Some people talk to their therapists, or their bartenders. I talk to the people who cut my hair. When I was getting a trim earlier this week, we got on the topic of tattoos. She had lots, and I only have a couple. I want another one, a larger one, but I want it to be something meaningful to me, and I haven’t quite figured out what.
“I have this recurring dream, though,” I told her.
Snip snip, comb, tug. “What’s your dream?”
“Well, I’m in this desert landscape, and I’m following a coyote.
(Psst. I have an e-mail newsletter. You should totally sign up for it. I might surprise you with stuff you don’t get to see here, or anywhere, for that matter. Okay, on with the story….)
This past week I was sitting in a coffee shop, as I am wont to do—and there’s a phrase that doesn’t get used often enough, “wont to do.” And to be honest, until I just typed it here, I never have bothered to look up the origin of “wont.” As it turns out, it’s of Germanic origin, coming to us through Old English, and means “dwell” or “be accustomed.” You’re welcome.
Where was I? Oh, right. Coffee shop. Because life doesn’t happen until caffeine happens. So there I was, drinking an Americano and trying (but failing) to write, when the song “Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress” came on. Immediately, I thought of Cathie.
I went running again yesterday morning. There are a number of trails that criss-cross not far from where I’m staying; I think I’ve explored most of the ones that are in easy reach, and I was running along one that I’d already traveled so I wasn’t expecting to see anything out of the ordinary like I did the last time.
Turns out I was wrong.
If you look closely at that photo (you might need to click on it to enlarge), you’ll see that I ran into an unexpected walker on the trail. The deer and I stood there staring at each other for a short while, and she didn’t seem inclined to go anywhere. (Blackberries have been in season, so I couldn’t blame her.) Luckily, I was able to backtrack a short distance and take a side path up to a parallel trail.
Naturally, I was thinking about how writing can be like that. Sometimes you get to a point where you can’t move forward, or at least you’re not sure how. What should you do? Throw a deer in your path. Not literally, but give your characters something unexpected to deal with. Where do they go from there?
Like me in the middle of my run, they might be able to work their way around to where you were trying to get them in the first place. And they might see something interesting when they get there: In my case, it was two deer standing at the top of a hill overlooking the trail where I was running.
I was out running this past weekend in Olympia, and along one of the trails I happened across this staircase in the middle of the woods.
I thought, how odd. Why would there be a set of concrete stairs in the middle of the forest? Being of a somewhat dark mood at the time, my thoughts went to dark places. Things that go bump in the daylight came to mind. (I don’t know about you, but those are infinitely more frightening than things that go bump in the night; I mean, you expect that sort of thing at night, but in broad daylight?!)
My next thought was, hey, that would make a good writing prompt. Which is why you’re reading this now. See where the stairs lead you.