Sunday, August 05, 2012

Breaking The Ice

Even in the heat of summer, when the pavement sizzles and the sidewalk buckles, a writer can feel like she’s trying to break through the ice to find the words to tell her story.

At times it can feel as if our words are trapped beneath the surface, frozen like fish caught in the ice while swimming upstream, irretrievable until the next thaw.

How can a writer break the ice?

Some days I find writing on a computer feels like trying to break through the ice. I need paper and pen to feel the warmth of words beneath my fingers. The simple sound of a pen scratching the paper will somehow warm the ice and release the words that were trapped beneath the keyboard, frozen, stuck.

Writing on the computer often feels too clean, too neat, too cold, too abstract—mere digital points of light and color, symbols rather than words. With a pen and pencil, writing is messy. Instead of pressing a button or tapping a key… and watching the words vanish like smoke into the Ethernet (or wherever deleted words on a computer screen go), I can feel with my pen the tactile sensation of scratching out a word or sentence or paragraph.

There are days when I may stare for hours at a computer screen before realizing that I need to switch from the keyboard and screen to pen and paper. Words don’t flow when my hand is still. That’s why I find a pen so helpful in breaking the ice. It lets my hand move across the page in a fluid motion, not the helter-skelter motion of typing, and that freedom of motion frees up something inside me… like freeing a block of ice…so that the water can flow again.

Sometimes all it takes to break the ice is the decision to push aside the computer and find a pen, a pad of paper, and I'l begin to write the old-fashion way, smudging my fingers with ink or charcoal, poking my eye with the tip of an eraser, accidentally drawing blood from a paper-cut.

The next time you find yourself staring for hours at a blank computer screen, try pushing aside the keyboard, picking up a pen and a pad of paper, and letting your hand start moving across the page. Write anything—the silliest gibberish that you can imagine—and see if after a few minutes the words don’t start flowing, falling into place, forming a story that only minutes ago was stuck, frozen, in the ice.

For more information on the benefits of writing by hand, visit:


Sharron said...

I turn to my daughter when this happens. When I can't stand looking at the wrong word for another minute. When I think I'll implode if I can't find the 'real' word.

She looks at it. For about two seconds. Then tells me what she thinks I should use instead.

Nine times out of ten - she's right on. What a blessing!

Bruce Black said...

Sounds like you've got another writer--or a future editor--in the family.