Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

My entire summer here in southern Oregon has been shortchanged by a persistent curtain of smoke. The wild fires whether sparked by lightning or human failure have taken their toll on us all. And now, today, as fate would have it, I am vacationing to visit family in Washington State, where here also the air is likewise unhealthily dense due to fires in British Columbia. What this means is I’ve had to stay indoors with the air conditioner cranked up way too high for my budget. And my energy has been totally spent on merely staying alive. My eyes constantly water, and all I want to do is complain to whoever will listen. In other words, I’m a bit of grump.


Plus, as fate would have it, I’m at that 35,000 word count mark in my next Salmon Run novel, and in terms of my creative output as a writer, I feel as if I’ve hit a blanket of smoke as well. In other words, I’m stuck. To deal with this unfamiliar dilemma, I’ve resorted to complaining about the smoke outside to my home as an excuse for the smoke I’m trudging through inside as a writer. That and consuming more than my share of cookies has become my current routine. Sound familiar?

I still have to go to work at my day job. No amount of excuses can change that. And I still have to carry on with my day to day activities like grocery shopping, going to the bank, walking the dogs, and so on. My only recourse has been to wear a smoke mask. It looks kind of dopey and I’m not really sure how well it actually works, but it’s the best I can do given the circumstances.

So … the other day as I was staring at the monitor on my lap top, it suddenly occurred to me that I could do much the same thing with regard to my writing issue—put on a psychological smoke mask so to breathe in more easily and more enthusiastically the clean air of my creative imagination. And how exactly did I do this?

First of all, I stopped complaining about the smoke and began to see the value being forced to stay indoors. Time was suddenly on my side, so why not take advantage of it?

Second, I asked myself tough questions about my writing process, such as: Why have you allowed yourself to stop writing at this particular point in the process? What’s going on in the story right now that has you flummoxed? Why do you resort to blaming outside influences for not writing as opposed to looking at what’s really going on with you internally? and, What’s making you so uncomfortable right now that you feel as if you can’t go on with this book?

Finally, I throw on my favorite music, make a big bowl of popcorn, grab a tall glass of red wine, head for my She Shed, and brainstorm on the following: Who are these characters and what are their individual and communal goals? What is the theme of this story and have I stayed true to it, or has it wandered out of my care? What’s the worst thing that could happen and how would these characters deal with it? and, What keeps these characters fighting for what they want, even if they don’t know as yet what it is?

I hope the next time you get stuck as a writer in what feels like a wall of smoke that you’ll secure your own brand of psychological smoke mask instead of making excuses, that you’ll slow your process down long enough to ask the deeper questions dealing with your person as well as your process, and that you’ll find your way through the smoky “stuckness” of your creative output so you can creatively breathe more easily and with more joy.


Also posted on: Soul Mate Press's blog!  Galavanting Gwen on the SMP blog. 

Gwen Overland has two novels published by SMP of her Salmon Run Series: Love’s Harvest and Free My Heart.


Gwen Overland