When the words won’t come.
A former high school student of mine, Kat Frost, posted a photo on Facebook of her working with her jewelry. She makes beaded necklaces, earrings and bracelets. She’s also a writer. In this specific post, she said she was working through writer’s block.
I understand. My response to her was of how I cook, specifically, I chop vegetables, when I’m working through a story.
Storytelling doesn’t stop when I shut off the laptop. The plot and characters continue to live in my head, but I may have lost sight of what to do with them.
I sit at my laptop or over my handwritten paper and wait to jar loose what the story needs, where it should go, who must talk or think or dream. Sometimes continuing to write shakes the ideas free and the story picks up its pace again.
When it’s time to walk away.
Then the time comes when I believe I’ve exhausted all options. I can’t think of one more possibility.
Time to shut down the writing equipment and walk away. At this point, I move to the kitchen.
It’s time to make soup.
Cooking does it for me.
I enjoy cooking. My mother cooked in country clubs and restaurants. Everything from contemporary American meals to traditional Slovak cuisine to leftovers, my mom created delicious meals. Maybe it’s in the DNA, but her children know how to cook as well.
I didn’t realize right away what I was doing whenever I decided to stop writing to make soup.
I thought I was chickening out, escaping the challenge of completing the story. Here I was getting up from the writing rather than sticking with it until I had worked out the flaws or gone beyond the white space.
Now I know that though I leave my desk, my story stays with me as I chop vegetables, dribble oil in a hot pan, drop in sliced onions and minced garlic.
I don’t run away from my story. It’s right there in my imagination. Working itself out.
Tricking the brain.
No science data here just a feeling.
The right brain is the creative side. It needs freedom to move around and express itself. The left side is about regimentation. It wants to work out the details, go over the arguments again and again, nag at me to eat, to sleep, to go do something.
When the left brain is so engaged, the right creative brain is weakened.
If I do something that the left side can dominate, it won’t pay attention to the right side making its way through its creative processes.
I trick my brain into thinking it’s making soup. By keeping it occupied doing physical, structured work, my creative side can do its own thing without interference.
When my story character is in a real jam. When the chapter fits on the outline but has no business in the story itself. When any other situation has me staring at the page, writing and deleting the same lines. When I get stuck and the talk in my head isn’t story as much as it is brain talk. I stop.
My imagination has gone on a break. It’s taken a walk. Faded into the sunset.
While cooking, my brain’s preoccupied with food details. Its focused on peeling, slicing, cubing and mincing. It glories in knowing the oil must get hot enough before adding the first vegetable, then the second, then the next.
When my brain is otherwise engaged in the menial tasks of food preparation, the imagination runs freely. The elements of narrative, plot, conflict tumble around and around, shaking out details and possibilities.
The story figures itself out because nothing is stalling it. I’m not getting in the way of the creative process.
I go back to the writing with renewed ideas.
And, later, soup.
“I don’t sit around waiting for passion to strike me. I keep working steadily, because I believe it is our privilege as humans to keep making things. Most of all, I keep working because I trust that creativity is always trying to find me, even when I have lost sight of it.” ~Elizabeth Gilbert
*All images are my own unless otherwise noted.