THE INFAMOUS CHAPTER TWENTY
(c.1998)

by Toby Heathcotte

    What do rearranging the canned goods in a kitchen cupboard, watching original Star Trek reruns, or cooking up a pot of putanesca (a dish named for Italian "courtesans") have in common?  A possible answer might be these activities all have the potential to put weight on the derrière.   For me, they represent a small sampling of the creative ways I avoided writing the last scene in Chapter Twenty of my novel in process, Lainn’s Destiny.
    Since I teach part time and have something resembling a life, I try to set reasonable goals for my writing, one new chapter every two to three weeks.  Chapter Twenty had already set some kind of a record, well over two months in the incubation process.  I had sketched its plot so that my main character quit his job as a journalist and came home to fall in love with the girl next door.  Although I wrote the first ten pages within a reasonable space of eight hours, the ending turned out a mess, icky goo on my monitor.
    Forcing myself to write by setting the oven timer for one hour, I promised I’d not get up from the computer until it went off.  When it buzzed, I ran from my bedroom where I had just tried on a new skirt.
    My old tricks failed to result in the desired four pages.  I tried to bully them out of my subconscious, that is, bargaining with myself that I would settle for anything to complete the chapter and get on with the story.  All of that energy resulted in zip net gain because I was working against myself.
    Knowing the next day I would feel most chagrined to tell my critique group I again had nothing to submit, I retired to sleep and gave myself a suggestion that I would dream the ending to the chapter.
The next morning I awoke with the realization that I had been telling the wrong part of the story.  When I decided Lainn should go argue with his mother about his career choices, the chapter came together in record time, four to five hours.  I sent the young girl off to finishing school.  What a stroke!  Now, when my main character comes back home from studying medicine, the girl will be classy enough for him to fall in love with.  They’re my characters, and I can do anything I want with them.
    So far, I’ve resisted calling this particular problem writer’s block (WB).  The screensaver on my computer has a dancing logo that admonishes me to "write truly," so I can’t in all honesty say I’m not talking about the dreaded WB.  But every problem has a gift in its hands, and the gift from trusting my WB ends in a wonderful freedom to write from the creative source.
    I can’t presume to give others advice about how to respond to inner promptings, to honor the muse.  We all must discover our individual strengths, weaknesses, and best ways of communing with our intuitive self.  Since I’m not nearly so visionary as my character who can skry in fire to see the future, I can only say what works for me:

For any writer out there, struggling with a chapter, an article, a poem, or ways to free up space in a kitchen cupboard, here’s a fool-proof time killer, designed to enhance the posterior:
Putanesca:  Bring 2 cans of tomatoes and 1/4 cup olive oil to a boil.  Add 1 teaspoon oregano, 1/8 teaspoon  red pepper, 1/2 cup black olives, 1/4 cup drained capers, 4 garlic cloves peeled and chopped, 8 anchovy fillets chopped, 1/2 cup Italian parsley and cook till thickened.  Serve over boiled linguine with antipasto and garlic bread for accompaniment.

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