I will thank the Lord with all my heart as I meet with his godly people. How amazing are the deeds of the Lord! All who delight in him should ponder them. Psalm 111:1-2 NLT

Monday, August 9, 2010

Not that I'm ready for snow, but...

I can't believe I'm about to say this. It's about as uncharacteristic as me chugging a Diet Pepsi (ugh – Diet Coke all the way, people). But say it, I will:

I'm ready for cooler weather.

Fellow Iowans and long-time friends, you can raise your eyebrows high as you want, drop your jaw, smirk, pick your “Did Melissa really just say that?” expression of choice. I don't mind.

But it's true. I'm ready for Mr. Temperature to take it down a couple notches.

I don't know maybe I'm just tired of summer clothes. Bring on the pretty scarves and stylin' boots. Or perhaps for once I'd like to step outside without humidity doing an Annie number on my hair. Or maybe I'm craving that old “back-to-school” feeling I used to get come mid-August when – amidst my new school supplies and backpack and first-day-of-school outfit – I'd sense change and excitement. (Okay, so that feeling really only lasted through elementary school. By junior high my new trapper keeper just didn't do it anymore.)

Anyhow, this longing for a change in the weather isn't all that new to me. In fact, it's ailing me right at its usual onset. I call it my “summer rut.” Always hits around this time. Thankfully, for the past few summers I've discovered handy cures. A few summers ago, I took up painting. Last summer, a couple friends and I made a late August weekend getaway to Colorado – tubed down a mountain river. Came away from it with bruises and sunburns – so bad that you could've painted STOP in white on my face and planted me on street corner – but what a blast!

I hit ruts in my writing, too. Points where I'm bored with my characters or convinced my plot stinks or can't seem to put two intelligent sentences together. Sometimes I think it's just laziness. And I'm not talking about writer's block here. This is something different – more of a sluggish writer state, like the pull of the Lethargarians in The Phantom Tollbooth's doldrums.

Some rut-busting tricks? Here are a few things that work for me:

-Finding a new place to write. A change in scenery can make all the difference. Especially if that new place includes a mocha.

-Fast-forwarding to a new place in your plot. Generally I'm a chronological writer. But sometimes thinking ahead to a scene I can't wait to write – and then writing it – gives me the boost I need to plunk away at earlier scenes.

-Read a favorite book. When I can't seem to make my story work for me, I check out a story which worked out for someone else. A little Susan May Warren or Ted Dekker or Jenny B. Jones or Ann Tatlock, and I'm eventually back in the game.

And sometimes, well, my very best climbs out of the doldrums are the slow and steady kind . . . which consist of a lot of wall-staring and mindless snacking and talking to myself as I just force myself through it.

So how about you? Ever find yourself in a writing rut? What pulls you out?

Oh, and don't forget to check out our August contest details here.

Melissa Tagg

p.s. If you've never seen the 1970 live-action/animation movie version of The Phantom Tollbooth, you really should. It's a mixture of fun and creepy. Great music, too.


  1. Melissa - great post, and I may live in Ohio, but I'm ready for some natural air conditioning myself.

    My favorite thing to do when I'm struggling is to escape to my gazebo in my garden. I close my eyes and soak up the sounds of hummingbirds, bees, and the occasional horse clopping down the street. (Yes, that last one is correct - I live in Amish country.)

    With my eyes closed I slip into the scene, or even into my characters place in the story line and with my fingers posed above my keyboard, I do a brain dump. I pour out the emotions, the images, the affect the affect the scene has on my five senses as they occur. Its not necessarily a pretty sight on paper, but I've pushed past the point of making my words happen.

  2. I like your writring style and look forward to hearing the "end" of what you shared as "beginning" in last October's first Ponderers retreat.
    Yes, in MN we're suffering with heat, makes it harder to write. Jumping to a fresh scene out of normal chronological sequence has been helping add fresh verve lately, plus last night's great pep talk from a Bethany editor at a our regional ACFW MN-Nice meeting.
    In a few months we may wish for SOME of the heat we have now and ponder the extremes that can hit writing or life.

  3. Ooh, a gazebo would be a fun place to write, Jennie! Provided humidity is in hiding. And with your gardening skills, I can imagine how pretty and calming the view is...

    Thanks, Delores. I hear ya on wishing back heat during winter. Here's my thing with Midwest winters...they're just soooo long. If I were in charge of weather, we'd have a month of autumn in between every season...I just loooove autumn.

  4. Wishing for cooler weather? Well, since I live about as far south as you can get and still live in the US, I can wish for cooler weather about 11 months of the year.

    I tried writing in the public library last week--it wasn't pretty. Among other things, a pesky kid harangued his mother about DVDs in a most unlibrary-like voice for a solid half-hour. I do so much better shut in my writing cave at home.

    But my motivator of choice is a great writing book--either that or looking over notes from a MBT retreat or an article from a Voices E-Zine. It gets me pumped up again and ready to go again.

    Now I'll have a new source of inspiration--posts by the Ponderers! Your image of a Stop-sign sunburn had me chuckling!

    Thanks for sharing M-Tagg!

  5. Latest tip for a writing rut:
    Laze by the pool or the beach and just let your mind take a rest for a while . . .you'd be amazed at what you think up for your WIP.
    Another tip: I pull out one of my Susan May Warren notebooks from one of her retreats and start sifting through them until something prompts me to start writing.

  6. Oh wow, Teri, I should not complain about a few months of heat, should I?! :) Too bad about your library experience. I've actually never tried the library, but coffee shops work great for me. My favorite place to write, though, is my mom and dad's sunroom...hmm, I wonder how they'd feel about their 28-year-old daughter moving home??? hehehe...

