Thursday, February 09, 2006

Writing from the Senses--or More Ways to Procrastinate

Looks like winter is over here in Arizona, though I’m not sure it was ever here except for a couple of weeks of cold and frost. Just enough to decimate my backyard landscaping. We hit 82 degrees yesterday. Since the morning started out at 45 degrees, I wore three different outfits, ending up in shorts when I took the kids to the pool for a bit.

Fire season has also started in the mountains north of us. Apparently we’ve had so little rain, the moisture content of the trees is equivalent to what it would normally be in July. One unexpected difficulty of fighting forest fires in February is that it still gets down to about ten degrees in the mountains at night. So the reservoirs and lakes the firefighters would normally use for water are frozen.

Orange County, California—where my current series is set—has also been fighting brush fires pretty early this year. In an eerie coincidence, they just contained a fire awfully close to the location of the fire that opens my second book in the series.

All this has me thinking I’m going to have a lot of inspiration for my writing this spring. Since last summer I’ve been playing around with the idea of creating an environment to trigger my muse into waking up and getting to work each time I sit down at the keyboard. It started with listening to an RWA conference CD in which someone, I think Tara Taylor Quinn, talked about writing from the five senses. I was bogged down in the middle of my first book, so I was looking for anything to jumpstart the old muse. At that point, I was leaning toward a defibrillator. So here’s what I did.

For sight, I got some foam core board and put it above my desk. I mocked-up a cover for the book and pasted it in the center. Then I filled in the rest of the white space with pictures of my characters, photos of the setting, and my ten, twenty, and fifty word blurbs. I’d heard of writers doing this. Some walk into the craft store and start picking up stuff that just seems like their book whether it makes sense or not. I wish I could afford to do that as I think it’d be a fun thing to do. I haven’t done this yet for book two, as I don’t think I know enough about it to start making visual representations. But I have been collecting pictures and putting them in an album in iPhoto. I also think objects that remind you of your characters or things in your book would be helpful. I’m thinking of stealing one of my son’s fire engines.

Smell was the easy one. I wanted something that smelled like the ocean. So I wandered around the craft store until I found Marine Mist. It doesn’t smell exactly like the ocean—it’s missing the dead fish and rotting seaweed component—but it’s evocative of the beach. Oddly enough, I think this cue has worked the best. The moment I open the candle (it has a lid) I think of Kyle and Heather. And the flame is a signal to my family that I’m writing, so don’t bother me.

For book two, I wondered if I should use the same scent or something different. I spent sometime thinking about what it should be. Joe, hero of book two, is a firefighter, and so I thought something that smelled like a campfire would remind me off him. No, burnt toast doesn’t qualify. But, I thought roasted marshmallows might. Of course with the way fire season is going this year, I’ll probably just have to write outside to be filled with ambiance. After sniffing a bunch of candles, I decided Tahitian Vanilla smelled a lot like roasted marshmallows. I haven’t burned it yet, so I’m hoping it works as well as the Marine Mist. Gotta love those cheesy names.

Touch was kind of a weird one because I’m mostly touching my keyboard. But I thought maybe for those times I’m not typing, a bowl of sea glass might provide some tactile stimulation. I don’t know if it works, but I like playing with it when I’m supposed to be working.

Sound is a difficult one for me. I can’t listen to music while I write, even classical music or soundtracks. I start humming along, directing the orchestra, making up silly lyrics to the songs. I am so easily distracted. The other day, though, I saw a whole CD of beach sounds. So I got it and played it while I was doing edits on my first book. It didn’t distract me. Whether it helped, or just made me have to go to the bathroom more often, I don’t know.

Finally, taste. According to the workshop I listened to, mint is supposed to make your mind sharper and help you concentrate. To me, that sounds like a good excuse to stock up on Peppermint Patties. Because chocolate can only improve mint, right?

Whether any of these things actually make me a better writer, I don’t know. However, they can be fun things to play around with to see if they light a fire under your muse. And as long as you don’t use them to procrastinate (do as I say, not as I do), they can’t hurt. Well, unless you forget about the candle and burn your house down. Or eat too many Peppermint Patties and your butt gets so big you can’t fit in your chair.

Oh never mind.

Feel free to share what has sparked your muse.


Jeanne Damoff said...

Look at you, being all intentional! Good job, Jen.

Like you, I can't listen to music when I write. The muse goes karoake on me or slips out of the room to go bust her best dance moves.

I sometimes light a scented candle, but not with the thought of evoking story-related moods. I just like spicy scents.

I do find dark chocolate is good motivation for any story set anywhere. Even if it's about the starving children in Japan. (I know Japan's not known for its starving children, but it rhymes with "Eat your raisin bran" . . . you know, the Weird Al parody of "Beat it"? Never mind.) In fact, dark chocolate is good motivation for anything, including clipping toenails, sorting junk mail, watering plants, etc., ad infinitum.

