Overcoming Writer’s Block


“You just can’t get there from here.”student_needs_help

How many times have you heard that direction-giving joke? But often that line describes a type of writer’s block. You’ve written up to a certain point. You know where you want to go up ahead. But what do you write in between? Personally, I have wasted hours, days, even weeks, trying to figure out what to write next, so I can get to that future scene I already have in my head.

But wait. Who says you have to write in a linear fashion? What if you write out of sequence? Aha! Now, you’ve given yourself permission to write the scene from your head and it flows wonderfully. Another Aha! Questions and solutions actually appear about how the character might have arrived here from there. You’re not stuck any more.

As a writing instructor once explained, to build a bridge, one first needs to erect a scaffold. It’s not a lot different in writing. You have several important scaffold scenes in your story or novel that have to take place (there will probably be more than one of each of these scenes in your book):

1.    The Introductory Scene where the reader meets your main character.

2.    A Meeting Scene, where the main character meets another character (maybe the love interest or maybe his nemesis) This is another form of Introductory Scene.conflict1

3.    A Conflict Scene where two characters battle it out, whether physically, verbally, or in a match of wits. Or where the character battles himself.

4.    A Realization Scene-the moment the character realizes something about herself that is a turning point. Or realizes her “enemy” is really her friend.

5.    A Resolution Scene, where a problem is resolved (not necessarily the main one, but a problem nonetheless).

6.    A Final Scene, which may or may not be your actual ending. An interesting exercise is to write a scene in which your main character(s) are old and looking back at what happened, what he/she/they learned, how they’ve changed, what they would’ve done differently, etc. That can give you an insight to “fill in the blanks.”

Another interesting exercise is to write a letter from your main character to yourself, as if this person has just learned you are writing a book about her, how she feels about that, any advice she might have for you, etc. This can be quite revealing. Sometimes you learn that you have a reluctant character, one who doesn’t want her story told. So you have to figure out how to win her over.

A recent article in The Writer magazine talked about writing out of order. The author made similar suggestions to the ones above, such as:

1.    Write a scene in which the main character enters a new place.

2.    Take a minor character you’ve introduced and write a scene where he/she appears later in the story.

3.    Choose a character other than the main character-someone you’d like to know more about, and write a monologue in which she explores or explains herself.girl_writing_11

4.    Write a scene where your main character has a dream that advances the story.

5.    Make a list of at least five crucial scenes that you think will be important for the story/novel (see “scaffold scenes above.)

Any one or all of these scenes may or may not appear in your final draft, but they will help you keep writing and develop ideas.

Have fun, write on and defeat that Writer’s Block! (Now, I just have to take my own advice.)

Published in: on February 28, 2009 at 3:47 am  Comments (9)  

More Model T Stories


My dad and his Model T, after he got it restored and running once again.

A friend of mine, Harriet Jasper, related an old story she’d heard about the Model T.

An old couple, gray-haired and doddering, drove to the gas station in town with a shiny new  Model T about ten years after the first T came out. Curious,the attendant asked about the mint condition of the old car. They replied they were already old when they got their first Model T and they knew different cars would be coming out. However, they weren’t sure they could learn anything new at their age, so when they bought their first car, they also bought five others just like it and stored them in the barn. That way they wouldn’t have to buy cars they couldn’t learn to drive, and they would always have a supply of new cars.

Harriet tells of another memory from Model T rides:  Dad always had a screwdriver or pliers along in the car. If the engine sputtered and lost power, there was a little box in the center up and beyond where the pedals were. Might have been something to do with the battery. Dad would take a heavy tool and pound a bit on the side of that box and that seemed to fix the problem.

He also was quite a photographer, and at one time we had a picture of a Model T which had tipped over on the road. Its front was pointed straight up and the T had landed on its back window. All four wheels pointed in the direction it should have been dad-i-model-tgoing.

I am most amused when I see some of the new cars now the same shoe box squared off design.

