Will Travel For Words: Falling into Doing Nothing by Karen A. Chase
This month at the James River Writers Conference in Richmond, I’m moderating a panel on making time to write. With four panelists, we’ll review all the ways in which writers find excuses to avoid writing and how to overcome them. The topic is very applicable to me. In addition to prepping for that conference, I’m working on three paid copywriting jobs, setting up writing shows for 2015, in a book club and editing/rewriting a manuscript (which is supposed to be my main job right now).
So naturally with so much to do, I took three days off and went to the mountains of West Virginia for my partner’s birthday.
Have I failed at the very topic I’ll be moderating at the conference? Did I neglect my own writing time? Not according to Brenda Ueland.
Brenda Ueland was a writer and editor, born in 1891. She taught writing and ran with the likes of Louise Bryant and Carl Sandburg while living in Greenwich Village, in New York City. A few weeks ago I found an old copy of her book, If You Want to Write, first written in 1938. I’ve been reading a page or two each morning to motivate me for the day.
My trip away was entirely sanctioned by her chapters four and five. In chapter four she explains how the writer’s imagination needs to be given room to work. Slow time. Quiet time. She stresses the importance of “moodling.” Moodling is fiddling with your hair, or staring out the window at nothing. Her theory was, “people who are always briskly doing something… they have sharp, staccato ideas… but they have no slow, big ideas.” Those big ideas are necessary for authors.
Chapter five is about wrestling the writing versus allowing it to ruminate within me. And the only way to let ideas swirl as I moodle, is to stop the noise. All that reading, plotting, research and character building has to cease. Those tasks are necessary, but I can’t will the story into submission. It has to come. I have to feel it. And like Brenda Ueland, it comes best for me when I walk on long hikes.
So to the mountains we went. And somewhere in the middle of that weekend, on a very long walk through the woods, it came. Imagination! Inspiration! There was a stretch of time, of silence, where we just walked. We didn’t speak. We walked, and my mind wandered off.
While the mountains stretched up around me, and the leaves–orange, red and fading–fell at my feet, I found a story line. I walked it as surely as I walked that old dusty path. My characters fell in step with me, and I let them tell me where we were going. I don’t know how far, or for how long we walked in that stretch. I was entirely unaware that I had been away.
When I came back to the present, to that path, I knew I had something to write. I had gone into the woods. I had fallen into doing nothing. I had once again traveled for words.
I’ll be back next month to talk about the ways we avoid making time to write. For now, how do you moodle? Where do you go for that quiet time?
Karen A. Chase is a regular contributor to Shelf Pleasure, sharing journeys near and far in the pursuit of stories and novels in her monthly feature, Will Travel for Words. She is the author of Bonjour 40: A Paris Travel Log, winner of seven Independent Book Publishing Awards for travel and design. She is currently working on an historical novel set during the American Revolution. Find Karen on Facebook or on Twitter.
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