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J. J. Brown, Wordslinger

"I Sling Words As I Go Along."

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tools

So, I have my favorite tools of the trade……

……for writing, some of which are easy to throw into my backpack and some that require a little more planning before leaving the house.

What will you find in my back pack? Typically, a couple of notebooks or blank composition books, loose leaf, college-lined paper in a folder and a couple of paperbacks (fiction or non-fiction or both) to escape into when the words fail to materialize. Open up the smaller pocket of my pack and there are pens of various colors – I use black or dark blue for writing the story. The other colors I use to insert notes or questions in the margins about what I’d written, which makes it easy to see. When I travel, I take my laptop or netbook to transcribe what I’d written in longhand to the manuscript I’m currently working on.

Because I have a budget, I tend to find my pens, notebooks and composition books at any local dollar store. They work the same and are easy on the wallet. Occasionally, however, I will indulge and buy some really nice blank books at places like Barnes & Noble. Those usually end up as gifts to fellow writers or to those who had expressed a desire to write.

I prefer writing in longhand, as I find that I tend to sink into the world of my story and characters a little faster. The downside is that I can’t keep up with my thoughts and my hand pays the price in stiffness and cramping. Unlike Bobbi Anderson in Stephen King’s The Tommyknockers, I haven’t found a way to write via telepathy to my typewriter (or computer, for that matter).

What are your favorite writing tools?

Left to right - Laptop, blank book, netbook, pens, typewriter, composition books.
Left to right – Laptop, blank book, netbook, pens, typewriter, composition books.

So, there’s this confounding thing that affects those who create with words…..

………..writer’s block, it’s called – but it has been known to strike in other art forms. Essentially, whether it’s through fear of not getting the final result of your art right on the first go or you’ve found yourself backed into a corner, the Block is a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. How does one get around it? Well, as with creating one’s art, getting un-Blocked is unique to the individual as well. What works for one may not work for anyone else. However, it certainly doesn’t hurt to try any or all options in order to find the way out of being stuck.
As a writer, I get blocked and stymied on my own creative projects all the time. I’ve used water color paints and a sketch book to find my way out of the corner I’d find myself in. But I also have a background in theater and lately, I’ve been using an actor’s technique when floundering over a stalled chapter – The Moment Before.
What is The Moment Before? Well, as I learned it, The Moment Before is a tool used by an actor or actress to understand who their character is before they walk out onstage. The characters don’t just come into existence because the playwright wrote “So-and-so enters from the kitchen up stage right”. It is the actor’s job to know what the character was doing in the kitchen (cooking? Crying? Arguing over the phone?) prior to their entrance.
This process is internalized by the actors, giving them a rich interior life and insight into the characters they play. It is not shared with anyone else in the cast – it is a discussion between the actor and the director alone.
So is this Moment Before to you, regardless of your art. When your project feels difficult and you’re struggling to make the next sentence or paint the next stroke or write the next lyric, stop and step back. Take a breath, find that rhythm prior to the block.
Find your Moment Before, re-focus and go forward.

*****
Editor’s note – this blog post is published concurrently on Citizens Journal Ventura County.

So, Stephen King has said, on many occasions……

……….“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write.”
What does he mean by this? Read the top 100 lists, read pulp, read history, memoirs, fiction, science and more. Read what you love, what you’re indifferent to, what you dislike. Ask friends for their favorite books and read them.
What you gain from all of that reading is what works, what doesn’t, style, voice and structure. Try writing in the same style of your favorite author or break it down into specific acts (for example, Act One – Inciting Event; Act Two – Discovery; Act Three – Betrayal; Act Four – Revelation; Act Five – Resolution). Another way is to take a notebook and, while reading, keep track of what the author does to make seemingly unrelated events tie together by the last few pages.
Although King is clearly talking about writing, the idea behind his quote can be applied to any other creative endeavor. A creative artist doesn’t study just one master or medium in their chosen field – he or she studies as many as possible to learn and discover their own styles. It’s mixing and matching particular elements to find what works for you, then using it to push yourself further.
Whether you’re writing or singing or playing the guitar or acting, the more you learn about your creative passion, you’ll find that your own experiences with it has become richer. You’ll be better able to express yourself in whatever creative endeavor you pursue. It may be that you’ve discovered a passion for more than one creative art and that they feed off of and influence each other in delightful ways.
It worked out that way for me – in addition to writing, I spent many years performing onstage in local theater. It helped a great deal in developing stronger characters, understanding what motivated them, and finding the story’s beats (important moments). This may occur with you – if you enjoy poetry and music, for example, you may unconsciously find yourself writing poems in time with a specific musical beat.
There are infinite combinations to mix and match with. To discover them is to read, to play with your creative passion and be open to new opportunities as they present themselves to you. The worst that can happen is that it didn’t work out the way you’d hoped it would.
Say, “Yes,” to your creative self. Amazing things will happen. Trust yourself.

