Lost In The Woods

I’ve talked before about how writing is very much a thing of momentum, and about how starting again, after you’ve broken that momentum, is a terrible task.  Unfortunately, even my Palahniuk-inspired theory of writing an “album’s worth” every day is not enough to always maintain that momentum.

But what happens when you break it?  How do you start again?

That’s a significant challenge…one I am facing right now.

With the loss of momentum comes a certain loss of confidence, a loss of that feeling of “knowing where I am” in the story.

It’s a bit like my off-trail hiking, honestly.  I don’t get lost easily — I’m confident heading off into areas with nothing resembling a trail because I’m good at using landmarks, and my own internal “compass,” to keep a picture not just of where I’m going, but also where I’ve been.  When I lose that picture, when I lose that situational awareness…well, let’s just say getting lost in the backcountry is a lot less fun — and a lot more sphincter-clenching — than getting lost in a city.

There is a sense of helplessness to being lost, and a loss of control, that is particularly disturbing.  I don’t like being helpless…and I sure as hell don’t like not being in control.

The trick is not to panic.  Panic and (unreasonable) fear are why people get hurt in the backcountry.  No, when I get lost, I narrow down to the little things.  I start navigating “small”, with nearby landmarks, and I head for higher ground.  Most importantly, I stay aware of my situation — I never lose sight of what I’m doing, even if I’m worried about water, or light, or cold…

Well, that same feeling of (story-oriented) helplessness and loss of control comes out when the writing momentum is broken.  There’s that moment of fear, and confusion, when you don’t remember where you wanted to go in the story, or even where you’ve been.  There’s also that same fear.  Oh, it’s not physical, not like wandering lost through grizzly country.*  No, it’s a thing of mind and spirit, and it’s disheartening as hell.

*That there is a bucket list item I don’t recommend to anyone.

“But,” I hear you ask, “how do you break out?”

Go small.  Navigate, and head for higher ground.

In this case, I’ve found that rebuilding the lost momentum has to happen a small step at a time.  Any effort to “jump right back in” to the previous pace will just make things worse.  It took me a long while — and a great deal of frustration — to learn that lesson.

It is also more than just “getting words on paper.”

As I mentioned in a previous post, I want to get my writing right “in the lens.”  That means writing well.   In this case, it means turning back to something that is still a pretty new thing for me: flash fiction.

100-300 words is ideal for me…at least for now.  At that length, I can conceive, write and revise a piece in a couple of hours.  Whether or not I succeed at writing a good piece is important to me, and that’s what leads to the goal of the exercise: revitalizing the creative process itself.

Just like cresting one hill leads me to the next and to the next, and finally back to terrain I recognize, a day of writing leads to two, and then to three…and finally back to that momentum and rhythm that is so vital to me and my writing.

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