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Isolated in a Crowd: Tuning Out to Tune In


I don't know how you feel about words, but in my experience, they're skittish little creatures that often have a mind of their own. Just when you need them, they go hide under the couch.

We all have our own relationship with words, whether it's listening to the Muse, getting into the Zone, finding your groove ... all different versions of being a word wrangler. And that's where I'm at: having to look under the couch or shake the packet of word treats to get the little critters to come out.

As a professional word wrangler, I've had to research why I can't get words to consistently stampede across my keyboard. You've probably guessed one of the big reasons; it's bubbled up twice already in this little blog post: the couch.

A couch, as well as your desk, and basically any other place you're comfortable with, can actually scare the words away. Or at least, that's what I thought. In issue 128 of the American Journal of Writer's Block (*1), the theory was proposed that it's a form of projection: the writer is actually afraid of the words. Unheard of! (Mostly because I was sticking my fingers in my ears and ignoring it.)

But there is a grain of truth to this fear theory: When I'm on my couch, challenged by a difficult scene, I can bypass that stress by doing the dishes. Similarly, when I need to revise and I can't actually see original text under the editor's notes, my desk has helped me get past that by reminding me to pay the bills. A few minutes later, I've done something I can feel good about! I'm done with words for the day!

This, fellow word wranglers, is a good time to remove the couch ... or at least remove you from the couch. Mosey on down to a place where you don't feel comfortable walking around in your underwear. Now find a place to sit. Over the pandemic, you've spent enough time being socially isolated; this is your chance to be isolated, socially.

At first, you will notice a slightly frightening condition: your dishes, your laundry, the vacuum cleaner, or that stack of 80s CDs that you've been organizing by color (*2) are nowhere within reach. Don't panic! This is to soothe the words. See, the words that you need are frightened away by other predator words, who usually travel in packs, such as: "constructive procrastination." The words you need see all those other syllables as claws and teeth.

By sitting down away from your couch, you're making a safe space for the words... because they know you'll focus on them. Whether it's a coffee house, an Ikea, or maybe just online with a bunch of other writers who would ask why you're vacuuming during a Zoom, changing your comfort level can help you ignore the call of the dishes without guilt.

That, word wranglers, is the key: when you tune out the world, actively, you just might find you can tune in to the words a little easier.

What about you? When you need a change of scenery, where's your favorite place to write? Have you ever attended a "write-in"? Share your stories and what's worked for you in the comments below!


1- No, not really.

2- Fun crafting project: draw two circles, one representing the time you're trying to write, and the other the time you feel compelled to sort those CDs. Now think back on times you've done each activity. For every time the CD sorting popped up during writing, move the CD circle over the Writing one a little more. Now think of the next time, and the next time, and... what's that? You only see one circle now? Weird.

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