Moonlight and midday

The sea is blue
at high tide at night,
a moon above
a great ball of light,
stars sprinkling on
a canvas of sky,
gulls cawing out,
“Come with us and fly.”

Dolphins and whales
through the seas they run,
singing their songs
under moon and sun.
Waves of water
rising and falling,
sea and the wind
hear the shore calling.

Blue and the blue
the sky and the sea
and the white clouds
and shadows of trees.
Sand brown beaches
nesting turtle eggs
till the sea calls
from the water’s edge.

The sun setting,
moon rise in the east,
stars returning,
the great and the least.
The horizon
a distance away,
sea and the sky,
moonlight and midday.

The sea is blue
at high tide at night.

Charlie’s Hobby

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone.

June loved Charlie, and June knew Charlie loved her. But June believed Charlie loved the beach more. Early every Sunday morning for the last ten years or so, he picked up his paints, his easel and his canvas and took off for the beach. Five days a week he traded stocks with a large brokerage. Saturday he spent with June and the boys. Sunday was his.

After doing that for almost a year, June became suspicious of her husband. His disappearance on Sunday bothered her. From time to time, she thought Charlie might be having an affair.

June hired a detective. The detective watched Charlie from sun up to sundown and more. For a month he did this.

“Nothing,” he told June. “Your Charlie is one the best husbands I’ve ever seen. He loves you as much as George loved Gracie and Rickie loved Lucy” So June went back to trusting.

For five more years, Charlie did his Sundays. The completed canvases were backing up in the garage. There were over a thousand.

Then one Sunday morning, June woke up late and there was Charlie beside her. Usually by the time she woke, he was gone. She woke him up and asked, “Are you sick?”

“No,” Charlie answered.

June worried about this all week long. She figured it was a one-time thing, so she let it alone. But he stayed at home the next Sunday, and the Sunday after that. All those years of Charlie going to the beach. She had gotten used to it. It had become such a routine. And now it was over.

This went on for two months and it was driving June crazy. Not the concern about Charlie and the beach kind of crazy. The kind of crazy from worry that something bad was getting ready to happen. That kind of crazy.

Everything was the same as it had been for years. Charlie went off to his job every Monday through Friday. Sunday nights and Wednesday nights he took out the garbage. Thursdays were poker night. Fridays were their date night, then sex afterward. All day Saturday, Charlie was helping out at the house or going with June to do this or that or the other. Nothing had changed. Except Sundays.

Finally June suggested Charlie go to see a therapist. Her friend, Ellen, suggested a Dr. Reid. Ellen knew everything about therapists. There wasn’t a mental illness she had not had over the years. Some woman on tv had depression, Ellen had depression. Some man had schizophrenia, Ellen had schizophrenia. Then she’d go to Dr. Reid, and he’d perform a miracle. They’d cure her. It was her hobby.

Charlie, being an agreeable man, acquiesced to the suggestion. If therapy would make his wife happy, he would go to therapy. She made an appointment for him the next Wednesday. It would give him a break from the tedium of his job. Besides a little therapy couldn’t hurt.

He walked into Dr. Reid’s office. The therapist pointed to the couch. “So why are you here, Charlie?” Dr. Reid asked.

Charlie explained that he came at June’s urging. Then he went on to tell the therapist about her concerns.

“So why did you make the change? Stop going to the beach and painting? Why didn’t you change to another location?”

“Doc,” Charlie called the therapist Doc, “I love my wife. She is the only woman I’ve ever loved. I am a routine kind of guy. I like my routines. After a year of marriage, I noticed June getting antsy. Bored, you know. She needed some variety in her life. And I am not Mr. Variety. After giving it some thought, I came up with a solution. I would give her something to worry about. So I went off to the beach. The painting gave me something to do.”

“So why did you quit going to the beach?”

“Same reason. To keep my wife interested. For years, she had this hobby. Why does Charlie go to the beach and paint? Now she has a new hobby. Why did Charlie quit going to the beach? Just about the time she starts getting real bored with this hobby, I’ll have a new one. Let’s just say it brings some sparkle to our marriage.”

Writer’s Block?

A man sets out to draw the world. As the years go by, he peoples a space with images of provinces, kingdoms, mountains, bays, ships, islands, fishes, rooms, instruments, stars, horses, and individuals. A short time before he dies, he discovers that the patient labyrinth of lines traces the lineaments of his own face. –Jorge Luis Borges.

It’s a real beach, that devil of a writer’s block. A real hot beach. I can’t go for a swim to get the sand out of my drawers and cool down. There are sharks in the ocean. Jelly fish scattered around me. Those darn jellies and their sting stop me. There is no way off this beach and out of the sun. I’d say that sums up my version of writer’s block. Pretty bad, isn’t it?

Instead of a beach, it might be a snow storm. Or out on a desert dune and no oasis. Or stuck in an elevator that won’t go up or down. There isn’t an easy out. It’s always a beach when a work-in-progress falls on my head.

The characters, especially Miss Main, are not letting me in on their inner lives and their secrets. In one way or another, characters I’ve befriended, fallen in love with, have shut down my story.They are leaving the party with no explanation. All the struggle in the world won’t get them back to the Yellow Brick Road and on their way to the Emerald City. No amount of alchemy will return Dorothy to Kansas. You see, it’s not their story.

So how do I get myself off the beach? Through the snow storm? How can I find that oasis? Certainly not by gritting my teeth and grunting my way forward. Those jelly stings hurt like hell and I am not fond of shark bite.

