Monday, April 11, 2011

Creative Offroading - Keep Moving Forward with author Jessica Anya Blau

Every writer gets off track at some point in their creative journey. For some, this is a daily diversion and others, a once in a while loss of direction. Whether you're headed on a long literary road trip or a few day adventures, there are two things you must remember - bring a map but be flexible to changes in the terrain (this plot isn't working!), blocked roads (my emails to my interview subject keep bouncing back/go unanswered), and stormy weather (I'm just not cut out for this). And two, if you get lost, if you experience major changes to your travel itinerary, if the luggage you packed all your mojo in gets lost, DON'T PANIC!

Author Jessica Blau (Drinking Closer to Home, Harper Perennial, 2011) has more to share on how a little creative offroading may just lead you to your final destination.

Everyone starts out writing with the same hopeful, optimistic energy. You have a great idea that would make a good story, and so you sit down and write. Eventually, however, something slows you down (unless you’re Steven King who apparently writes entire novels in his head and then just transcribes them) and you find you’re lost. You know where you want to end up, but you have no idea how to get there. To me, this is the equivalent of being at the Colosseum in Rome and trying to find your way to the Spanish Steps. You understand exactly where you are, but navigating to the Spanish Steps with a Roman map is like trying to follow the varicose veins on your grandmother’s thigh: downright impossible. You loop, you curl, and if you hold the map upside down maybe you can find your way...but no. There are no straight lines in Rome and there are no straight lines in writing. You are stuck.

At this point in writing, many people abandon the project and decide that their great idea is really a shitty idea. Others sit at their computer, eyes fixed on the screen and wait for something to show up. They’ll wait hours, days, months even (with a lot of email and facebook in between)! What both the quitter and the sitter don’t realize is that it’s not important what you write, all that is important is that you do write.

Let’s go back to Rome. Even if you abandon plans for the Spanish Steps you have to leave the Colosseum at some point. You fully understand that neither your hotel, nor the Spanish Steps are ever going to be coming to you, so you get up and start moving. You might wander, you might catch a cab, you might hop on the next bus (wonderfully crowded with nuns!). No matter. You’re getting away from the Colosseum and moving toward something new. At some point you’ll hop off the bus at the sight of a beautiful crumbling ruin growing out of the ground like a stalagmite. Or maybe you’ll have the cab pull over when you see the Pantheon out your window. Or perhaps, if you’re walking, you’ll stumble into a crowd and realize that, indeed, you have landed at the Spanish Steps! The point is, you aren’t where you were earlier (the Colosseum) and you may or may not be at the Spanish Steps, but you are somewhere new. Somewhere different. Somewhere interesting. And, most likely, somewhere closer to where you really want to be.

The thing that’s vital to successful writing and successful travel isn’t that you follow the exact route you originally thought you had to take. What’s important is that you keep your mind and heart open to the unknown and undiscovered. And when you’re stuck, just keep moving forward. I guarantee, it will get you somewhere.

TLC: I have a client who is pressed for time due to her very full day job and feels an overwhelming pressure that she's not moving forward with her writing unless she's sitting down at her laptop pounding away until 4 am which leaves her utterly exhausted. My tip to her which is also your ACTION this week: when not able to write, take a camera (most cell phones have them now) and shoot images that inspire story or characters (use them in your blog, if applicable, to underscore the message). Use the voice record feature on your smart phone to capture thoughts or go old school and use a good old journal and pen. The biggest part of writing is observing. Be open.

About the Contributor:

Jessica Anya Blau is the author of newly released DRINKING CLOSER TO HOME, which has been called "a raging success" and "unrelentingly sidesplittingly funny." Her first novel, THE SUMMER OF NAKED SWIM PARTIES, was picked as a Best Summer Book by the Today Show, the New York Post and New York Magazine. The San Francisco Chronicle and other newspapers chose it as one of the Best Books of the Year. Jessica lives in Baltimore and teaches at Goucher College.


  1. This is timely advice for me, since at this moment I'm thinking "why do my ideas sound so good in my head, but translate so poorly on the page?!" just keep moving forward- get through the sludge and you'll find the diamonds right? Thanks!

  2. Timely advice for me, too. At some point during the cold dark days and nights of a very long winter, I wrote my protagonist and one of her guides into a cave behind a waterfall in Setti Fatma where the two languished uneasily until spring finally quickened in the real world and I found a way to write them out of that dank dark place! But all winter we suffered, they and I, and though I stopped writing for a month and had no idea how to get the pair out from behind that curtain of falling water, I finally made my way back back back to the earlier scenes and scrubbed and polished and polished and shined, added and subtracted and multiplied and divided until the characters and the story started to reveal themselves, timid at first, then lusty and bold. A close call!

  3. Traveling and writing are two things I love the most in life. Ok well, they're in my top 10. I love how Jessica Anya Blau combined the two for an analogy, it was really inspiring.


Leave your thoughts! Feel free to share with us your success stories or tips.