The Gift That Keeps On Giving

Some years ago, our RWA chapter, LARA, met at a fabulous B&N in Encino, California. One month I had arrived at the meeting early, and with the recent acquisition of a bookstore gift card for having volunteered my services as president, I wandered the store looking for not just books but other nifty items. I came across a brightly colored box titled The Observation Deck, A Tool Kit for Writers, by Naomi Epel. The description on the back claimed it offered inspiration and practical advice from Pulitzer Prize winning, and best-selling authors. It had a 50 chapter book and 50 cards that offered help to break through writer’s block.

Of course I bought the set.                                

And I have to admit that I didn’t use it often enough in the beginning. The idea is to choose a card at random, and then read the corresponding chapter, which is only a page or two, so no big waste of time. I always find the words interesting and even if the card doesn’t seem to apply to my current problem I make myself pay attention and follow the advice. It always works. But then again, I am one of those weird people who believe a lot in chance and fate. I love selecting a card and getting that sense of surprise. My writing always flows after I put into practice whatever the cards words are, and they can be as simple as take a walk, move, or follow the scent.

I’d finished up a romantic suspense series about six months ago and had decided to try my hand at contemporary romance, focusing on character development rather than shoot-em-ups and car chases.  I was happy with the result of the first story. I started the second one, and then got stalled at chapter four. I knew it wasn’t the story or the characters preventing me from moving forward. I was playing the waiting game. I’d recently contracted a book (one of the RS novels) with a publisher and copyedits were due any day. My brain was stuck in that: you can’t do anything else mode because the edits might arrive and you need a clear mind for them. No matter how much I chastised myself for being ridiculous, I couldn’t break out of that thinking, and so I lost an entire week. I finally gave up and tried to force myself to write. “Forcing” anything is not good.

Then I saw the box on my library shelf.  I shuffled the pack of cards and pulled the card ribe tuchus. I laughed because my parents-in-law spoke Yiddish and I knew what it meant. The translation is “rub your bottom on the chair.”

Or, sit still. I read the page and a half of advice in the little book, and it was to just sit at my writing desk (which in my case is my computer desk) for at least one hour. I was obligated to do nothing but sit. If I wanted to pull another card as a jumping-off point to write about something, I could do that. Or I could just sit and daydream.

Within five minutes I had opened my manuscript file. I played around in the first chapter for another five minutes. Two hours and about five pages later, I lifted up my head and saw the time on the clock. Wow! It works. It really, really, works. The Observation Deck now has a permanent location on my desk. Thanks, LARA, and Naomi Epel. What a great gift, and one that keeps on giving.

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24 Responses to The Gift That Keeps On Giving

  1. Hi Robena,
    I love when stuff like that happens!! You have truly a great gift, in more ways than one!!

  2. Robena Grant says:

    Thanks, Charlene.
    I’ve used the cards three times this past week, and each time with success! Yay!

  3. Janie Emaus says:

    Thanks for the recommendation

  4. Dee J. says:

    Robena,
    Wow! Good for you for making it work! I think it’s great when you find something that works for you. I may come knocking at your door when I get stuck. LOL.

    • Robena Grant says:

      Well, for you, hon, the door is always open.
      Now what is really funny is if a card seems to have absolutely nothing to do with where you think your story is going, if you just go with it and put the words down it works. Magic!!!

  5. Maria says:

    Oh, I am going to go look for that box/book set. It sounds like fun as well as ways to get yourself to do what you know you need to but just don’t want to. Some days I just want to know when I’ll get past the four year old inside who only wants to do “NOTHING, mama!” This sounds like a game and you know that always works with a toddler.

    • Robena Grant says:

      I think you’d like it, Maria. Plus the book itself is interesting reading with sayings/quotes, or insights into many famous writers lives/thoughts.

  6. Love the idea of “rub your bottom on the chair”! That plus stay away from the Interwebs) usually results in some good pages for me, even if they’re not what I was planning.

  7. Robena Grant says:

    Hi, Bev. Yep, have to agree with you on the Interwebs. My problem is not usually about sitting in the chair, but sitting in the chair and fooling around. (Not in THAT way ; ) in an interwebby way.)

  8. Diva says:

    Wow. That is awesome.

  9. Robena Grant says:

    Glad you like it, Diva. I wish we lived close enough to share. : )

  10. Nan says:

    How totally cool, Roben! Just found it on Amazon–going to order it as soon as I get back from visiting the new grandbaby. Anything that inspires is always a good idea! Thanks!!

    • Robena Grant says:

      I should have known you’d like the toolkit, Nan. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. Today I lay down on the couch and read the book (until I dozed off…it’s 114 degrees here so an afternoon nap is mandatory) and discovered things I’d forgotten from the first read through. It’s really well written.

  11. Nan says:

    Oh, good luck with the edits!! Have fun and don’t get stressed.

    • Robena Grant says:

      Thanks. They arrived today, and all I’ve got to say is brilliant. : )

      Have fun with the family. You are going to be in seventh heaven holding your first grandchild.

  12. Hi Robena –
    I find when I stall out that I require more time to subconsciously think things through. I can’t force myself to move forward until I’ve solved whatever it is that’s holding me back. It might be like drawing a card somewhere in the way back part of my brain. LOL.

    I’m thrilled to know you are still reaping the benefits of your LARA presidency, and also – thank you for finding such a perfect spot for us to meet all those years. I sure miss that B&N book store in Encino on Ventura Blvd!

  13. Robena Grant says:

    Wouldn’t it be neat if we could just pull a mental card and then trust it and move forward? I circle the wagons when I’m stuck. First I go one way, then another, until finally I exhaust myself. Ha ha.
    Yep, that was a fabulous meeting space. I really miss the store as well. It was also a central meeting place for me and my family.

  14. londonmabel says:

    Oh cool! One writer I heard interviewed on Writing Excuses says he does a 15 minute writing prompt every day before he starts his writing day. …Might try that sometime.

  15. Robena Grant says:

    Hi London. Yes, I’ve heard of writers doing this. I make the case/ excuse that playing around on blogs for an hour while I have breakfast warms up my fingers and starts the writing process. Heh.

  16. Carol says:

    Don’t you just love it when time flies by while you are in the story.

  17. Julie says:

    Not “weird” -we’ve discussed this! You are creative and intuitive and open-minded and free-thinking.

    Also, way to follow your signs when you first picked this up. 😉