  7. Beth, would your comment have anything to do with your recent vacation? :) How was Mexico? And I agree about pulling out SMW retreat notebooks. This weekend I rewrote the ending to my story for like the millionth (okay, 12th) time and worked on my proposal - I had both her Inside Out notebook and the Polish retreat notebook spread out beside me...

  8. Trapper Keepers...oh, those were the days. I do still love a pretty notebook and the smell of new pencils. I used to save pencils--write with stubs so I don't ruin the fresh new ones. :-) Thanks, Melissa. Now I want to go shopping for school supplies.
    I'm all about skipping around and writing the scenes you're really excited about. :-) For my current WIP, I actually wrote the second to last scene first.
    As for getting out of a rut...Sometimes switching to writing longhand for a little bit works. Or taking my laptop somewhere w/o internet access. Or going ahead and doing the project that's nagging at me so I can get back to concentrating.
    I'm in a rut right now. Unfortunately, the nagging projects just keep coming. :-) Considering going into hibernation a bit early. Oh, wait. I live in Florida...

  9. Hey, Jenness, remember Lisa Frank? She was the queen of school supplies back in the day...all things rainbow and unicorn-y...

  10. Yes! I had a Lisa Frank lunch box in, oh, 3rd grade or so? :-)

  11. At my school, for some silly reason, we weren't allowed to have trapper keepers until fifth grade. Man, I was soooo proud of my new Lisa Frank trapper keeper that year. But yeah, by seventh or eigth grade, suddenly trapper keepers were out and Mead five-star notebooks totally in...

  12. Oh harken back to the days of new school supplies. I loved Trapper Keepers. (guilty...and Lisa Frank.)

    To get out of a rut, I go back and edit a scene. That seems to get me excited about my WIP again. Otherwise, my favorite thing to do is find a Ponderer on My Book Therapy's website and brainstorm with them. You lovely ladies always get me back on track!

  13. Melissa!! Great post! I felt a little thrill when I saw the picture of the cover of The Phantom Tollbooth! And your timing is eerie, as I have read this book out loud to my two boys every August for the past seven years. It has to be one of the cleverest (is that a word?) books ever written, and every year my boys "get" a little more of it. I think it has helped us to make the transition to back to school and I think it will help me get out of my writing rut as well, given the brilliant writing of Norton Juster! I highly recommend it to every writer.

    And just like a lot of you, I begin to yearn for Autumn right about this time of year every year. I may or may not be obsessed with school supplies, and given my October wedding anniversary and birthday, the fall months are my absolute favorite. And once we get home from the last of our kids camps (my hubby is a children's pastor for those of you who don't know) I am ready for cooler weather. Plus I love to bake, and turning on the oven in July and August is unthinkable!

    Here's a little Biblical factoid...Rosh Hashanah, or the Hebrew Civil New Year is celebrated in the fall. It is believed to be the anniversary of God's Creation. This year it falls near the beginning of September. I don't know about you guys, but I am way more ready to make my resolutions at the end of summer than in the dead of winter, lol. And this year I am resolving to spend more time focused on creating great writing.

    Oh and Jennie, I wish I could join you in your gazebo...it sounds heavenly!

  14. Yay, Heidi, I'm glad someone else knows about the book I was talking about. Weird that I happened to write about it during the month you always read it. You're right, it is such a clever book and a really fun read. Have you seen the movie? It starts out live-action and turns into a cartoon after about 20 minutes. It's kinda trippy (in an Alice in Wonderland sort of way), but really fun.

    And Amy, yeah, editing can be really fun. Speaking of which, how's that thesis going? :)

  15. So slow, Melissa. Thankfully, I did not succumb to utter despair, and kept plugging along. All. Day. However, I'm not going to finish the Intro, even if I work every waking minute from now until midnight. That is demoralizing.

  16. Ah man, Amy, that stinks. Sorry it's not going to get done today...but I'm glad you didn't succumb to despair!!! Way to persevere!!

  17. I'm glad I'm not the only one who gets in a rut! I've been blaming it on the heat. It's hovered between 98 and a 100 degrees for the past two weeks here in Mississippi. Heat index every day above 110,, ususally closer to 120. And I bet Teri can top that! And while I'm out in only long enough to get in the car, it seems to seep into the house and into my brain.

    Great post, Melissa. Thanks for the tips. One thing I do when my brain won't cooperate is to write for 5 or 10 minutes with my right hand (I'm left handed) Seems to jump start my brain. lol

  18. I'm late in replying to your post, but I've had wonky internet for a couple of days. Seems fine for now though.

    Anyway, great post. I've spent months in a rut. I like your idea of changing scenery. A writing friend of mine spends time every Saturday at the library writing. I like that idea. I may have to try it. I'm just worried I'd end up doing more people watching than actual writing. I'd have to find a quiet corner somewhere.

    I'm more than ready for cooler temperatures. This has been one hot summer. Not snow, mind you, but cooler temps. :)

  19. I wholeheartedly agree with being ready for cooler weather! But then, I'm ready for snow, too. (Winter baby, over here!)

    I try to write chronologically, too. Makes less problems in the long run, like when the plot takes a turn was wasn't quite expecting, I don't have to totally rewrite a chapter because it's physically impossible for it to work that way now. All the same, sometimes writing a climatic scene give me just the boost I need.

    And, my best friend and test-reader is a constant source of encouragement--I don't know if I ever would have finished one of the three novels I've written without her!