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.
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.