Lumberjack Writer

My husband told me a story once about two lumberjacks, one old and experienced, the other young and ambitious. In the story, the young lumberjack sees the old sitting down multiple times in the day to sharpen his axe. (Yes, I’m purposely spelling it with an E because I think it looks better that way.) Feeling this a lazy practice, the young man challenges the old. Whoever fells the most trees in one work day, is the winner.

Well, they had the challenge. And as usual, the old man took time about once every few hours to sit and sharpen his axe. At the end of the day, the young man was astounded to learn that he’d lost. The old man knew that to be the most effective, he had to keep his instrument sharp, and his body rested.

I tell you this story because I think about it often in terms of writing novels. There are some key skills we must learn in order for us to be successful (sharpening the axe), and we need to make sure our creative tank is filled (sitting to rest).

I’m sure you know of a million writing exercises out there, but I’d like to share some with you that have worked for me. I’ll do these when I’m stuck in a scene, or having a hard time pinning down the voice of a character, or just warming up my writing muscles.

Character Interview
Write a transcript, so to speak, of a conversation between yourself and your character. Pretend you meet them in their setting, or maybe you invite them to dinner. This is a great thing for plotters like myself to try, because it’s very freeing and you don’t know where it might go. Sometimes that’s okay.

Scene Shift
If you’re stuck in a scene, or bored with it, if it’s just not exciting you, Mary Robinette Kowal suggests changing a small element in order to help you, the author, be more engaged. Changing the point of view, the setting, even the time of day, can make just the right amount of difference, and get the creative juices flowing again.

Thirty-Minute Setting
This is another one I borrow from MRK. To get your mind shifted to a place where it will notice small details, she suggests sitting for thirty minutes and describing the room you’re in. After a few minutes, you’ll think you’ve run out of things to describe, but if you push through it you’ll discover the tiny gritty details that make a world real.

Now, the next part of keeping ourselves lumberjack-fit is making sure our creativity tank is high. Again, there are a ton of ways to do this, here are just a few.

Read A Book
I think this one is the most obvious. If you’ve run out of words, go get more! Read in your genre, or out of your genre, Read a short story or a novel. Read fiction or non-fiction. Just don’t count Twitter.

Move Around
Walk, run, jog, skip, leap, stretch, Yoga, Zumba, Kick Box, Tai Chi, whatever floats your boat! Moving your body can help snap things into place for your brain, and really helps when you’re stuck on a problem and need to think it out.

Watch TV or a Movie
Confession: I went a whole month this year without writing at all. I needed the break. And to help me relax, I started watching shows on Netflilx. They’re great. I didn’t finish all seasons of anything because I got my mojo back, but I got started and it helped.

The thing is, writing sometimes suffers when we push it. Those of you with agents and book contracts have it rough, and I know it. But the goal is to know which tools will help you get back in the game. Learn these tricks now, so that when the deadlines loom, you can fight your way through the tough spots.

May the words be ever in your favor, friends.


A Gryffindor, Mormon, and Wandmaker, Darci Cole is an author of YA and MG scifi/fantasy, the YA usually with a romantic twist. She’s edited a number of manuscripts for clients and also served as an editorial intern for Entangled Publishing during the summer of 2013.