An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure (even in metric).
I experienced over two month’s of writer’s block many years ago. I did, literally, sit at my desk for hours, and can to this day accurately describe that desk. Its vision is before/behind my eyes as I key. It had a red leather surface, boarded in black. It was of thick mahogany with drawers. It faced the wall not far from the door to the room. I have placed it in one of my novels.
To not have this debilitating situation happen again, I have devised a scheme that I find is 90% successful in combating writer’s block.
Do not finish your thought on page or screen. Make sure it is solidly in your mind (make notes if necessary) but do not write it down.
If it’s a description – don’t finish it.
If it’s dialogue – don’t complete it.
If it’s a line of poetry – don’t end it.
Thenext day, start off with the phrase you would have ended with yesterday. Read the preceding page or two, and when you enter the phrase not completed, the odds are excellent you will continue on your way.
A few years ago I had cause to walk the grounds of a Catholic college. I did this often, as it was a large and peaceful place to wander. There were some paths, some gardens, some benches, wide playing fields and even a stroll beside a river. A peaceful retreat from the city.
I did meet one ancient priest telling his beads (there was a ‘retirement’ residence also present) who gave me a jovial ‘good day’. He was walking the paths through the trees (as was I) and eventually settled on a bench (as I did not). I kept through the trees, which were really planted in individual copses. enjoying refuge from the sun. The trees seemed to be all pines, with full and tightly packed branches. As I went through one such group of firs, I looked between the trees. There was a statue on the other side. I circled and went up to it. As I approached I was overcome with the oddest feeling of familiarity, though I knew I could never had been there before.
And then I realized what it was.
It was a scene I had created for my two ‘Satan’ novels. A central character has the statue of an angel within a copse of firs in his back yard. My novel has an angel statue ,and reality had the Virgin Mary. But, still . . .
I’ve written of many real places which I have visited, but none took me so aback as this.
THEART: (from THERE HAS BEEN A SIGHTING)
Mr. S. unexpectedly takes her arm, and begins to lead her along a winding, flagstone path. She has never seen such large pieces of the stone, and they glisten as if polished.
The path skirts a small stand of black spruce before it continues to the river. He stops her at the mouth of a gravel walkway leading through the trees.
“Let’s pop in here.”
“Your little acre of the Black Forest?”
“Hardly an acre.”
“Precision.” Breeze laughs. “Whatever would my father think of you?”
“Does any father think well of any man when his daughter is concerned?”
“No,” agrees Mr. S. “So not to worry.”
“He would think even less of someone leading his daughter down the garden path,” observes Breeze.
“That would be before he saw what I am about to show you.”
Mr. S. holds her arm tightly, and guides her onto the gravel walk. It leads directly to the base of a tree, then makes an abrupt curve between the largest of the spruce.
One of the boughs is so low Breeze ducks her head. She has the sensation of being in the midst of a forest, for the heavy branches obscure the surroundings.
“If I may be permitted a moment of drama.”
Mr. S. covers her eyes and speaks softly.
“Will you turn to your right, and take a few steps?”
Even though he had asked, Breeze is startled as he gently eases her forward, and she feels a slight urge to resist him. Her steps are more cautious than the gravel walkway demands, and the press of his body is noticeable. She counts her footsteps under her breath. She is surprised when they stop at half a dozen, and he quickly removes his hand.
“She’s beautiful.” Breeze stares, open-mouthed.
“Yes.” Mr. S. is pleased. “I think so, too.”
“An angel in the woods.”
“The angel of peace.” Mr. S. walks her around the statue. “Not at all bad for a knockoff.” He pauses behind the wings.
“A reproduction.” He puts his foot on the pedestal, and leans forward. “I don’t really know how old it is. Certainly last century – possibly before.” He points to the blue folds. “I’ve had the paint cleaned and touched up. Is it too garish?”
“It … it stands out.” Breeze hunts for a word. “Let’s call it vibrant.”
Although Kafka disliked most technology, he did love to go to the cinema. He also had a great fondness for theatre and actors (and particularly actresses), though he does not seem to have written any plays.
In the Prague of Kafka’s day, various charities were associated with particular cinemas. When one paid for a ticket, a portion of the price went to the charity associated with the cinema. You could help the hungry, the homeless, people with medical needs.
Kafka (being, after all, Kafka) particularly enjoyed attending the theatre for the blind.
One of the most startling situations regarding Kafka and my (re)construction of his *missing* diary occurred when I had been working on the manuscript a couple of months.
I initially (of course) had the hope of literally writing a diary entry a day. Not only did my real life intervene, but some of the constructed diary entries took days to write. Also, there were times when many of my diary entries were but a few lines long. Thus, I might do a number in a day of writing.
In one instance, as I was checking Kafka’s real diaries, I noted one of his entries had the exact date as the day I was reading it. That is, if he was filling in a diary entry on Friday, 19 October (for I forget the exact day I realized this), I was reading it on Friday, 19 October. I looked at a perpetual calendar, and not only was the year in which I was writing an exact numerical year to his, so was the following year.
