The Upside of Down Time by Dawn Shamp

Dawn Shamp (left) and her class at Table Rock Writers Workshop in 2010

Maybe you’ve seen that greeting card of a befuddled-looking mastiff with his head quirked between his owner’s bowed legs? The one with the Ashleigh Brilliant quote, “My life has a superb cast, but I can’t figure out the plot.”

Well, he’s not the only one. Besides writing this summer, much of what I’ve created has taken place in my head. Which, I suppose, is another way of saying I’ve taken to loafing. Reading good fiction (long and short), dawdling around the house, and the occasional sitting in a stupor. I’ve become highly disciplined in all of it. The reason I bring it up is this. I’m working on a new novel, set on the cusp of WWII and told from multiple points of view. But my story reached a point recently that got the better of me (hence, the loafing).

This writing slump, or dry spell, whatever you would like to call it, usually happens when we start having doubts or second-guess what we’ve written. Does what I’ve devised, so far, make sense? Have I delved enough into my characters’ minds? Does each character’s actions serve a purpose and move the story forward? Are the words precise? Or (insert foul invective here) am I trying to chase a butterfly up a mountain? After a while you start to think that the writing won’t ever come back. But it does—it did! Loafing, as it turns out, provides a greater deal of stimulus than we might think. We need to put the … um … “smart” phone away. We need down time to be creative. Yes, even dawdling. Learn to appreciate crushing boredom.

Waiting for something to shake loose, I revisited a book on craft and gave myself a writing assignment. That refresher happened to be therapy. One simple exercise, and now all of my characters are fighting to get on with it. Oh, there are pages of action still to write—detailed events and conflicts—but I’m thinking now I might just have this “dry” thing licked. Like a mastiff’s chops, it’s all about flapping the tongue, assessing the surroundings, and getting on with the possibilities of search and rescue … or reading the messages of the day.

Dawn Shamp is teaching this fall at the Table Rock Writers Workshop, September 19-23.  Join us by visiting the website.


One thought on “The Upside of Down Time by Dawn Shamp

  1. Hey, Dawn, I’m looking forward to being in your workshop at Table Rock! I don’t know if this classifies as dawdling but I’ve been writing in my head while helping my husband pour concrete footers. It works! Enjoyed your post!

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