Maybe I should be more like you . . . psyching up my senses for story time. I think I'll grab a hunk of dark chocolate and consider the possiblity.

Robin Caroll said...

Well, I THOUGHT winter was over here in Arkansas, but yikes, today we're getting snow! Go figure!

I use pictures for my muse...and I'll imagine what it smells like, taste likes, sounds, etc. I've even gone so far as to use a candle for a smell! Sad, I know.

Dineen A. Miller said...

Cool topic! I have a cluster of candles I light, I play Christian alternative or rock, and keep a box of Hot Tamales on hand. Makes you wonder, doesn't it? LOL!

michael snyder said...

Toad venom!

But now your post has me thinking of other alternatives...

-kelp necklace (for smelling and chewing)
-sweaty jockstrap
-actual wet dog on a leash (all five senses--or in some cases, SIX)
-chilled bottles of Yoo-Hoo
-Eustace Scrubb CD's
-dark chocolate (not very original, but quite tasty)
-lots and lost of coffee

Peter (the dorky husband) said...

Having a sub-100 IQ level, well, I do not "muse" very often. In fact, I prefer to "a-muse" versus "muse". Yes, I do know what "amuse" means (after all, I do know what a dictionary is for).

As for the senses, well, here's my attempt (after working 12+ hours, and I still had to make my own dinner, AGAIN!):

Sight- use your imagination here.
Sound- how about some Van Morrison?
Taste - root beer float

Whoops. I just had a couple of seconds to actually "muse", and, uh, I don't write!

...but I live to take my wife's blogs and turn it into a different discussion!

Wor Toad Venom!

michael snyder said...

Dude...root beer float and Van Morrison...I like it. Now you've got me thinking about replacing Yoo-Hoo with Cream Soda!

Okay, back to regularly scheduled discussions on Jen's outstanding post...

(Peter, I've toyed around with the idea of starting a joint-blog with you. But I see some potential problems: 1-No one would read it, 2-It would be a huge waste of time, 3-It would misdirect brain cells that would be better spent on fantasy football strategy, 4-It would provide more fodder for us to get in trouble with our wives.

So just remember, it's the thought that counts!)

Jennifer Tiszai said...

Jeanne, what I want to know is why when the muse deserts me she can't go clean the house or do laundry or something. I mean really, if she's not going to help with the writing, she needs to be doing something useful.

And Weird Al? I love that guy. Of course, I think parody is one of the highest art forms. Like a Surgeon and Another One Rides the Bus are right up there with Eat It.

Robin, snow? I feel for you. Come on over to AZ if you need to get away. We got a spare room.

Dineen, Hot Tamales? At least it keeps you awake :)

And you know what they say about ignorning bad behavior? Um, yeah. So I'm not going to say anything to Mike and Peter except that, Poster Boy, you don't need a fourth blog until you finish your book (and if those are the things that you use to inspire your muse, no wonder it runs away). And Peter doesn't need any more bruises on his arm.

Peter (still the uninjured hubby of Jen) said...

Fellow muse-ers.

Forget the candles, music, oceanic sounds, chocolate (unless its from Switzerland). Yoo-hoo and cream soda? Wow! As long as it gets you in the writing mood.

Muse on this: Mr.Pibb + Red Vines = Crazy Delicious (did anyone check out the SNL rap on the "Chronicles of Narnia?")

Hey Mike. Joint blog, eh? I'm game! But I disagree with some of your points. 1) EVERYONE will read it, especially the women who frequent here - they will be unable to resist the temptation! 2) Huge waste of time? Yup. But so is cleaning the house and mowing the lawn (see 2nd Law of Thermodynamics). Plus, think of all the great topics that we would put forth, like "Best Kevin Bacon movies", or "Triumph - post or pre Allied Forces: which is better?" or "The speed and velocity of an African Swallow flying north of the equator."
3) This "misdirection of brain cells" would be a lot more entertaining than fantasy football - think of all the potential people we could offend! 4) More fodder for us to get in trouble with our "spouses" (is this a politically correct site or what?). Yes, indeed, but isn't that one of the purposes of our lives? :-)

Malia Spencer said...

I felt inspired yesterday when I made a research trip to a friend's apartment. It felt like coming home. Too bad I couldn't move in until the book is done. At least into the office.

Because that's where Tresha works, it's her home. For that brief time Tresha and I were really communing. LOL I don't know what it was but it was just awesome.

Too bad I can't bug said friend to go on vacation so I can housesit. Wouldn't fly since the parents live downstairs.

At least if I need the view again my cousin is more than willing to have me come up to her place, albeit her place is a 100 times nicer than the apartment, a moutain over and one of the nicest neighborhoods on O'ahu. I think creativity might get stifled in such posh surroundings. I'll test my theory out tomorrow when I go visit and let you know.

And hey when in doubt...chocolate ALWAYS works.

Jeanne Damoff said...