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In yoga, they have mantras that you’re supposed to chant to help you achieve no mind and become one with God. We have not practiced this in my bi-weekly yoga classes. I mostly concentrate on not falling down, falling over, or falling backward. I sometimes think about being on the beach with Jack Sparrow, but that’s at the end of class, when we’re in corpse pose and in absolutely no danger of falling.
However, as a writer, I am chanting little mantras all the time. They’re over my desk, taped on my computer, written on post-its and napkins, and scribbled on the backs of receipts. Anything that might jolt me into a wave of brilliance when I sit down to write. Something to repeat to myself—bringing myself to a yoga state—so I can get out of my way long enough to write some pages. Any pages. Paragraphs would even work.
My two newest favorite mantras came from unlikely sources: a birthday e-card and a Christopher Moore novel.
Imagine more, think less. I mean that even sounds like something you’d hum in a yoga class, doesn’t it? Here I was reading this adorable e-card, and boom, right there in the middle: the perfect thing to repeat to yourself so you can get out of your own way and write. I spend an ungodly amount of time, staring at the last couple pages of my chapter, then skipping back to the beginning of the chapter. Hell, I might even go back another couple chapters to “catch up and get the rhythm” again, but invariably, I end up getting tired from all that reading and end up shutting down the computer and going to bed.
My problem isn’t so much going as it is getting started. Once I’m going, I can go for a long, long time; but it’s like I spend all my valuable time doing all these unnecessary things. Like I’ve started on a car trip, gotten to the end of my driveway, then remembered I needed my purse. I go back for it, get to the end of the street, then remember I need my lipstick. I go back, and by now I might check to see if I need anything else, leave again, and get a little further down the road before I remember I need the tickets which are on the dresser. It’s no wonder I’m out of gas before I’ve gotten to go on the trip.
Lately with this novel, when I start new scenes or start in someone else’s POV (since I’m a stickler for not head-hopping), I feel like I’m going nowhere fast. I’ll type, knowing the fits and starts I have on the page aren’t likely to be kept, but at the same time, I wonder, maybe I should have the scene start this way instead so my next character can act this way. I have a very vague notion of what I want to happen. I want Character A to fall down drunk at the end of this scene. Okay. Well, that leaves that scene wide open. You’d think with all the possible lead-ins and scenarios, I wouldn’t have a problem finishing a chapter. You’d be dead wrong. I have yet to finish that chapter.
I’m too busy thinking when I should be imagining. It’s enough to make a writer start drinking just to help this process along.
As for the second mantra, let me first say: Christopher Moore is brilliant. Absolutely flippin’ brilliant. Lamb is without a doubt my favorite; and if I recommend Moore to my friends (and I often do), it’s the first book I bring up. It had been a while since I’d read Lamb; and being it is almost Easter and all, it was a perfect time of year for it. You know, being the book is about the lost years of Jesus, as told by his best friend Biff.
So Jesus and Biff are on their way to Tibet (when they encounter the Great Wall of China), when Jesus says something so utterly profound, I almost drove off the road. (Not the Sermon on the Mount stuff; that’s later in the book.) Jesus says: There is no such thing as a conservative hero. Heroes always bring change.
It’s sort of a duh-epiphany, I admit. It’s a chicken and egg thing: you can’t have a hero without change or change without a hero. They go together like cocaine and waffles. That’s the fact, Jack. I know, I know.
But the reminder was nice. A little post-it of that my guy needs to be the most radical guy on the page, the one we can’t bear to take our attention off of to see what he’s going to do next—that’s a good reminder. Heroes are never boring. They always have something going on.
Which is my problem, I think. I have my heroes in the most happening city but they’re both more boring than an old married couple who’ve been married for the last few thousand years. Oh, wait, that is them. You know what I mean. I want them to do exciting, obnoxious things. I want them to taunt each other; I want them to look for other spouses with sincere singlemindedness. I want sexual tension and people walking out of the shower naked.
Okay, admittedly the last has nothing to do with heroes who bring change, but I’m just tired of my story being so damned boring. I mean, I’m the writer here, you know; and if my story is this boring, it must mean I am…and if I’m this boring, then I need another can of frosting to stave off the depression. I also need a few ideas of what I can do to be less boring. Any takers? Ideas? Anything?
Your turn: what mantras have you discovered that help you write (or do anything) more? What do you like to do to help you be “less boring”? What card, email or book have you read lately that has inspired you?