Thank you, Harriet, for your memorable stories!

My Dad and I taking a test drive in the old T in about 1998.

Published in: on February 26, 2009 at 9:24 pm  Comments (2)  
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The Model T


This is my grandfather, Otto Gasser, in his Model T Ford, probably about 1923. My dad later restored this vehicle during the 1960s.

In my book, Cowgirl Dreams, I talk about Jake buying a used car and coming to pick Nettie up on a date to go to a rodeo:

“A strange sound brought her up short. Was someone running a threshing machine outside? But the threshers weren’t due for weeks yet. The engine noise grew louder.

The horses in the corral whinnied. Then a series of loud pops propelled her to the window. Who was making that noise? Her folks were in town, and her brothers had gone to the pasture. Were they back, shooting at something?

With one boot on, the other hanging from her hand, Nettie could only stare, her mouth open wide. Here came Jake, driving an open-air Model T over the dusty wagon track. His grin reached from ear to ear, and he waved his hat in the air as though he rode a bucking bronc.

Nettie nearly forgot to breathe. She couldn’t believe what she was seeing. Jake driving a car? Not riding a horse?

He squeezed the horn bulb, sounding a raucous squawk, and whooped when he saw her run out of the house, swinging her empty boot.

“Hoooeee. Lookee here what I got.”

“Jake, what in the world?”

The engine cut out with a jerk. Jake jumped over the side and swept his hands toward the car. “Ain’t she a beaut?

Sure got her cheap, only two-hundred fifty. Even has an electric starter. Guess we can go places now.”

Nettie’s hand flew to cover her mouth. Her eyes felt as wide as full moons. “It’s really nice.” She limped around the machine in one boot, looking at the hard, thin rubber tires, the gleaming black running boards, the pinstriped upholstered seats, excitement building.

“We’re really going to ride in a car?” She’d never ridden in a car. In fact, nobody she knew even owned one.

Jake followed her, chuckling. “Yup. If you wanna finish dressing, I guess we could go on to the rodeo.”

Nettie looked down at herself, realizing that she was still minus a boot. Her mouth twitched upward into a smile. “Okay, big shot. I’ll get my boot on and you can take me for a ride.”

© 2008 Heidi M. Thomas

And here is a great video on the assembly of the Model T Ford.

Published in: on February 23, 2009 at 4:41 am  Comments (6)  
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Prop Up the Leanin’ Side


Photo courtesy Gerry Morrison Photography

I recently received this via e-mail and it gives a nice, comforting image:

After hearing the old deacon who always prayed, ‘Lord, prop us up on our leanin’ side.’ many times, someone asked him why he prayed that prayer so fervently.

He answered, ‘Well sir, you see, it’s like this… I got an old barn out back. It’s been there a long time; it’s withstood a lot of weather; it’s gone through a lot of storms, and it’s stood for many years.

It’s still standing. But one day I noticed it was leaning to one side a bit. So I went and got some pine poles and propped it up on its leaning side so it wouldn’t fall.

Then I got to thinking about that and how much I was like that old barn. I’ve been around a long time. I’ve withstood a lot of life’s storms. I’ve withstood a lot of bad weather in life, I’ve withstood a lot of hard times, and I’m still standing too. But I find myself leaning to one side from time to time, so I like to ask the Lord to prop us up on our leaning side, ’cause I figure a lot of us get to leaning at times.

Sometimes we get to leaning toward anger, leaning toward bitterness, leaning toward hatred, leaning toward cussing, leaning toward a lot of things that we shouldn’t. So we need to pray, ‘Lord, prop us up on our leaning side,’ so we will stand straight and tall again, to glorify the Lord.”

