Writing through the Senses

We stepped into darkness, my hands clutching his shoulders, the rough wool of his sweater scratching my skin. He led me through blackness , his soothing voice drowning in a cacophony of chatter and laughter. We arrived at a table where he lowered me into a chair, guiding me so I could find the edge. I ran my hands over the glossy surface of the table, flinching at the unexpected sting of cold cutlery against my warm fingers; the grooved edge of a plate undulated beneath my hands. In my absent sight, I was surrounded by the onslaught of servers calling out “careful, careful” as they moved confidently through the darkness to which they were born. I concentrated on listening for my friend’s voice from across the table, waiting for my other senses to step up and take the lead.

This was my dining in the dark experience. Blind servers waited on customers in an adventuresome tasting experience, giving me a tiny glimpse of living in a sightless world. It got me thinking about how my writing would change without the benefit of sight. For two hours I was pressed to rely on my other senses. I didn’t notice a super-human heightened awareness; instead I discovered I needed to pay close attention to what I was hearing, feeling, tasting and smelling. I had to concentrate to manoeuvre my way through dinner, sifting through the voices to find the ones I recognized. I learned to slow down and take my time, allowing my fingers to discover the objects around me. I learned to locate the base of my glass, wrapping my fingers around it to carefully lift it to my mouth; I grew accustomed to the weight of my fork, with and without food. Each touch, taste and sound was a distinctive journey into the mystifying world of the human senses.

Whenever I have difficulty writing a descriptive scene, I close my eyes and permit my other senses to take up the slack. It’s amazing what you can discover with eyes wide shut.

A Temporary Delay

So you come to your desk at the usual time, willing to work, and face the lighted screen of the computer. Your fingers sit on the keys, ready to type, but nothing happens. All the words you wanted to produce have been sucked into a black hole; the dreaded (and some say mythical, but that’s another post) condition known as “writer’s block”.

All writers experience unproductive days. We sit down to work on our next blog post, poem or current story, and barely manage to leak out a few weak sentences; for some reason the customary zeal isn’t there. We’re tired or preoccupied by other events in our lives. We might turn to editing, hoping to produce a spark; instead, we are rejected by our own mind, frustrated by the absence of inspiration.

Relax. We can’t force the words to come, and even if all we do is write a few measly sentences, consider it a success – you made the effort to come to the desk. It’s okay to walk away and return a few hours later, or the next day. Give yourself permission to take a day off.

I’ve known some writers who struggle with the idea of taking a break, but I believe on some level, writers are always writing; so don’t fret if you can’t write the instant you come to the keyboard. The words will always be there, waiting for the opportune moment to be released.

Theatrical Techniques

At the beginning of rehearsals for a new show, the director encourages his actors to unleash their maximum energy and explore every possible facet of their characters. He gives them the freedom to portray their personalities with a vigour larger than life. He wants them to fill the rehearsal space with their vitality. Like a blank canvas waiting to be splashed with color, the director wants a bountiful scope in which to play with his vision and eventually mould it into a tight performance. The flavour of a piece cannot be discovered without embellishment.

The first words written for any beginning piece should be unleashed without inhibitions. Just like an actor unearthing the essence of his character, the first draft should be an explosion on the page, with words tumbling over one another, the creation of peculiar characters, curious settings, the possible, the impossible, every aspect of your story exaggerated to its limit. This is the time to play, to have the freedom to invent every possibility for any situation. The editing process will be the time to reign in your story and bring it under control – but there won’t be anything to rework if you don’t unleash every scenario. After the initial outburst on the page, you can step into the shoes of the director, scrutinize your story, and smooth out the rough edges.

The editing process is your director on the page.

Fallen, Not Forgotten

DSCN3990Fallen but not forgotten.

The memory of their lives singed in the pathways of my brain.

Each morning that I wake and see the light of day, I remember;

Each time I see the image of a country ravaged by war, I remember;

Each time I see a soldier, lost, struggling to find the remnants of his life, I remember;

Our freedom is a blessing, a gift from those brave souls that spent countless nights in the trenches running with blood, foraging for pieces they left behind on foreign soil, listening to the silence of their deafness in the roar of grenades.

Lest we forget? Not by me.

Fallen. Not forgotten.

In memory of the men and women who fought, and continue to fight, for the freedom we enjoy today. Lest we forget.

A Writing Schedule

Writers appear to be creatures free from the restraints of “regular” jobs, working only when the moment strikes. This is not true – many writers work at other jobs while producing their art; and just like in their regular jobs, it’s a good idea for writers to build and follow a schedule when they sit down to write.

Writers can increase their productivity and help ward off the dreaded writer’s block by following a fixed routine. I work part-time in an office, but on days I don’t go to my job, I get up at the same time in the morning and get ready, as if I was preparing to go to the office; I’ll plant myself at my desk by a certain time and proceed to write for a specific amount of time before my first break. I found it a great benefit, when I held a full-time job, to write at the same time every day – I usually did it on my lunch break. As my routine developed, I noticed that each lunch hour I sat down with my notebook, the words flowed onto the page without effort. I had trained my mind to be prepared to write at that time each day. Most people arrive at their jobs and slip into a working mode without even realizing – the same principle can be applied to writing.

There are lots of days when you may not feel like writing, but follow your routine just the same. You’re teaching your mind to be ready to work the moment you sit at your desk, pull out your notebook or open your computer.  At some point, your brain will naturally switch into a working mode; you won’t even notice it until you’ve filled your first page.

This is not to say that I don’t take advantage of writing whenever I can; I always look for my ten to fifteen minute opportunities throughout my day; but my fixed routine is where I get the most out of my work.