By the time you read this, I will be back home, but my recent travels took me to Central Utah. You know… Capitol Reef, Escalante Canyons, scenery without compare. I got together with much of my family, something we haven’t done for five years. We come from all over the country, the nieces and nephews attend as they can, and it’s generally fun, meaningful, a little intense, and a little taxing.
I considered leaving the computer at home, because my work in progress–A Gentleman in Pursuit of Truth–felt stuck. I have the premise (Lord Julian has to find a valuable foxhound who’s gone missing), and I have the plot (I know whodunnit and how Julian will solve the mystery), but that’s not a whole book. That’s a tailor’s dummy upon which many characters, settings, symbols, and subplots must be arranged, and all those parts were not making nice-nice with my foundational notions.
I get stuck a lot when I write, but I find Cory Doctorow’s prescription comforting. (You don’t need to know the whole route, but you can get there safely even in the dark if you just don’t overdrive your headlights…) I tried my usual coping mechanisms–sleep on it, put it away for a couple days, read from the start of the draft, re-read the last book in the series, do some reading on creativity, eat chocolate, take unplugged walks, go to the barn.
No joy. So I was feeling a little guilty for dropping my oar and going on a frolic. I watched a stupid Sherlock Holmes movie with lousy audio on the plane, and getting here meant doing the journey on about two hours sleep. By the time I left SLC in my rented Buick (has a metabolism like mine. Takes a whole lotta momentum to overcome inertia…), I was feeling pretty glum. Tired, frustrated, uncreative, grumpy, truant.
Fortunately for me, I did the drive down from SLC with my nephew Jackson, who served two years in federal prison for protesting George Floyd’s murder. We talked. Jax sees his incarceration as something like an enforced stay at a particularly weird monastery. He learned a lot, about himself, about socializing in a fish bowl, about poker, about power.
I have never come across that perspective on imprisonment. I haven’t seen this spectacular high dessert terrain in years. It’s been almost as long since I had to locate an address that isn’t on Google Maps or Mapquest.
I forgot all about his rubbishing lordship and the missing hound, and this morning, I woke up with three good ideas for moving the book forward. I had to drop my oar to get to shore.
I know this. I know my brain needs to be presented with novelty, with things it can’t handle in predictive text mode, if I want to come up with new thoughts, but I had forgotten that when you need the break the most, when you are the most desperate to stick with the problem, that’s especially when you need to let go of it–really, really let go, not just worry about it while walking, while “giving it a break,” and while reading the manuscript from the beginning.
Is there a place you get stuck despite all effort to the contrary? How do you get unstuck? My holiday novella, Worth More Than Rubies, goes on the sale in the web store later this month, but if you’d like an ARC, please email me at [email protected]. It’s never too early for a holiday happily ever after!