Published in: on February 20, 2009 at 3:26 am  Comments (5)  
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Cowboy Humor: Computer Terminology

Link: Cowboy Humor

Log On: Making a wood stove hot

Log Off: Too much wood on fire

Monitor: Keep’n an eye on the wood stove

Down Load: Gitten the farwood off’n the truck

Mega Hertz: What ya git when ya git thrown offn yur horse

Floppy Disk: Whatcha git from tryin to tote too much farwood

RAM: That thar thang what splits the farwood

Hard Drive: Gitten home in the winter time

Windows: Whut to shut when its cold outside

Screen: Whut to shut when its black fly season

Byte: Whut dem dang flys do

Chip: Munchies fer the TV

Micro Chip: Whut’s in the bottom of the munchie bag

Modem: Whatcha do to the hay fields

Dot Matrix: Ole Dan Matrix’s wife

Lap Top: Whar the kitty sleeps

Keyboard: Whar you hang the dang truck keys

Software: Dem dang plastic forks and knifes

Mouse: What eats the grain in the barn

Mouse Pad: That’s hippie talk fer where the mouse lives

Main Frame: Holds up the barn roof

Port: Fancy flatlander wine

Enter: Notherner talk fer “C’Mon in y’all”

Click: Whut you hear when you cock yer gun

Double Click: When you cock the double barrel

Reboot: Whut you have to do right before bedtime, when you have to go to the outhouse

Published in: on February 18, 2009 at 7:17 am  Comments (8)  

Cowboys and Social Networks

saddle-laptopMy picture of farmers, ranchers and cowboys has been formed by my experience growing up in eastern Montana during the ’50s and by doing research about my grandmother and other rodeo cowgirls of the 1920s and ’30s.

So the thought of ranchers sitting at the computer sending out “Tweets” or blogging makes me smile. And yet …

According to a blog article by Chad Golladay on Cattle Growers Network, this could be an important marketing tool for the agricultural community. He writes, “There are not many ranchers involved in this form of networking – But mark my words, it won’t be long. While CattleGrower.com is the first professional online social community that brings all types of livestock producers together, many others will be soon to follow.”

Published in: on February 17, 2009 at 4:58 am  Comments (4)  
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Name Your Characters

We writers often have trouble coming up with names for our characters. We would probably hesitate to use someone we know well, for fear they would think we’re writing about them. So, sometimes I reach for the phone book or I see a name in a newspaper or magazine article I like.

I recently came across a blog called Nameisms with a post about “Western names for Cowboys and Cowgirls.” It’s interesting to see how many are named after popular country singers. I remember a boy named Cotton in our county when I was growing up. Levi was a popular name. And I’ve seen quite a few kids named after western towns–Austin, Dallas, Cody, and even some named after mountain ranges–Sierra, Rincon.

This blog also has articles on Pioneer baby names from the 1880s, Vintage baby names from the 1920s,  Holiday baby names, fashion designer names, Olympic swimmers, musical names, names from Gimore Girls.

Names are fascinating. Studies say many of us develop personalities or lifestyle relating to our name.

Published in: on February 12, 2009 at 7:20 am  Comments (7)  

Northwest Duo Produces CD

ann-n-deanMy guests today are Northwest duo, Ann and Dean Brittain, who have just produced their first CD, “Exactly What You Wanted.” Congratulations, Dean! What inspired you to produce a CD?

I have always wanted to have a collection of original songs, and was never able to get it done as a band project, so I ended up doing it by myself. I have been working on some these songs for forty years, and yet some of them were written in the last few years.  It’s pretty much a lifetime of work. This particular collection groups the ones that I think fit the best together from the county/southern rock style of music I’ve written.

How long did this process take?

I spent two years, off and on, in the studio. I had to take a break when it was time to add the steel guitar and fiddle, and had to find some studio musicians who played the right style.

I understand you’ve been performing and writing songs for quite some time. How did you get started in the music business?

It started in the fifth grade with a flute. When I was about 14 my uncle, Sam Woods, taught me some guitar, and the rest as they say is history. The line in “My Overnight Success” about “my uncle played a flat top” comes from that beginning.

