Friday, August 26, 2011

Can Banana Nut Muffins Fight Writer's Block?

Did you see Nicolas Cage's face in this clip? Particularly his brow? Go back and look. It's all furrowed and worried and little-boy looking.

And the inner dialogue? Furrowed and worried and little-boy sounding.

I think it's because he's stressed. Stressed about a deadline. Stressed about the blank paper staring up at him from the typewriter. Stressed that it's a typewriter he's using and not a computer. 

Stress and me, we don't mix. I get stressed, my brain flatlines. So does my creativity. I sit and stare, and literally nothing leaps to mind. And it happens with everything: writing, parenting, challenging conversations, interviews, performing, choosing between the bagel with a schmear and the bowl of wheaties. The brain is just gone. If I think somebody expects something brilliant of me, and right now, I cannot produce. 

So what thaws it out? What gets the synapsis snapping again? I mean besides a cleansing breath, and a bag of chocolate chips.

Well, first of all, getting up and walking away for a moment. Stepping away from the physical location (or people, or paper) where I'm feeling the stress reminds me that there's a world out there that is not completely consumed with my failure to be brilliant. It doesn't even know about it. This is called "Perspective," and it is very helpful. Listen to music, watch something that makes you laugh and relax (like Bill Cosby describing how he coached his wife through the birth of their first child: "Zzzaah! Whaaa! Zzzaah! Whaaa! PUSH! PUSH!" Hilarious), go outside and watch migratory birds--whatever.

The next thing that helps me is to ask questions. In writing, it's things like: What is my character worried about? Why is she/he worried about that? What in her world makes this difficult? What does he need?-- This takes the pressure off and gets my brain searching for clues. Ask questions, your psyche will find the answers. 

In relationships and other situations, I find that the same thing works: Why would a reasonable, rational (man, child, friend, etc.) behave like that? What does their behavior tell me about how they are feeling?--again, my brain pops in and helps find the possible answers. Which calms me down, gives me some perspective, and chills me out.

And finally, we need to give ourselves permission to be human. It's okay to feel stressed, flatlined, frustrated, even mad. As long as we don't burden other people with it (not saying we can't talk to someone about it; just don't burden.) Emotions are indicators that something isn't right: either in what we are doing, or in what someone else is doing. Sometimes if I'm frustrated with my writing it's because it is headed in the wrong direction. I just discovered this about my WIP [work in progress]; after two years I realized I'd started my story in the wrong place. Gah! But now, I feel  peace with it, and am able to produce something I'm happy with. If I'm frustrated with other things or people in my life, maybe there's something there I need to look at as well.

Got writer's block? Relationship block? Conversation/performing/decision block? Maybe it's the psyche trying to tell you to look at things differently. Or to ask questions. Or change your actions or approach.

In any case, Nicolas Cage is right about the banana nut muffin. That's a good muffin. Sometimes that really is all it takes.

On the off chance that it will solve the world's problems, here's my muffin recipe. Except it isn't a muffin. And there aren't any nuts. It's a Banana Orange Bar. Yum.

Banana Orange Bars
2 cups mashed ripe bananas
1 2/3 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil (I think you could cut this down. Even to 1/2 cup. You could also sub in applesauce)
4 eggs
2 cups flour
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt

Orange Butter Frosting (I KNOW!)
1/4 cup butter, softened
3 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup orange juice
1/2 tsp grated orange peel

--In a mixing bowl, beat bananas, sugar, oil and eggs until blended. 
--Combine dry ingredients; fold into the banana mixture until well mixed.
--Pour into greased 15-inch by 10-inch by 1-inch baking pan (A jelly-roll pan).
--Bake at 350 degrees F for 25-30 minutes; cool.
--For frosting, cream butter and sugar in mixing bowl. Add orange juice and peel. Beat until smooth. Add more orange juice if needed to achieve spreading consistency. Spread over bars.
--Lick frosting bowl, beaters, spatula, and banana orange bars.

Eat and be free!


Robin said...

Yum. This would definitely get my creativity jumping. Yep. Maybe I oughta get my book out and eat some of these and see if I can figure out how to get from Point C to Point D.

Janiel Miller said...

Girl, if you're already trying to get from point C to point D, then you're doing great. Some of us are still stuck on A and B. Go you!

Russo said...

I think that anything that you make can cure writers block. Oh, I still remember the first time I ate a brownie of yours. Can I say YUM. I love when you share the recipes because its like you sharing a bit of yourself.

I loved that you added Nic Cage- Oh, he should be our writing mascot, hehe.

I love the line,"give ourselves permission to be human." so true.

Oh, I hope you are bringing a Dori piece sometime soon to writers group. I need a dori fix. Her voice makes me smile.