Freehold Friday: Sometimes you just need to step back and think.

Okay, I had to post something different this week.  Getting kind of tired writing about…well…writing…I guess.  I’m in the home stretch now editing AJE2 (once I’m finished revising the last few chapters, I’ll send the manuscript to Kinkos and get a hard copy, then read through it one last time before publishing) and I can totally see the light at the end of the tunnel.

That said, I’m finding it increasingly hard to focus on a particular chapter.  I know what I want to say, I just don’t know how to say it to make it…flow…with the story.  It’s been giving me a headache for a week now and really slowing down my progress.  It’s like the reverse of writer’s block.  Editor’s block?  Is that even real?  I don’t know.  All I know is it’s frustrating as all get out.  I’ve re-written this one chapter maybe 4 times now.

So I decided to try a tactic that worked for writer’s block the one and only time I suffered from it–do something else.  Anything else that is meditative and let my subconscious shift gears out of the write (or in this case edit) 24/7 mode.  Before, it was a day of woodworking (back when we had a heat wave in January and the temps outside hit the teens!).  I stepped away from the computer during my valuable 2-hour nap-time/writing time window and locked myself in the garage (not really, the door remained unlocked at all times–I had a sleeping baby in the house, remember?).  No computer, no cell phone, no digital recorder, no notes, no writing.

At first I felt incredibly guilty.  After I picked up my favorite Japanese saw and smelled that first whiff of freshly cut wood, the tension melted away, the frustration vanished and I lost myself in the rhythm of the woodworking.  Two hours later, my project was complete (I can’t even remember what the hell I was doing out there now, but it worked!) and I had the solution to my writing problem.  I cranked out 40,000 words over the next 3 days.

This time, I decided to pick up my paintbrush.  Among the things I enjoy doing, I count art near the top.  Definitely top 3.  During the course of my renovation of the hobby area in the basement a few weeks ago, when I transformed it from a storage dumping ground into my subterranean office, I discovered this:

image

It’s a simple watercolor painting I created in 2009 when we lived in Texas.  I was bored one day, home from work (I worked at a big box craft store at the time) and dreaming of vacations.  Next thing I knew, I had an old photo albulm of the time my dad and I made a wild-ass trip through Arizona and New Mexico.  One of the pictures was of Bell Rock, Arizona.  On a whim I decided to try and paint it with the crude watercolor set I had–hell, I ran an arts and crafts store and had seen people give demonstrations on how to paint I don’t know how many times.  How hard could it be?

Four sheets of watercolor paper later, I found it it’s a lot harder than it looks.  And this thing that I created didn’t look…well, it wasn’t bad…but it certainly wasn’t all that good either.  But it was the first time I’d seriously tried my hand at watercolor and I was happy with it.  Just looking at it brought back memories that made me smile.

And then it got tossed in a box and lost to me for six years.  Until two weeks ago.  Digging through everything in the basement to clear space for my office, I found it, framed it and hung it on the wall to give my writing space a splash of color.

So by now you’re asking yourself, what the hell does this have to do with anything?  Right?  Well, plenty.  As my editing progressed in the last two weeks and I crashed headlong into the aforementioned chapter-from-hell, I found myself staring at that painting trying to muddle my way around the problem in the story.  Finally it hit me–I need to step away, unplug, recharge and come at this from a new angle.

I closed the laptop, dug out my paints and paper and headed topside to the kitchen table.  A few hours later, I had this:

image

This is my crude attempt to recreate a photograph I took when my wife and I toured Scotland in 2008 on our long-delayed honeymoon.  One of our favorite castles was Dunottar, south of Aberdeen.  It’s out on the rocky crag that juts into the ocean off Scotland’s east coast, accessibly only by what looked like a goat path from the mainland across some steep, rocky ground.  And there were no hand rails or warning signs.  We’re talking hundred foot cliffs, stiff winds and failing light.

Awesome!

We arrived at 5:15pm local time and struggled to make our way through the buffeting wind down the path (passing motorcyclists wearing neon racing gear emblazoned with BMW over every square inch of their bodies) and finally clawed our way to the castle gate (or what was left of it–it’s a ruin, you know).  The curator was just locking up.  We were free to climb around on the outside, but sadly we could venture “nay further”.

Fine by us.  We were happy to clamber around on the rocks and take pictures of the lonely ruins from a distance.  One of those pictures I decided to paint this week.

And you know what?  The moment I was finished and stepped back to admire my work, a light bulb turned on above my head and the solution to my editing impasse presented itself.  That opened the floodgates and here I sit with only 7 chapters left to edit!

So there you have it, how a watercolor painting helped put AJE2 back on track.  Kinda weird, but not really.  No one can focus on one thing 24/7 waking and sleeping and not burn out.  I think writer’s/editor’s block is just the mind’s way of putting on the breaks and making you take a step back to recharge before complete burnout sets in.  Too bad my oven can’t do that…but that’s a different story.

Now I can feel the excitement building, just like when I wrote the very first words of this book.  I can see the goal, it’s in sight.  Time to hunker down and grind this sucker out!

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