDell.com