Of course, I could take a helicopter lift off the beach and be done with the whole damned mess. But abandoning Story is not an option. If I abandon her, she dies, never to live again. No other creator can breathe life back into her.

The only way off this beach of writer’s block is to let go. To trust Story, when she is ready, to reach for my hand, to squeeze it softly, then lead me out of the darkness and into the sunshine. Trusting Story means I have to sit myself down and write first draft crap. Complete garbage though it is, this is only the Lewis and Clark part of the journey. Laying down a beautiful, scenic highway comes later.

Does this work every time? Does this work for every writer? I’ve lost enough stories to know that the answer is probably no. All I can do is try and write that first draft crap. Once that draft is done, there’ll be another and another until a final, polished manuscript is ready for the world. If I don’t do this, I will have the death of more stories on my conscience. Then I have failed not only my stories. I have failed myself.

So what do I do to get back on track with Story.

Pre-writing Exercises

I have a couple of morning exercises I practice.I am not always able to do them, but I do try. Been doing them a couple of years. I wake up thirty minutes before my day begins. I make myself a cup of coffee. Then I sit myself down, draw a card from my tarot deck or randomly choose a hexagram from the I Ching or open up a book of photographs or paintings. The chosen image is a prompt. Inspired by this image, I free write 50-250 words of a scene, a reflection, a short essay or a prose poem.

Next comes a Copy Exercise. I copy 250 words or so from the work of a writer I admire. It might be a short story, the chapter of a novel, or an essay. Once I complete that work, I try a different writer. Over the past two years, I have copied Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Alice Munro, Yasunari Kawabata, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Graham Greene and P. D. James. In case you wonder why the rotating writers. It’s so I won’t start imitating one writer or another.

Both these exercises loosen my mind and get my subconscious going. They let it know that I am available. As a bonus, the prompt exercise occasionally gives me a blog post.

Some Suggested Techniques

Creating can be scary and hard. Often our subconscious will prevent us from going boldly where no writer has gone before. Over the years I’ve used a number of techniques that have helped.

QUIT TRYING TO MAKE PERFECT: Give yourself a break. You are human. Nobody gets it right the first draft. That novel, story or blog post you admire so much may have taken the author twenty, thirty, forty drafts before it was ready for primetime.

MOST OF ALL: To get the imagination going, simply to Be Available.

FREE WRITE: Free write for five minutes as fast as you can, beginning with the sentence: I am afraid to write this story because…

THE FRIEND: If you are writing a novel or short story, think of your Main Character as a Friend you are getting to know well. Ask yourself what it would take for you to abandon a friend. Has this occurred with MC?

THE HEMINGWAY: Hemingway stopped in mid-sentence at the end of a day’s writing session. The next writing session he picked up that the sentence where he laid it down and wrote his five hundred words for that day.

PROMPTS: For each of my three nanowrimos, I used a visual prompt for each day’s work. I pulled up my day’s image, then asked how the image related to my characters and their story. It gets funny when my characters reside in Bithlo, Florida, and the picture is of the Eiffel Tower or New York City. Sometimes I have to stretch but it’s okay. The wine on their table was produced in France.

THE ELMORE LEONARD: Get the characters talking. Elmore Leonard once said, that when a character quit talking, he killed them off. I find murdering a character a little extreme. Then you have bad character karma and that is a real beach. Who wants that? Sending them to bed without supper can wake them up to sunny side.

CHANGE CHARACTERS: Write a scene from a minor character’s point of view. I once wrote a story about a contract killer. Before he fulfilled a contract, he got a manicure. So I wrote a scene from the manicurist’s point of view. Without knowing anything about him, I wanted to know how she saw him?

CHANGE PLOTS: Write some scenes that are not in your story. Take your Main Character grocery shopping. What kinds of food does she like? Does she move through the store slowly or briskly? Does she have conversations with the other shoppers, or with the store employees?

DATE A CHARACTER: Take one of your characters on a date. Where would the two of you go? What would you talk about?

INTERVIEW YOUR CHARACTERS: Ask a friend to portray a character in your story and not just the hero or villain. Give them a profile of the character. Make a list of ten open-ended questions for the character to answer. Then interview them. Pretend you are Jimmy Fallon. Or interview the character for a major character role in your story.

THE LAST SCENE: Write the Last Scene. It should mirror your First Scene. If the First Scene begins on a trip in a car, your final scene might have MC in a car. Once you have written your final paragraph, you now have a destination for your story.

LIST 10 THINGS: Return to your First Scene. List ten things in that scene, such as: a bridge, a man with a cane, a duck, a river, a bulldozer, a pebble in a shoe, a dead tree, rain clouds, a dollar bill and a pair of spectacles. Now choose a character other than your Main Character. Write a scene including that character and one of the ten things.

THE WEEKEND NOVELIST: Over the years I have read hundreds of books on writing. Blessed is the one who picks one writing book and sticks with it. If I had to choose just one, it would be Robert Ray’s “The Weekend Novelist”. The first edition is best but the more recent edition will do. It is designed for non-professional writers with a forty hour work week. Setting aside several hours each weekend to work through the exercises in the book, the novelist will have a polished novel in one year.

TAKE A BREAK AND FIND THINGS THAT INSPIRE YOU: Sometimes we run out of gas just like our cars. Find things that inspire you and help you rediscover that inner creative. It can be a movie or reading a scene in a book or a piece of music. I have a friend who wrote her first published novel to the sound of Dave Matthews.

These are not hard and fast rules. They are guidelines. Each writer has to discover the process that works best for them. The important thing is to keep writing. Remember a day without writing is still a day without writing.