I know this is not your “day job.” How often and where do you perform?

Ann and I play mostly at Eagles, Elks, American Legions, etc. We usually play about two weekends a month. We don’t want to play music every weekend, because we like to dance so much, as well as listen to other bands and go to concerts. I also fill in as a side musician on guitar and bass with some of my friends.

deansjcd-acket3When did you write your first song and what was it? (Is it on the album?)

The first song I remember writing is “Sleep Talking”, and no, it’s not on this CD. “Beech Nut”, which is on the CD, was written about the same time, during the 60’s .

How would you classify your music?

This CD is a mix of country, both old and new styles, and some southern rock.

What other musicians have inspired you?

Oh boy, I like everything from country to jazz.  For the main inspirations for this group of songs it would be artists like Willie Nelson, Jimmy Buffet, Kenny Chesney and Toby Keith.  From the rock side, it would have to include the Doobey Brothers and John Fogerty.

Who do you write or sound like?

I think most of my songs are pretty much my own style, as well as the way I play and sing. I think they really are quite unique, and I don’t try to sound like anyone else, I just try to be myself.

What instruments do each of you play?

I play guitar, bass and saxophone, plus doodle on the drums and keyboards. Ann plays keyboards. We both sing.

Ann, you add your voice to the vocals both in your gigs and on the CD. I liked your harmony in “Turn Back the Time.” Do you have a background in music? How did you get started?

I was a late bloomer musically, although I’ve always enjoyed listening and dancing. I made the mistake of telling Dean that I’d always wanted to play piano.

One day I came home and found an electronic keyboard set up in my living room. I guess Dean thought it was time for me to quit talking about it and actually do it!

That was about 15 years ago. I doodled around with the keyboard until I couldn’t go further without instruction, took some lessons and the next thing I knew I was on stage performing.

Which song on the CD is your favorite and why?

Dean: “Turn Back The Time” has the most meaning to me. It was written for a cousin who was more like a brother to me. He passed away about fourteen years ago at forty eight after a long battle with cancer. I like dancing to “Venus and Mars” the best.

Ann: I’d have to go with “Turn Back the Time because” I understand how much it hurt Dean to lose his cousin. Actually I was afraid I’d have a problem singing it because it’s such an emotional song for me.

Do you plan to make more CDs or what is your hope for the future in the music business?

I will likely start putting together the next CD next fall.  I hope it doesn’t take forty years to get the next group of songs together.

Ann and I are considering a year long vacation in our motor home, playing at every town we stop at.  If we can put it together, we will go through all the lower forty eight states, spending a week or so at each stop.

We are also considering spending winters in the southwest, playing at retirement parks in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

That sounds like a lot of fun. I hope your music and travel dreams come true! The CD is available from Dean and Ann.

Published in: on February 9, 2009 at 7:48 am  Comments (3)  

Scrabble Anyone?

silverlettersFellow blogger Chester Campbell tagged me with a jumbled pile of letters and the following challenge:

List at least five things you do to support and spread a love of the written word, then tag five people. (If you list something that touches youngsters, you get a bonus letter!)

1. I teach a beginning fiction writing class.

2. I teach a memoirs writing class.

3. I am active in two critique groups.

4. I helped a third critique group get started.

5. I’ve been a board member of the Skagit Valley Writers League for the past 10 years.

I don’t know if I qualify for the extra letter, but I do try to encourage young people who are interested in writing. So if I get to choose a letter, it would be E for Effort.

Tag, you’re it!

Marvin Wilson

Helen Ginger

Jane Kennedy Sutton

Morgan Mandel

Shari Lyle-Soffe

Jean Henry Mead

Published in: on February 7, 2009 at 4:56 am  Comments (5)  
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What’s the Royalty on a $1.7 Million Book?

From an author whose book may make him a million–if it sells! (Maybe it’s a typo?)

Published in: on February 4, 2009 at 7:52 am  Comments (5)  
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