Writer’s Block

Nice Try…

It was on this day in 1919 that the 18th Amendment, otherwise known as Prohibition, was ratified in Congress with the intent of keeping America clean and dry. With the support of various “temperance” groups and religious collectives, Prohibition was instituted to reduce crime and increase morality (in theory). Unfortunately, just like “guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” so it goes that “booze doesn’t make a criminal, but a criminal makes illegal booze.” Prohibition only lasted 13 years, and the 18th remains the only Amendment to ever be repealed.

I find the 1920’s to be a fascinating time in American history. Despite the drought, I love the spirit of the time–you can see it on people’s faces in old photographs. I wrote a story called Tails about the oldest son of a poor farming family who sets out for the big city to earn a living, only to be caught up in the world of a busy speakeasy (I was 19 when I wrote it). Whether the story was any good is debatable, but I still find the period to be a major source of inspiration.

If you have three minutes, check out this video from the History Channel that sums up the details nicely. A great anecdote if you’re going out tonight!

Art Imitates Art

Have you ever had one of those bizarre experiences where the branches of your life intersect in weird ways? I had an artistic version of that experience happen to me this week…

I’ve been reading David Copperfield for the past week (which is a book of a book). The first chapter is subtitled I Am Born, and begins with the line “To begin my life with the beginning of my life, I record that I was born.” Now, for die hard Gone with the Wind fans like me, this evokes the scene in the movie in which Scarlet, Melanie, Mrs. Meade and India are killing time as they wait for the men to return from “clearing out the woods.” I’ve seen the movie a hundred times (okay maybe less than that) and I picked up David Copperfield and thought “Oh! Yeah! They read this in the movie!” It became creepy when I wrote a paper last week about the 1939 film version of Wuthering Heights and its ties to GWTW, thinking to myself “I want to watch it!”

The preface of my version of David Copperfield talks about the trend of the Bildungsroman (which I admit, I had to Google: it’s a coming of age story). When I was working on my novel this morning, it occurred to me that I was writing a Bildungsroman and didn’t even realize it!

But wait, there’s more! As a boy, the character David Copperfield reads Robinson Crusoe, and I just read Robinson Crusoe!

On a side note, David Copperfield is actually really funny, and I’m not the type to laugh at 150-year-old humor.

Finally, and this has nothing to do with the post other than that I just found out, David Copperfield the magician took his name from David Copperfield the book! Of all the names in the world! That’s like me changing my name to Anna Karenina…

Stuck in the Present

Any writer can relate to that moment of feeling stuck. Creatively stammered, writer’s block, a dry spell, whatever you want to call it, it’s frustrating. One tip that I’ve used occasionally is to Google “This day in history” for interesting tidbits that fuel the imagination. The History Channel online at history.com has a nice tool that produces a list covering social and political topics, which is where I found out the world’s first test tube baby was born 1978, and in 1897 Jack London set sail for the Klondike. I also found out that, on this day in 1985, Rock Hudson publicly announced he had AIDS.

I just watched “Pillow Talk” a few days ago, which is one of my mom’s favorite movies, but always makes me smile, too. I think about Hudson, who was rumored to have been homosexual, playing the sex-crazed Brad Allen, and wonder what his life was like. I imagine the fantasies he must have set off for female movie-goers in 1959. My head is swirling with ideas around this! The way celebrities were portrayed during Hollywood’s golden era as these unattainable, faultless, beautiful people; what pressure that must have been. The hiding-in-the-bush paparazzi probably wasn’t as intrusive back then, but to always be on guard for the sake of your career. I also think about the enormous distance between the connotations of “homosexual” in 1959 and 2014. Even though Hudson made his AIDS announcement in 1985, I think the rumors circulated for years before.

So there you have it, a quick way to find some inspiration in what feels like a relevant way. In 2059, this day in history might refer to “The day the most inspiring writer’s block cure with Rock Hudson was posted.”

Inspiration & Writing Things Down

I would say that I am a writer of rituals. If things aren’t the way they are supposed to be, I have a difficult time sitting at my desk and just launching into creative uncertainty. First, I always work best on Saturdays and even better in the morning. I don’t like to have plans less than a few hours out from the time I sit down because it causes me an unnecessary distraction to think about everything I need to do before I leave. I like to have classical music on in the background, but very quietly. I also like to have a giant black coffee. Sometimes I’ll smoke cigarettes on the weekend (a routine I’m trying to ditch after ten years of full time smoking) but I am somehow very contemplative when I have some nicotine coursing through my veins, er, lungs. I actually don’t know where the nicotine goes but at least some of it goes to my head.

This being said, I will have an off day when I mentally peel away layer after layer of junk and all I can think of is “She sat alone,” mainly because it’s what I’d be doing. “She sat alone, smoking, looking contemplative.”

I have taken to an old habit I had of writing ideas down whenever and wherever I am. This is particularly effective with poetry, because you only need a thought, an image, or a word or two to really get the ball rolling. I wish I was more interested in saving all of these ideas on my phone, or in a drawer at least, but they usually end up on beverage napkins that I throw away after a few months of being crinkled and torn in the bottom of my purse. The solution for maintaining these nuggets is very intelligent and unique: I got a notepad. Just a little flip book, like the kind reporters used to carry around in the forties.

My idea book, which I started last week, includes a few words I had to look up in the dictionary while reading “Love in the Time of Cholera” and associations I made with the word “beauty.” I hope my idea book becomesĀ the newest addition to my Saturday morning rituals.