November in Minnesota heralds the coming of winter. Weather takes a turn for the worse. Clouds, rain (possibly mixed with snow), cold, and darkness around 5 o’clock at night. That pretty much sums up the atmosphere and mood around the neighborhood (as well as on the roads). But for me, November, with its shifting barometric pressure, means headaches — scratch that — migraines.
That’s right, migraines so bad my consciousness tries to burrow into my rib cage to escape the agony. Since I’m full time nursing my baby I can’t take any of the roter rooter migraine medicine. Ibuprofen is all that’s available to me, and let me tell you, taking an ibuprofen to ease a migraine is about as effective as using a wash cloth to dry out a bath tub full of water.
The result? I get behind on writing. And reading. And laundry. And…well, you get the idea. Part of this “author” thing is perseverance in the face of setbacks/distractions and I am happy to report that I still managed to get to 37,000 words in my novel. There are definite ugly patches in this manuscript. In fact, I think I switched a pet from a dog to a cat without bothering to edit anything in the early sections. It’s going to be a fun re-write, people. With a week and a day left to NaNoWriMo, that leaves a lot of blank space to cover to reach 50,000, but I’m hopeful.
I wanted to pass along a helpful tip that I use to get myself back in the game when interruptions of life – work, KIDS, migraines, KIDS, illness, etc. – disrupt the creative flow. Many writers say it’s important to have a good writing “space” to be productive. Something with a window, good lighting, maybe cup of coffee or tea steaming nearby, and no distractions. I’ve read mention of having good air flow in the area too, maybe a lovely breeze caressing one’s hair and face so one may reach creative nirvana. They probably mean something like this:
Yeah, I’ve got the kitchen table at night. It faces the wall. Forget the cup of Chamomile tea, I’ve got two baby monitors to keep an eye on three kids who may or may not be squawking instead of sleeping:
Pay no attention to the cereal bowl over there. If this picture panned out farther, you’d see a basket of unfolded laundry. Fine, two baskets of laundry. Hey, at least the stuff is clean, okay?
If you’re at all like me and don’t have the time, space, or resources to nestle into a cozy distraction-free writing bungalow, visualizing and finding the words for a scene can be difficult. My method? Sounds.
For example, while writing a scene in which my protagonist was travelling through a prairie, I struggled to integrate the sensory detail. Why? Have another look at my writing space. That, and the fact that I haven’t recently traversed a prairie, had me drawing a blank. So I pulled up YouTube and searched for “Prairie sounds”. Boom, up came a ton of results. With these I was able to immerse myself in the audible detail of a prairie. Suddenly I could feel the hot sun on my back, the tall grass brushing by my legs, smell the wild flowers and warm earth, and yes, also hear a distant river and the buzz of insects.
I’ve done this with thunderstorms too, and man, there are plenty of options in that category. From rain in a country setting, to the sound of it on urban streets, from raging thunder, to a few rumbles, you’ll find whatever you need to get you there. Sounds have given me that extra nudge to sink into my story and tamp down the block. Usually I require silence to write, but this is the one exception. Sure, it may normally be used for insomnia or anxiety, but as it turns out, it’s also useful for one Hawaiian author living in the Midwest, surrounded by the grays of November (and baskets of laundry). Maybe it’ll be helpful to you too.
What’s that you ask? The reference to mice in this post’s title? Well, funny story, the start to cold weather doesn’t just drive people inside but certain small rodents as well. As I went from my car in the garage to the house, fumbling with my keys in the dark because the automatic garage light went out the day before, I heard a strange keening. My husband, hearing my car pull in, flipped the lights on at that moment, treating to me to the sight of two mice screeching at each other in mid-combat. I’m not going to lie. My shriek hit an octave somewhere above glass shattering as I scrambled inside. Several mouse traps later, and one grisly clean up of the loser of that mouse battle, and the garage is rodent free again. Later we discovered something had chewed a hole in the bird seed sack stored out there. Now I understand why my mother keeps seed in old coffee canisters. My point with this anecdote? Distractions are endless. The real work of an author is to persevere in spite of them.