Friday, September 3, 2010

Writer's block can be more fun than you think

Call it mental constipation, arthritis of the mind, or just plain writer’s block. In all cases, it turns mental acuity into sludge.

Sometimes it only slows the mind for a few hours. Other times blank screens can stare at us for days, even weeks. Few things are more discouraging and defeating than writer’s block.

Few things can be as fun, too.

Let me share with you a favorite solution I’ve used for years. It only takes 15 minutes. Best of all, it is a crazy way to squirt mental oil through your thoughts.

So, set the timer for 15 minutes.

Now, quick--jot down the first three nouns that pop into your mind. Don’t think about them, just write them as they come.

The first three that came to my mind were feather, radiator and Twinkie. Yours may be piglet, house, and bracelet.

As soon as you have your three nouns, start writing a story with them. Don’t stop to think about your choices. Don’t stop to develop a plot line or characters. Just start writing. You only have 15 minutes to create and complete a very, very short story incorporating all three of those nouns. And you must finish it before the timer stops. No novels here. Only one story, fully contained in a few paragraphs. Don’t worry about style, punctuation or anything other than spitting out a complete story in a few minutes. And no fair changing a single noun! That is the fun of it. Just go with whatever popped into your head—no matter how unrelated they seem. You will be surprised at how you can weave them together.

Here is what I came up with…

Julie ripped open the package of Twinkies and devoured the first one. One and a half bites and 37 seconds. A new record for her. Cheeks bulged with their cache of cake, cream and calories, she walked toward the light…the blinking light on her answering machine. She hit the button.

“You have one new message,” the voice replayed.

Only one? She’d been gone all day and expected a least a few telemarketer calls. Then her mind refreshed itself--she signed up for the do not call list. Maybe she should remove herself from it. If nothing else, at least the sales calls made her feel wanted, even if it was to buy seamless siding for her third story apartment.

Feeling as unwanted as a few extra pounds, she braced herself to hear the message. If the other Twinkie had been closer she would have shoved it into the space left by dissolving confection.

“Hey Jules, this is John. Look, I’m not going to be able to come help out tonight. I have something going on at work. Well…um, bye.”

Scowling, Julie somehow managed to swallow the remaining wad in her mouth in one single, painful gulp. The sweet dough ball went down slow and painful, like the message on her phone. He was backing out again. She should have known.

The man was a feather, an absolute human feather. He was hollow throughout with no backbone and about as much responsibility as a piece of fluff. The only thing he cared about was his truck—that stupid 1987 blue and white gas guzzler with no tailgate and a spare tire in the back from 1986. He treated that thing like a woman and the women in his life like a truck.

Walking back to where she left the other Twinkie, she heard the familiar muffler announce his entrance into the parking lot below. Peering from the window, she saw him get out, a bag of take-out in one hand, two DVD rentals in the other. Something at work, what a lie!

Reaching for the other Twinkie she managed to open the refrigerator for a gallon of milk while keeping her vision trained on the traitor. He crossed the parking lot and let the building’s doorway swallow him.

She no longer wanted to eat the other Twinkie. She knew exactly what she wanted to do.

That night Julie let the building’s doorway quietly spit her out into the darkened parking lot. Watching for rats, human rats, she saw only a stray cat peering out from under the bushes. The cat blinked and darted into the night.

Walking to the truck she felt glad ‘87 pickups did not have alarm systems or locking hoods very often. Slipping her hand under the sun faded covering she pushed back the latch and lifted the metal top. The engine compartment opened before her.

Again she looked around but this time no eyes watched. Removing a single cap from the dangle of caps, coverings and wires, she shoved the second Twinkie into the dark circular mouth she’d opened. Pressing deeper with her finger, she shoved the cream-filled cake deep into the radiator’s throat, an unwanted pill being forced down the metal gullet.

For the first time since the idea erupted like a cyst in her brain, she felt a twinge of regret…she wished she hadn’t eaten the first Twinkie!

Quickly she resealed the cap.

A week later, with John’s truck back in the parking lot—released from its three-day stay at the shop, a healthy new radiator gleaming under its fading hood--the beeping of the answering machine caught her attention. A chocolate cream-filled cake lowered away from her mouth and she cautiously pressed the button instead.

“Hey, Jules, it’s John. Look, I’m not going to be able to come help tonight.”

This time, when she looked back at the counter, a smile lifted her face. Both Ding-Dongs still waited.