 

****
Editor’s note – this blog post is also published concurrently on Citizens Journal.

So, John Lennon once said……

………that every child is an artist until he is told he isn’t. It doesn’t have to be an actual person saying this to an actual child (or an adult) for them to feel ‘not good enough’ at being creative. A first attempt can be pretty intimidating, especially if this is a new experience for you or you’re trying something different. Comparing yourself to another’s artwork can be pretty tempting to do, but it’s counter-productive and wreaks havoc on your self-esteem.
By all means, look at another artist’s paintings or another writer’s work, but use their final product as a tool to guide you. Leonardo da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa from 1503 to 1506 and even then, it’s suspected he worked on it as late as 1517. Look at the back of any Stephen King novel and you’ll see two sets of dates – the start date and the finish date. It takes King anywhere from three to five years to write each novel and he works on more than one at the same time.
I’ve always regarded being creative as something akin to archaeology. You have a plot laid out, the tools to uncover it, and an idea of what it looks like. As with a chisel and hammer, you take pen and paper (or canvas and brush) and start to dig. You don’t find the whole thing right away – maybe a piece here, a fragment there. You follow a line that doesn’t seem to lead anywhere and then find that it splits off into a different direction. Eventually, you have an almost complete skeleton to speculate and ponder over.
Are you finished? Hardly. The best thing to do with a roughed out draft or sketch is to set it aside for a few days. Then the real work begins. Details start to emerge that you didn’t see before. The piece which appeared to be apropos of nothing has now found its proper place. The fragment that didn’t seem to relate to anything is suddenly a crucial plot point.
This is where opening up to your creative self can be a little terrifying. It’s about letting go of the inner critic, ignoring that little voice that says you can’t do it, and taking that huge step forward. Because what you’re trying to unearth isn’t a work of art or the next Great American Novel. What you’re doing is sifting through the doubts and worries and ‘I can’ts’ to find that young artist and say, “I am an artist and I can.”

*****
Editor’s note – this blog post is also published concurrently on Citizens Journal Ventura County. JJB

So, I’m working on a scene……..

……….in one of my Current Works in Progress and I found myself cringing, blushing furiously, and muttering “Oh, my God, I can’t believe I just wrote that” several times under my breath. It was a scene of pure sensation, one that required me to get inside the character’s head, to immerse myself into her experiences. It was difficult, agonizing, frightening and I wanted to bolt, to avoid writing it.

This is not the first time this has happened to me – indeed, this fight-or-flight reaction occurs with almost consistent regularity. This is particularly the case when the scene in question either threatens to touch old wounds or inspire feelings that I’m not in a position to resolve. It’s neither bad nor good – it simply is. It’s my path as a writer.

What allowed me to finally get the scene down, on paper, was to treat it as an intellectual exercise. I had to distance myself from what was occurring with the character, her self-awareness and her own journey of discovery. By using that approach, I was able to get past my reservations (or discomfort, both work and both apply) and get the bare bones written.

When I go back and revise, polish and make this particular story shine with its own merit, I’ll have the framework ready for me to expand upon. I may still have reservations, discomfort and fear, but the fact that I’ve got something to work with will give me the courage to go further, to challenge myself even more and to fully embrace the sensations and feelings this story evokes.

Good stories, regardless of genre, make you feel everything – emotionally, physically, intellectually. To make that happen in your own work, you need to find the little tricks and tools that will facilitate it. There is no right or wrong way, just your way.

Which, of course, goes back to reading and continually pushing oneself to be a better writer, but that’s another blog for another day.

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