I hope that you will indulge me by watching this one-minute YouTube video:

Change your words
Change your world.

The message is simple, really:  change your words a little; improve your message a lot.

Change your words.

But what if I don’t know how to change my words? What if the right words aren’t there?  What if the words aren’t there at all? What if the words that are there, suddenly just look and sound exaggerated and – well –  just unimpressive?

This is a writer’s struggle, constantly seeking the right combination of words to express something more impactfully, more evocatively, more visually, and somehow transform the words into a memorable and lasting experience for the reader.

A couple of days ago, while driving to and fro from somewhere this week I caught Eleanor Wachtel, host of the CBC’s Writers & Company radio show, interview writer Edward St. Aubyn about his recent novel At Last.  I was actually listening, which my last post would suggest  that I am incapable of doing while driving. Eleanor read a passage from the book which fell upon my ears with such eloquence and descriptive mastery that I just wanted to savour it.  Then Edward asked her, “Would you like me to unpackage that for you?” and I thought, no! Why would you unpackage something which must have taken so much skill and effort to package? Unpackage and paraphrase to me and the words lose all their magic. Some words are not meant to be changed. 

A recent post over at Write on Edge recently helped me put my struggle with and without words into a little more perspective.  Writers like perspective, don’t they?  Cameron wrote in her Be an Impressionist post which offered that writers would do well to use the same approach that painters of the Impressionist period used:   “the next time the words start to trip you up, give yourself some distance to see the whole.  Be an Impressionist.  It’s only when you step back that you see what is memorable, what lingers in the head and the heart after the reading is over.”

Are the words tripping you up?

Most memoirists have a strong tendency to accentuate and perhaps exaggerate the ordinary for it’s in Life’s ordinary moments that we cross boundaries and borders and connect.  Humanity loves honesty. I remember listening to writer Wade Rouse saying the best way to start in memoir writing is to remember these three words:  heartbreak, humour and honesty.

I would like to be able to ‘package’ my words as Edward did. I would like to be able to express heartbreak with the same humour and honesty as Wade.  I want to power of words to be in my head, in my hands, in my pen, and in my heart.  I just want to yank out those words lurking in my grey matter just beyond the reach of my cerebral cortex and make them magically appear onto my blank computer screen.  The truth is, sometimes neither the words nor the power are there.  But they lurk.

Hold that thought!

Sometimes, often unexpectedly, those lurking words come in such a flash that they keep me up at night – or wake me up at night – or come to me in the middle of a conversation with someone who is rightfully expecting my full attention.  The worst is when the words come and there’s nothing to be done about it… no pen, no computer, no recorder, nothing … and the words are gone.

I’d rather not think of the words that aren’t there as writer’s block; I prefer instead to think of them as writer’s hibernation.  And since Winter is waning and Spring is aloft, perhaps the mind will soon let the words come out and play.

Spring has sprung … have your words?

22 Responses to The Power of Words Part II: Writers’ Hibernation

  • I often wish I had some sort of recording chip implanted in my brain that could capture the stories unraveling there and convert them into sentences on the screen. All too often, they disappear somewhere between the imagining (or, more accurately, the magically appearing) and the writing. They evaporate before I can yank.
    You’re certainly right. The worst is when they hide. There’s nothing to yank and there seems to be no power to conjure. Good thing it’s sunny and warm and the season for sprouting. “Come, my words, come out to play…” : )

    • Thanks for stopping by and adding your perspective. I too find it so depressing when I think of a wonderful idea, storyline, character, post, whatever – only to lose it completely when I finally get in front of the computer or at pen and paper. I hope you’re able to sprout 🙂

  • Hi, Astra. Thank you for getting me thinking about words. I LOVE the way words allow me to make the invisible visible, to give expression to something otherwise unseen, to KNOW something that, prior to the words, escaped me. This occurs to me: Without words I would not know who I am.

    • Thank you, Marilyn, for stopping by. I just loved the way you described what words do to you and for you. I will head over and read more on your website! ~A

  • Heartbreak, humour, and honesty …just wanted to write them down once more- and then say them over and over, so that what has been lurking in MY mind about the best in writing- and conversation- can find that trigger over and over! Thank you so much for this memoir…I was listening to the same program, then went home scrambling all over book sites to get some St. Aubyn to download on my Kobo. That’s what’s dangerous about the CBC, especially Eleanor Wachtel’s program– I can remember reaching for scraps of paper on the 401 just to scribble down perfect sentences from Harold Bloom before they flee my ageing brain.

    • I’m lovin’ that you liked this post enough to comment, and am so glad that it ‘triggered’ something for you! CBC radio has so much to offer and yet I miss so much of it despite the fact that I spend an incredible amount of time my car 🙁 I just leave it on and hope that something sticks (though usually the station gets changed to Hot 89.9 or something!).

  • The idea of “impressionist” type writing sort of fascinates me. I need to go over and check out the blog you mention. I sometimes have trouble with leaving too much to the imagination, but I am more inclined to brevity then to lengthy articles. I read a number of posts every day and I really have a problem when they go on too long. This was a very nice post and a nice piece of writing by the way!

