Writer's Block: Linda K. Thompson
Following the release of her debut poetry collection Black Bears in the Carrot Field (Mother Tongue Publishing), Linda K. Thompson joins us on the blog for another edition of Writer's Block. In this interview, Linda discusses the feeling of reading her own poetry aloud to an audience, how a good workout and a solid bit of household cleaning help her extinguish her writer's block, the influence of Uncle Arthur's Bedtime Stories, and more.See more details below
All Lit Up: One stand-out moment or experience I had that helped me realize I wanted to become a writer?
Linda K. Thompson: While I was plunking away on my distance social work degree from UVIC I was longing for the day I could finally be finished with all the annoying rules and regulations of writing essays and get to my own ‘stuff’. My first writing class at North Island College included fiction, drama, and poetry. Fiction and drama seemed maybe doable...but poetry? No way. I could never write a poem!* As it turned out a door opened wide and I took to the world of poetry like, well...you know. (*DC – dramatic catastrophizing—rein it in a little)
In my first year of writing I had a poem (originally titled What Could Happen but now goes by The Butter Guy) published in Quills: Canadian Poetry Magazine, Winter 2005 edited by Byron Sheardown. (Bless you, Byron.) Under my name at the back it stated ‘no bio submitted’ because I had no bio at that point. Now that publication was a thrill to be sure. But when I read that poem to a real live breathing audience here on the West Coast I knew I had to write and read. To hear an audience laugh and hoot and holler and cheer!* The best feeling in the world. That’s my stand-out moment. If I wanted to read my own work to people I had to write it. (*OE - Overly Enthusiastic—tone it down)
ALU: What inspires you to write?
LKT: Remember when washing machines had actual water in them. And the agitator would spin back and forth in a kind of sucking action and you could stand there staring at the works. All in a bit of a meditative state while the potatoes boiled and the children fought over the clicker and the new cat pooped under the sofa. That red shirt would come up to the top then down and up to the top then down, again and again. That was exactly what my brain did all day long. Snippets, random thoughts, memories, things I wanted to share—around and around... Writing was, and still is, a way to smooth things out. Get that annoying clutter organized, clipped together, nudged a little closer to the end of that endless agitator/conveyer belt that squeaks around in my head.* (*GUM - Garbled Use of Metaphors—try harder)
All Lit Up: Have you experienced writer’s block and how do you deal with it?
LKT: Part I – BLOCK THE BLOCK
Gee, this is a hard one? Oh, wait a minute. You mean what am I doing right now as I try in vain to answer these torturously difficult questions?* Well, let’s see...I would say the way to deal with writer’s block is to block the block as long as possible. (*CBF – cut back on facetiousness—unattractive)
I recommend my tried and true passive/aggressive practice in addressing the block situation. A good sweat inducing workout is key. Hearken back to Jack LaLonde and his grey jumpsuits. Don the suit and spread ‘em wide with a few jumping jacks to loosen up. You will be surprised at the flow of perspiration one can obtain in a polyester jump suit. You will be hot beyond all measure, out of breath, beginning to have generalized pain. This is good. You will have forgotten the block and the dreaded 11:59 deadline.
I like to start with a toilet. Give it a real Martha Stewart rub down using my homemade baking soda cleanser. (Call me for the recipe.) We are blessed with three toilets in this old house so it’s a generous time consumer (TC). Which, along with the over-heating, is what one is working towards in this situation—remember—you want to be using the time between now and the you-know-what in brainless, heat-inducing activity.
Last week I asked our neighbour, Lonnie, if I could bath his ratty, matted water-phobic English sheepdog, Maud. Now, I am not a genuine dog-lover but Maud is magically fluffy after her wash and you will agree this is a superb TC. If you have no overly hairy dogs in the ‘hood then go ahead and try this with other breeds—double wash, condition and blow out can take 3 hours, even with the short hairs.
My third example of a trusted evasive activity is to get out there and buzz up a cord or two of firewood. It’s a diligent workout and what with the jumpsuit makes for a real sweat fest and hence a blessedly worry-free afternoon. My friend, Art, comes by and loads up a jag in his pickup and hauls it down to the Barclay Hotel parking lot with a For Sale sign hanging off the back of the load. I made the sign myself with a 6” x 12” chunk from one of the 30 or so Amazon boxes I have in the back room where Ron* used to sleep. (* UP – Unidentified Person—disconcerting, avoid)
Part 2 – DEADLINE (Perhaps you live in a fool’s hope it will be postponed? Classic.)
