When It All Gets Too Much

Writing is sometimes easy and sometimes a right pain in the arse.  When it’s the latter, it can get real intense.  There I am trying to make words fit into sentences and sentences fit into paragraphs and none of it wants to hang together.  It feels like I’m playing Jenga with sticks of TNT.  After days of banging my head against the problem, the whole thing loses meaning.  Verbs become mystical creatures that gallop lavender meadows.  I don’t know a period from hole in the ground.  In the end it feels like I’ve been staring into the sun for a week and it hurts when I look away. 

When I’ve gotten to this stage, it’s time for a break (psychotic or otherwise). There’s no point sitting at the keyboard any longer.  I have to put some distance between me and the problem by doing something else much less difficult—like creating cold fusion or solving world hunger.  Actually, I find something really mundane helps.  It’s like a palate cleanser.  It clears all my preconceptions and allows a clear flow of thoughts.  Before long, I have the answers to my problems.

So what things do I do to clear my mental logjam?  I usually take Royston for a walk.  This has sort of lost its effectiveness.  Royston used to be a Great Dane and I’ve worn him down to a dachshund.  I say, “Royston, it’s time for a walk.”  He looks at me with that “another bloody walk” look and runs away.  As soon as he hears me swearing at the computer screen, he sneaks off to hide the leash. 

Img_0539 To give Ro-Ro a rest, I do other things—mainly chores.  I work in the garden.  I have an unstoppable wall of ivy in the backyard and I get out the hedge trimmer and whittle it down to size while moaning, “Character development, my arse!”  Or I get on hands and knees yanking the weed grass out of the lawn while muttering, “So how do you garrote someone when you only have one arm?” 

Another of my decompression exercises is to do the laundry or iron our clothes.  I find it very therapeutic to separate my heavy cottons from my delicates.

Julie quite likes this little trait of mine.  Chores around the house get done.  I get the feeling that when she edits my work she’s not being entirely honest.  I believe she has an ulterior motive.  Just listen to this recent, yet telling remark.  “Simon, I don’t think this scene is quite right.  I’m not sure your character would act this way. Now, here’s a paint brush.  The bathroom needs going over.”

Now I know I could be misreading the situation, but my next book project is going to be a tough one and Julie suggested I should go for it—but lately, she’s been outlining her needs for the kitchen remodel…

Well, that’s how I decompress—how do you get away from it all when you can’t go anywhere?

Yours back from the brink,
Simon Wood
PS: Remember the phrase "Novice Hero."  Don’t ask why.  Just remember where you heard it first and be prepared to be called as a witness.

11 thoughts on “When It All Gets Too Much

  1. billie

    LOL – great post.

    I once hit a huge snarl in my first book and went out to do a long-delayed gardening chore – getting all the blackberry brambles out of a rather large flower bed.

    I ended up completely ensnared by the brambles, hand holding my clippers pinned to my chest and the other hand holding one huge bramble in an effort to keep it off me.

    I had to stop and breathe and untangle myself one inch at a time, one bramble at a time.

    Talk about life imitating art! And vice versa, as this method was exactly what my ms snarl needed.

    Now, I do barn chores – mucking stalls is amazingly good for clearing my head. And riding my horse always works to solve any writing problems.

  2. Alex Sokoloff

    I clean, too, and used to dig and prune in the garden all the time, but now I live with a landscaper. Today might be a walking day, though.

    I think writers really need to physicalize our mental process.

    I’m struggling this week, so it’s really good to read this, Simon, thanks.

  3. Louise Ure

    A shower. I know, it’s a not a chore. And the chores are still there waiting to be done. But if I’ve reached an impasse with my work, I’m guaranteed to see the way out of it after a shower. Sometimes two or three a day. Now about that water bill …

  4. simon

    Billie: You have a barn!!

    Tess: I’m glad I could help.

    Alex: Struggle all you need, it’s a grand one I’m sure.

    Louise: I’m not letting you use my shower again.

  5. billie

    Simon, yes – with 4 horses and 4 stalls (plus two large paddocks) that need mucking every day – do feel free to come on over should you need additional decompression. 🙂

  6. pari

    Dishes. Laundry. Cooking. Making huge salads that only I ever eat. Looking in at the two worm farms my husband now insists will turn our clay soil into black gold.

    Also, I have a nice big 70lb punching bag suspended from the ceiling on our back porch. Sometimes I get on my bag gloves and punch the hell out of it.

    It works wonders and keeps our marriage stable.

  7. Charlene Engeron

    I’ve got the vicious cycle thing going. If I’m at a character impass, I’ll go into my crafting studio that is littered with paper and ink pads and various crafting tools that I just couldn’t live without. Oh, and did I mention the 5,000+ rubber stamps? If I don’t clean as I go this room can get out of hand. Since I usually DON’T clean as I go…this room usually IS out of hand.

    SOOOOO. To divert myself from a writing issue I will attempt to clean up the “art” studio. After a while, I’ll come to an impass as to where I should cram another paper cutter or embossing tool and find myself back at the keyboard so I don’t have to think about the disarray that my art studio is in.

    Like I said…vicious cycle, but it works for me.


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