It’s good to be back actively on here after a long hiatus, due to health issues. I’m grateful to our Kindly Leader, Elaine, who has been posting some of my writings from the past for me during my absence. She does so many things to keep this blog running smoothly that readers will never know about.
As long-time readers of this blog will know, I have several autoimmune diseases, and because of one of these, I ended up on large amounts of steroids for an indefinite period of time. This has continued now for several years and has led to a severe weakening of the legs, due to steroid myopathy. As a consequence, I have taken a couple of very bad falls, resulting in a shredded rotator cuff, shattered shoulder, and other difficulties that eventually led to my absence from this blog and from social media in general. I haven’t been on Facebook in years and am only sporadically checking in on Twitter.
As I’m starting to get better here, my home has been invaded for the last several months by an army of home health nurses, physical therapists, and occupational therapists, whose role is to help me rethink my ways of doing things around the house, so that I can begin to take up some of the tasks that I have had to give up, due to this loss of mobility in my arms and legs. I have had more visits from physical therapists than any of the others, and those have been visits entailing hard work and pain on my part. However, I am seeing real progress, so of course, it has all been worth it, and I am going to continue to do all of these exercises, even after the physical therapists stop visiting.
The thing is that any muscles we don’t use adequately on a regular basis will atrophy and continue to weaken. Once those muscles have weakened, for whatever reason, we must work hard to strengthen them once again and teach them what they must do. As I deal with multiple hours of physical therapy exercises on legs and arms every day, I think about how this applies to writing, as well. We all know how difficult it is to begin to write once again, when we have been absent from the page for a long time. Our writing muscles, the muscles that help us to plot and describe and narrate and create dialogue and action on the page, have weakened, and we must begin the process of retraining them and strengthening them.
For me, this often starts with handwriting in my journal and freewriting on anything that comes to mind, especially if it might pertain to a writing project or contain an idea for a writing project. But even before I do that, if I’ve been away from the page for a long time, my first exercise will begin with my fiber arts, spinning, knitting, and weaving. This is because I have usually strayed too far from my creative self, and I need to replenish and stimulate that creative self before I can begin to write my best material. It usually doesn’t take too long a time of wandering among the beautiful colors and textures of fiber arts, before I am developing new creative ideas of things to write and am ready to begin the exercises with the journal and freewriting.
Soon enough, I am ready to move from random journal entries and free writing to the equivalent for writers of the scales and finger exercises that pianists and musicians do. I have written earlier on this blog about these finger exercises for writers here. As I move through practicing these scales for writers, I find that my writing muscles are definitely getting stronger. I am imagining more clearly. Ideas are collecting in my brain. I begin to see characters in sharper detail. Most of all, my energy and enthusiasm for the act of writing itself, creating my own world and people, increases.
As writers, we think of ourselves as cerebral beings, rather sedentary, unless we develop physical activities outside of the act of writing. I do believe that our brain, since it is a muscle of sorts, has more in common with our physical body than we think. A while back, I wrote a poem about this unlikely similarity and connection.
Bring your palms together in prayer
against your chest. Feel the pull
in the once-broken right wrist.
Release, relax, and repeat ten times.
Squeeze the putty to make a fist.
Pinch it between your thumb and each finger,
one after another down the length
of the squeezed-out roll, creating a wavy snake.
Hook the tips of all four fingers, trying
to touch tips to bases, but inches of air
keep them apart. Pull those fingertips
to the center of the palm to make a fist
without the putty’s help. Stretch them
down toward the base of the hand.
Struggle to hold a pen and write a line.
Stop when the fingers tingle and go numb.
For what are we humans without the hand, clever, useful
appendage, connected so closely to our big brains,
that cuts, creases, carries, and caresses
our way through daily obstacles and opportunities.
Write another line and a second before the pain
sets in—the way every writer has to work.
What do you do when you have been away from the page and the act of writing creatively (as in fiction or poetry rather than journalism or blog posts) for a substantial period of time? How do you begin to retrain those writing muscles?
Linda Rodriguez's 12th book, The Fish That Got Away: The Sixth Guppy Anthology, is about to be published. Her 11th book was Fishy Business: The Fifth Guppy Anthology (edited). Dark Sister: Poems was her 10th book and a finalist for the Oklahoma Book Award. Plotting the Character-Driven Novel, based on her popular workshop, and The World Is One Place: Native American Poets Visit the Middle East, an anthology she co-edited, were published in 2017. Every Family Doubt, her fourth mystery featuring Cherokee detective, Skeet Bannion, and Revising the Character-Driven Novel will be published in 2021. Her three earlier Skeet novels—Every Hidden Fear, Every Broken Trust, Every Last Secret—and earlier books of poetry—Skin Hunger and Heart's Migration—have received critical recognition and awards, such as St. Martin's Press/Malice Domestic Best First Novel, International Latino Book Award, Latina Book Club Best Book of 2014, Midwest Voices & Visions, Elvira Cordero Cisneros Award, Thorpe Menn Award, and Ragdale and Macondo fellowships. Her short story, “The Good Neighbor,” published in Kansas City Noir, has been optioned for film.Rodriguez is past chair of the AWP Indigenous Writer’s Caucus, past president of Border Crimes chapter of Sisters in Crime, founding board member of Latino Writers Collective and The Writers Place, and a member of International Thriller Writers, Native Writers Circle of the Americas, Wordcraft Circle of Native American Writers and Storytellers, and Kansas City Cherokee Community. Learn more about her at http://lindarodriguezwrites.blogspot.com