Tag: writers

Oh, My Aching Back

I’ve had a miserable week. Every muscle in my back went into spasm and refused to let go. There was no comfortable position, not standing, not sitting and not lying down. Sleep? Forget it. Fifteen minutes maximum before I had to change positions. Even muscle relaxants had no effect. 

Now, there isn’t a writer alive who hasn’t experienced back pain at one time or another. Many, like Jane Friedman have written about it. The web is full of recommendations for exercises, ergonomics, stretches, treadmill desks, physiotherapy, massage and snake oil. I’ve had that kind of back pain. The kind where some stretches, or a gentle walk will ease it. Movement is definitely a go-to response for muscle tension.

This time, though, the pain was different. There was no stretch that touched it. It didn’t come from my hamstrings or my quads or my sacroiliac. And it didn’t start while I was at the computer. It came on gradually as I spent a few days in the kitchen. I processed a ton of zucchini and buckets of blackberries. We have enough soup to last the whole winter, not to mention baking and quiche. My shelves of preserves are sagging with summer’s goodness.

And my aching back is killing me!

 

I hope you’re feeling sorry for me now. 🙂 However, the point of this blog is not to generate sympathy, although that is nice. No, I thought I’d share some of my coping mechanisms for anyone else who has gone into total back spasm.

  • The first thing to know is that movement is your friend. Any movement. Walk up the stairs, walk out to the garden, deadhead a few flowers, go to the mailbox. Nothing too strenuous but anything that puts the body in motion.
  • intervals. No more than fifteen minutes in any one position. So, fifteen minutes at the computer, fifteen minutes at the stove, fifteen minutes lying on the floor with your legs elevated. Even if the position feels good to begin with, you can’t stay there. Those back muscles are really good at knotting up again.
  • Heat. A heating pad may help, but it can also aggravate. If you lie on a hot lump, your back muscles are apt to protest even more strenuously. Try to get a very thin heating pad if you want to use one.
  • Massage. I have a massaging chair. Sounds like heaven, doesn’t it, but even there, too much does more harm than good. I only used the gentle, rolling cycle. No thumping or tapping. And not for very long.
  • Complain, loudly. Everyone will avoid you and you can wallow in your misery.

  But, you say, I’m on deadline.  First off, be thankful there is an editor/reader/publisher/ agent who cares enough about your work to give you a deadline. Then figure out how to put the words on the page in short bursts.

Notice I said words on the page.

  • A lot of writing consists of thinking. You can do that in any position.
  • You can read or listen to audio books. Other people’s words can jolt loose your own.
  • You can jot notes to yourself while standing at the counter.
  • You can compose scenes in your head, so when you have that fifteen minute splurge at the computer the words will fly off the ends of your fingers.
  • Remember the “starving artist” meme, and revel in your aching back. Maybe all that discomfort will bring a new level of truth to your words.
  • Describe in every agonizing detail what your pain feels like. Who knows, you might use that description in your thriller where the hero is tied up for long hours. 

I’m starting to feel better — thank you for asking. I’m grateful for the bounty of my garden and the preserves in my pantry. I’m grateful for my steamer and my canner and those stupid lids that won’t seal. A positive mind-set can reduce pain and stress.

Now, I’m off to practice gratitude by walking to the mailbox and back. 

Wishing you all a healthy back and the fruits of the garden.

 

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The Call of the Pipes

 

There’s something about bagpipes that stirs the soul. Why else account for their use in battle?  Soldiers, tired, defeated, and frightened, will rise from their cover and follow the piper one more time into the fray.  Over and over in history, that scenario has played out.  One notable example is Canada’s VC winner, James Richardson. I’ve written about him here.

Recently, at a Remembrance Day service at our local cenotaph, I watched the pipe band marching past and felt the excitement race through my veins, but when I watched closely, I did a double-take. I had always believed those blowing the bagpipes were male members of Scottish clans. Not this time.  The band I saw had an Asian man, a black man, and a few women, wearing kilts, and proudly piping out “Scotland the Brave.” Welcome to Canada in 2017.

“That would never happen.” These dismissive words have blighted more than one budding writer’s career.  Even when the event in question is a true-life example, the editor or beta reader insists it is too far-fetched to be used in fiction.  Book guidelines say the editor is looking for something “new and different.”  The invisible subtext likely reads but not too different.

Publishing is a risky business, so publishing houses like to hedge their bets. If book A about a shape-shifter sold lots of copies, then they want more shape-shifters.  If book B about a werewolf tanked, they don’t want to see werewolves anywhere in your submission.

If you are writing something “different” don’t be discouraged. Remember someone had to be the first to write vampires, or steam-punk, or aliens, or a small-town knitting story.  And “real life” does give us some wacky examples of the non-probable. Like my pipe band, “different” but great!

Today, when “diversity” is all the rage, maybe a female of Chinese descent with a passion for bagpipes could be a captivating heroine. Or a male soldier returned from deployment in a war zone who finds solace in crochet – there are real life examples of that, too.

Finding the balance between the old and the new for readers and editors is never easy. What appeals to one reader as quirky and interesting, may elicit the “never happen” response from others.  In The Man for Her, my editor questioned the heroine’s long mourning period for her lost lover.  Yet, in real life, Queen Victoria mourned the loss of Prince Albert the rest of her life.

For writers, the best advice is still to write the best story you can, be true to your own vision, and keep trying.  Fads may come and go, but good writing will endure.  Combine good writing with some off-beat characters and you could be the next “big thing.”

Now, I’m off to listen to some bagpipe music, it will lift my spirits and send me forth with determination and courage.

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