Monday, July 19, 2010

Out and About

We writers pledge uncompromising commitment to our craft. We reserve time in which we sacrifice mind, soul, heart and computer to our books.

Such dedication requires focus. No checking spam e-mail or reading favorite sock blogs. No seeking long-ago kindergarten classmates, baby calves or Mafia dons on Facebook. No watching YouTube videos of Japanese rap groups.

I read of one fiction writer who nixed first-thing-in-the-morning bathroom breaks until she had written 500 words.

Bladder infection concerns aside, does such single-mindedness enhance our writing? I haven't yet resorted to dancing the Hold-It Two Step while I reach my word count. But I am obsessive about my butt-to-chair rules. As a morning person, I devote days to writing and evenings, when my creative powers equal those of a zucchini, to house and yard work, exercise and the Cubs. (If you're a Cubs fan, especially this year, you understand.)

One morning my system fizzled. I tried to march words from my brain to page as if they were a chain gang. Somewhere between mind and computer, they staged a sit-in. After a week of staring at each other, I decided to give myself -- and them -- a break. One beautiful summer morning, I defied my inner writing police and sneaked away on my bicycle.

Such illegal adventure can pay off. For example, we fiction writers scour the planet for unique story settings. During one bike ride, I discovered a horse farm, a Labrador puppy farm, a goat farm and a brown egg farm. I ask you, how many releases this month feature a romance that takes place on a brown egg farm? I also encountered farms whose owners don't let others' expectations fence them in. One owned a butter yellow farm house with matching barn and sheds. Not far away, I discovered two neighboring farms whose houses, barns and sheds (probably totaling 20 outbuildings), all painted candy pink. I recognized this as a sign from God: my next novel should take place on a brown-egg farm with pink and yellow barns, maybe robin's egg blue, too?

Unless God was merely informing me that the Easter bunny is a Hoosier. ...

A walk around the block provides a novelist with personality examples that enhance character development. At one time, my neighborhood included a guy my children referred to as the Mad Mower. Thunderstorms, hail, tornadoes, midnight darkness -- nothing stopped him from maintaining his quarter-inch-length lawn. Across the street lived a protective old gentleman who once held a shotgun on a burglar who had entered his vacationing neighbors' home (the "criminal" was a friend who had volunteered to fix their plumbing). And before vampire stories ever hit best seller lists, my mysterious neighbors on the corner kept a granite tomb in their yard which they took with them when they moved. If I had befriended them, I might be several quarts low on plasma, but my books would have topped the Twilight Series.

Does getting out and about add an air of sanity to our stories? No. It's a crazy world. But it does lend them authenticity. It also can help us recover motor skills lost at the computer, such as smiling and talking. These will come in handy someday when we're promoting our books on Oprah. (Most television and radio personalities shy away from authors who only type and drool.)

In conclusion, I'm not sure what I'm concluding. Maybe, don't let your writing give you bladder infections or drooliosis. Be sure to stop and smell the Easter egg farms. And if your neighborhood vampire wants to meet for coffee, be friendly, but go to Starbuck's.

Rachael Phillips


  1. Ha! Love this, Rachael! Just for you information, in years past MY income was dependent upon the owners of all of those candy-pink outbuildings! They provide several annual grants to the school system, one of which was dedicated to my salary. It's a small world after all!

  2. Love this post! Aren't neighbors a funny thing? There are always a few on the block that create quirky fodder for new story ideas.

  3. I knew this was you, Rachael, even though the email wasn't signed! Your voice is so wonderfully funny...

    But (pun intended) my butt in chair time is given each day to someone else ... the guy who gives me my paycheck. By the time I get home, my butt can't take much more "in chair" time, but (this time no pun intended) I usually have other computer-anchored responsibilities to attend to. And writing, my writing, doesn't get done.

  4. Loved this post. As a Hoosier myself, I'm quite sure the Easter bunny has decorated many of the homes here. I wish he'd do something with mine, which is boring brown.

    Taking time to appreciate the world around us is vital to keeping our creativity flowing. Thanks for the reminder.


  5. Thanks, guys! I've been watching grandkids (ages 2,4,6), two of whom have been puking on me. So I will be more than ready to go back to writing tomorrow!

  6. I think I need to come down and go for a bike ride around your neighborhood!

  7. Michelle WeidenbennerJuly 20, 2010 at 8:33 PM

    Once again, you crack me up. I love your posts. You're so entertaining. I could see everything on that bike ride and enjoyed it. Thanks for reminding me that getting out of my chair is a good thing.

  8. LOL, knowing who owns the candy pink farm (like Jan) I know there's a story behind that...and I know pretty much the rest of your circuit, too. You're right--it will make for stories!

    Fun post and laced with a lot of wisdom. Sometimes we think the things in our own backyards are too "common" but instead they might make the perfect atmosphere for our stories.

  9. Crystal and Jan, you guys will have to clue me in about the Pink Farm!

    Mike, thanks--I am blessed with the time to pursue my craft, while incredible people like you try to carve out the minutes. But sometimes my full-time devotion makes me a little weird--in case you haven't noticed.