    • I relate to your comment about leaving too much to the imagination as well. In my personal and professional life I show tremendous impatience when not everyone is on my wavelength! I appreciate brevity too yet am sometimes disappointed when a good book ends too abruptly. There is no pleasing me I guess! I am grateful for your comment and compliment though; thanks for stopping by!

  • Beautiful. I indulged you and watched the video, and I’m so glad I did. I am having a period of word difficulty, probably because all my words are being spent elsewhere – my classroom, my graduate work, my paid writing gigs. It’s as if I have none left for my personal blog, the place where I can unleash and be painfully, brutally honest. Perhaps if I change those words, I’ll get where I’m trying to go.

    • No, I don’t think you need to change all those words.. It’s your ability to put those painfully, brutally honest words together that first brought me to your blog! Seems to me time is your thief not your inability to package words (proven by the fact that a Masters degree will soon be bestowed upon you, AND you have “paid” writing gigs, AND you’re an English teacher!). Thanks for stopping by!

  • I find it best to write without the walls, talk from the inside of the writer’s heart. Great share, thanks ..

  • Yes they have Astra! I enjoyed this post immensely and will return to read it once more. It is rich in nuggets of writerly wisdom. I particularly like: “It’s only when you step back you see what is memorable, what is in the head and the heart after the reading is over.” Inspirational! I also love the trio of heartbreak, humour and honesty with regard to memoir, as it tells me I’m on the right track with my own WIP. An awesome post Astra, thank you for sharing.

    • Thank you Elizabeth for your comments and I’m delighted you found inspiration. It’s such a surge to my productivity when I’m inspired by the post of others. You’d probably find lots more worthwhile wisdom over at Write on Edge… I just used a particiular phrase that worked for me 🙂

  • I’ve been working on a proposal for my memoir, and I find that I’m writing it in layers. Writing and rewriting, to get to the heart of the matter, each time going deeper into the story, my story. But then I reach a dead end. Well, in reading your post, I am inspired and I, too, am intrigued by the idea of Impressionist writing. Great post!

    • Thank you Monica.
      ‘Writing in layers’ strikes me as a great approach to finally get at what lingers in the head and the heart. My right and left brain are often at odds with each other so that might work for my WIP too! Thanks for sharing your perspective!

  • Occasionally, a phrase will come to me that I must get it down right away or it will be forever lost. So, I run around the house looking for writing utensil and a surface. (I learned – I now keep both in strategic spots everywhere). Last time this happened, I was on my exercise bike. For some reason, there was a pen nearby, but no paper so this bit of prose ended up on the top of a detergent box, the closest acceptable surface.

    I actually blogged about a similar thing last month – “Is it fair to think that when writer’s block intrudes, that the brain is still at work?” – in which I mused about the possibility of the brain actually chugging away in the background while I stare at the screen, stuck for words.

    Grab words when they come to you and get them down wherever you can. But as you say, they frequently hide behind a morass of feelings that refuse to define themselves as language.

    Sometimes, it it necessary to step away from a piece and let it age for a bit, then come back to it. I’ve done this, and have found that some of the prose that refused to present itself did so after a few days. It might be the product of that brain chugging away in the background,

    The video makes the “wordage” point beautifully.

    Great post!

    • Thanks for stopping by, EMC! I can certainly relate to your scramble to capture thoughts and phrases. I find I am most disturbed by an inspiration when it comes in the middle of a conversation with someone. How rude to say, ‘hold that thought’ to them when they are spilling their guts about something really important, but that’s what I feel like saying for I know the inspriation will be lost if not captureed.

      I am not a prolific writer so I too like to let a piece just sit. Sometimes when I return to it I completely redo the angle. It’s neat. It’s all part of the creative process, I guess!

  • Astra, you have outdone yourself with this post! What a wonderful piece of writing! I can so relate to having words make an appearance, unannounced, and seeing them depart just as suddenly without so much as writing anything down. Just the other day I was telling my sister how wonderful it must be to have a voice activated recorder; one I could take with me when I go on forest walks with Roxy. Many times, this is when my muse decides to visit and like you mention, nary a pencil, paper, or pen in sight. Try as I might to repeat them like a mantra, I fail miserably and want to weep in sheer frustration at not being to remember a thing. Because that’s another thing, my memory is going, going, gone! I have jotted down the three important words: heartbreak, honesty, and humor. Just in case I’m ever inspired to write my memoirs! Loved the post, Astra! 🙂

    • Thank you, Bella; I’m so glad you liked it. It is one of life’s miseries and science’s neurolgical mysteries that I can retain so much ridiculous nonsense in my head, but forget something important. My goal from now on is to always have some writing implement handy!

  • B R I L L I A N T.

    I loved this post. I loved the video.

    Empowering. Moving.

    When I find the right words, for example, for a poem I am writing…sometimes I weep.

    The Power of Words have CHANGED MY LIFE.

    Xxx <3

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About Astra
Ottawa mom of 3 poking fun at myself, motherhood, and minor hockey! I am steering through life dodging stinky hockey gear and empty wine bottles.
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