I first met Kristin Johnson four years ago at a Welsh-language course in Iowa. We hit it off right away once we discovered we were both writers, and we've been "talking shop" ever since. Kristin has kindly agreed to share some of her wisdom while I'm away - appropriately enough - at another Welsh course. Diolch yn fawr, Kristin!
I’ve recently returned from a family trip to the South Dakota Badlands and Yellowstone National Park – what great places, full of buffalo, cowboy-hat-wearing tourists, and bear-spray-pedaling Walgreens stores. Being out West reminded me of the early settlers who came to this great country and what life must have been like for them.
My family and I hiked trails where suddenly we would come upon a buffalo only a few feet away, and we were under the constant threat of running into a bear. We plodded ahead hoping to find a grizzly or black bear, though we never ran across one there in the wild. How would a Gnomeslayer feel seeing a buffalo or a bear for the first time? How do we writers react when confronted with something strange in our path or a new, odd idea? Do we flee because it’s too unfamiliar? I recently read, “The time to do something else is when everyone is thinking the same way" - meaning we should embrace the unfamiliar because that may actually be the fresh, new idea we should write about.
When Maegan invited me to guest blog this week, first I had “writer’s block.” Then, naturally, I looked up information on gnomes. I found one definition that said, “A pithy saying that expresses a general truth or fundamental principle.” Fundamental principle . . . fundamental principle . . . My mind wandered over to Jane Austen’s famous first line from Pride and Prejudice: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” I’ve edited Ms. Austen’s work to read as follows: It is a truth universally acknowledged that a person in possession of writer’s block, must be in want of an idea.
A professor of mine once paraphrased this by saying, if you aren’t writing, it may be that you don’t yet know what you want to say. This concept of being idea-less or direction-less struck a chord in me. Is this why I haven’t finished writing some of my stories? Am I lacking an idea of what to write? Do I not know yet what I want to say? Is it that I don’t have a solid trail to follow?
Oddly enough, I often begin my semester-long composition classes by scrawling a quote like this on my white board: “Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.” -- Louis L’Amour
But this would imply that it doesn’t matter whether you have an idea or not, you just have to start writing and then the words and ideas will come. I believe, however, there is usefulness for writers who are able to employ both concepts, depending on what is needed to get the work done on any given day. Sometimes we have to start writing without knowing where the piece is going. Sometimes we need to know what we want to say before the words will flow.
And what if you come upon a buffalo or a bear along your trail? Are you going to run and risk having your writing life killed off? Or are you going to challenge the gnome?
I think a Gnomeslayer encountering a buffalo or a bear would charge ahead boldly. So wherever you are in your own writing — idea-less, direction-less, or if you are lucky and actually have a trail to follow — charge ahead!
Begin and begin boldly, for as the Gnomies might say, gnome guts, gnome glory.