Now you have come to the beginning of the end of that constant 24/7 nagging worry, the heart lurching stress of the endless count down of weeks, days, hours. (Let’s be straight here – if you are down to minutes you may well have missed the last bus out of town.)
However, make no mistake, THE TIME WILL COME when you ask that special friend who loves you no matter what to duct tape you to your chair (remind them to secure the casters) and to confiscate the following:
iPhone, old flip phone, satellite phone, grandson’s iPad, AM/FM on the kitchen window, record player in the box marked Sally Ann, cassette tape deck (along with your Chrystal Gale, Kris Kristofferson, Boy George, Buck Owens, and Montana Slim collections), Fisher-Price music box that plays It’s a Small World, all that snooty Bose equipment, TV’s from every room (be honest – it’s for your own good), emergency call box rescued by Joe off the Vanleen before it sank, Grandpa Harry’s Coast Ranger WWII short-wave radio*, all internet connections and data receiving technology. (*DNDY – Do Not Date Yourself—be vague in regards to brand names, country singers, wars, etc. Most of paragraph very DY-ish. Perhaps cut?)
(Many of the above are one-way equipment but, trust me, be on the safe side—do a clean sweep. In a frenzy of desperation you may become technically aware and adept in ways you never thought possible.)
Linda's best writing advice
ALU: What books have had the greatest influence on you?
LKT: Oh, the delicious characters I met as a child. Anne Shirley, Matthew Cuthbert, Nancy Drew, Cherry Ames, Tarzan of the Jungle, Shane. And they weren’t all human. I loved Black Beauty, Ginger, Merry Legs, Flicka. All of them perfect heroes and companions. And yet, perhaps the books that had the greatest influence on my tender budding psyche were Uncle Arthur’s Bedtime Stories.
Our mother’s family were Puritans who sailed across in 1636 and 400 years later and 3000 miles from where they land ahoyed the family were still solid God-fearing Christians. Somewhere between Saskatchewan and the Lower Mainland Mom did switch to the more jovial Never-Play-Cards-On-Sunday Baptists. Father was an atheist but Mother didn’t let that deter her. She never gave up on us. The ‘bedtime stories’ were purchased for our own good from a traveling salesman (knickknacks/books/fake Persian rugs) and they formed the bright orange backbone of our little library.
Now it may have been Uncle Arthur who had the greatest influence on me – but positive or negative, I’m not sure. All those perfect little gung-ho children. Do the right thing, kids, and you’ll end up in the clouds singing forevermore while bright angels pat your head and Jesus comes for a comforting chat now and then. Even as a child, I couldn’t quite buy it. And look how I turned out.
ALU: Do you have any rituals you abide by when you’re writing?
LKT: When I truly begin to write I am overtaken by a mighty writing spirit. (You can clearly see how Uncle A. contributed to my psychological upbringing.) Once I get an idea I can’t stop. Sometimes I jot something down and then wonder: “ Where did that come from?”
While I’m in this writing ‘state’ I manage to look normal but I’m strangely restless and distracted. I get up and down from my desk constantly, walk around the house, do weird chores, answer phone calls. (No one seems to notice my red, glowing eyes.) Whatever I’m doing, I’m anxious to get back to my sadly unattractive office and that blessed screen and get more stuff out.
The fact is I am mostly unaware of what is actually in my head because it takes a direct route from my brain to the ends of my fingers. It’s a pretty miraculous event when I think about it. Colours, names, places, events in the past or yesterday, strange conversations, things I’ve seen and heard—they’re all bottled up upstairs* and nothing really clears them out but the physical act of sitting down and tickling the qwerty. So my only ritual is this: “hang on for the ride.” (*2X up—awkward, not clever, ask ‘friend you trust’ to give your work a first read)
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Linda K. Thompson was raised on a farm in the Coast Mountains and has lived for many years on Vancouver Island. Her work has been published across Canada and in the U.S. and Great Britain. She has won several awards for her writing and been shortlisted at the Malahat Review and the Troubadour International Poetry Prize contest. Linda has a chapbook Four Small People in Sturdy Shoes and her work most recently appeared in Prairie Fire and Release Any Words Stuck Inside of You: Canadian Flash Fiction and Prose Poetry. Black Bears in the Carrot Field (Mother Tongue Publishing) is her first full-length book of poetry. She lives in Port Alberni.
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A special thank you to Mother Tongue Publishing and Linda K. Thompson for joining us in this edition of Writer's Block.
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