As a result, I believe my novel took on a more authentic flavour. When I put my pen to paper on the 14th of March, it was also a Wednesday in 1917.
There was a documentary about Maine lighthouses on the local PBS last week. A relatively (in this day and age) ancient documentary, as one of its features was the current (then) president, George Bush (HW) giving a speech. So at least a quarter century ago.
I have enjoyed going to lighthouses for longer still. If anything, I just keep finding them more evocative. I have a couple of chapters of one of my novels set in a lighthouse. A number of years ago, from high cliffs over the Northumberland Straight, this is what I saw one afternoon from a lighthouse.
One old fishing boat:
One sleek new fishing boat:
One chubby fishing boat:
One fading green fishing boat:
One distant white sailboat under sail:
One close white sailboat under sail:
Two small outboard boats:
One tugboat pulling . . .
One rusting barge.
Happily, the Cape George Lighthouse was recently listed as a Heritage Site by the government of Canada.
Contrary to popular belief, Kafka had a very full love life. He was rarely without a lady friend during any part of his life. When one left, another soon took her place.
This is a letter he wrote to Felice, the woman he was engaged to – twice. I think it fair to say that she was long-suffering. I would think that the sentiments Kafka expresses might have given her second thoughts. Perhaps that is partly why there were two engagements.
Think what one will about Kafka’s romantic abilities, he was a chick magnet. Right to the end. After his funeral his last lover had to be restrained from leaping into his grave to be with him.
11 November, 1912
I am now going to ask you a favor which sounds quite crazy, and which I should regard as such, were I the one to receive the letter. It is also the very greatest test that even the kindest person could be put to. Well, this is it:
Write to me only once a week, so that your letter arrives on Sunday — for I cannot endure your daily letters, I am incapable of enduring them. For instance, I answer one of your letters, then lie in bed in apparent calm, but my heart beats through my entire body and is conscious only of you. I belong to you; there is really no other way of expressing it, and that is not strong enough. But for this very reason I don’t want to know what you are wearing; it confuses me so much that I cannot deal with life; and that’s why I don’t want to know that you are fond of me. If I did, how could I, fool that I am, go on sitting in my office, or here at home, instead of leaping onto a train with my eyes shut and opening them only when I am with you? Oh, there is a sad, sad reason for not doing so. To make it short: My health is only just good enough for myself alone, not good enough for marriage, let alone fatherhood. Yet when I read your letter, I feel I could overlook even what cannot possibly be overlooked.
If only I had your answer now! And how horribly I torment you, and how I compel you, in the stillness of your room, to read this letter, as nasty a letter as has ever lain on your desk! Honestly, it strikes me sometimes that I prey like a spectre on your felicitous name! If only I had mailed Saturday’s letter, in which I implored you never to write to me again, and in which I gave a similar promise. Oh God, what prevented me from sending that letter? All would be well. But is a peaceful solution possible now? Would it help if we wrote to each other only once a week? No, if my suffering could be cured by such means it would not be serious. And already I foresee that I shan’t be able to endure even the Sunday letters. And so, to compensate for Saturday’s lost opportunity, I ask you with what energy remains to me at the end of this letter: If we value our lives, let us abandon it all.
Did I think of signing myself Dein? No, nothing could be more false. No, I am forever fettered to myself, that’s what I am, and that’s what I must try to live with.
One Christmas season some years ago, I looked after a dog whilst her owners went out of town. Tibbit is a big, friendly dawg who likes inspecting piles of leaves. She has a long lead which her benevolent human allows to go as far as possible. She knows (better than her accompanying human) that there are treats at the end of each walk.
On Saturday I didn’t get Tibbit out until after dark. We skirted the university (where her masters work) and went up a street bordering the campus. We both liked the Christmas lights. Near the top of the street we met an inebriated gentleman warning us of a bear in the surrounding woods.
“Flush him out,” said he, pointing at the dog, “And I’ll get my 3 aught 3.”
“Get the rifle first,” I replied.
We went our respective ways. Now Tibbit and I doubted the veracity of the gentleman, so when we came to a trail through the woods, we took it. I will admit I did peer more intently into the gloom than usual, but one trail led to a larger trail which led back to the university. We advanced without incident.
On Sunday I again walked Tibbit toward the university, though from a different direction. It was a crisp, clear day and she gamboled (as much as the leash allowed ) through the new fallen snow. Sunshine gleamed. This time we were on the other side of the campus, but our walk eventually led to a position about half a mile away from where we were the previous evening.
We followed another trail into the woods and admired the sun through the fir trees. The path was wide and sloped. It came to turn some distance away which would lead us even closer to where we were the day before. At the top of the slope Tibbit stopped dead in her tracks.
She stared and stared. She glanced briefly into the woods but mainly kept staring along the trail. I saw nothing nor heard anything (and I was intent upon both). Tibbit did not move and made not a sound. She just kept staring. After a solid two minutes of this I started to backtrack and she made no complaint.