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Writer’s block; need bacon

January 10, 2012
Toledo Chronicle, Tama News-Herald

Every writer sometimes faces that stark realization while staring at a blank screen (blank piece of paper for you traditionalists) that the words are just not flowing as easily as usual.

Those readers paying attention know I love metaphors.

Once, while dealing with a surly customer support person, I attempted to put him in his place. As he was going on and on in an area in which I was very conversant, I boldly reminded him I had shoes older than he. The point of my metaphor was that he should get to the point and solve my problem without all the sideline embellishment. I have been around the block a few times myself; probably wearing those old shoes. Just so you don't think I am callous and tend to treat just anybody this way, I hired this person, and he worked for me.

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Metaphors help us describe, visualize, and make sense of the world around us.

What is a word sculptor anyway? Sculptors are fond of saying that they don't "make" their art; they just uncover what is already hidden in the stone. Well writers ply the same tricks. They endeavor to find hidden meaning and sense in the everyday vernacular.

OK, let's talk about tools. Every creative person I know has tools they use to ply their talent. In my case, they help me over the hump, and get the creative juices flowing.

I have this fairly new notebook computer. It was chosen from a long list of potential candidates for a couple points important to me.

I hate black keyboards. My new laptop had to have a white keyboard. The contrast on black keyboards is not adequate for a non-touch typist with aging eyes. It had to have a fairly fast processor or processors, and lots of memory; I am a real multi-tasker. Price, while a definite consideration was not the driving consideration. t also had to come from a manufacturer who spends lots of money on research and development; I hate being a paying beta tester for lesser companies.

I settled on a Sony Vaio because it fit my requirements.

Just because you have a new computer doesn't mean you can just start it up and begin working. I had to get all of my flies from my old computer to this new one. Then I had to install the software I use as my tools.

For many years I was a WordPerfect aficionado But, that was YEARS ago. Now, like most PC users, I am heavily invested in the great god Microsoft, and use Word as my word processor. But, my copy, which I bought in 2003, comes in a package called Microsoft Office 2003. While it is getting a little long in the tooth, it works just fine for me. I can't justify upgrading to the current Office offering. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

The new computer also has Windows 7 on it. I believe Microsoft has finally gotten it right, after many attempts. The feature I like best is the way it indexes every word in every document on your hard drive. For a writer, this is important. Now, when I am looking for a quote or some subject matter regarding a certain subject, I can just click the start button and type my search term. In seconds, every document containing that word or words is listed It even puts Office Word documents first. This might be shameless self promotion on Microsoft's part, but it works for me.

OK, so new computer, word processor open, and fingers poised above the keyboard do not guarantee the words will just flow. Something has to strike your fancy, tickle that passion, or as is often my case-annoy me.

Every writer has other tools at their disposal to help them craft their words. I am here to tell you the Internet has done a lot to shrink the world and make information more accessible. As long as you analyze what you are reading with a critical and somewhat cynical eye, you can gain a lot of knowledge there. The warning is there is a lot of disinformation and outright deceptions which will pop up in a Google search.

Another tool every writer needs is a set of reference books. A thesaurus and a dictionary are absolute necessities. In the past, I was satisfied with printed versions of both. Now I use electronic versions, and because I have lots of memory on this computer, can leave them open as I write.

My favorite collection of writer's tools is MasterWriter 2.0. It has the requisite dictionary and thesaurus. It also has a rhyming dictionary, word families, parts of speech, pop culture and other niceties. It is somewhat pricey, but has been invaluable and more importantly, reliable to me. Many times my intellect can't determine whether it is a left or right brainer; I have characteristics of both. But, while facts and number satisfy the left brain, this collection of tools helps the right brain along.

A close second and a whole lot cheaper is this nice little program called Rhymesaurus 2.0.1. It has a dictionary, a thesaurus, rhyme, sounds like and a really cool feature called Word Surf. While I recommend both, if you can only have one, or have limited resources, buy this collection.

So as is sometimes the case, this space has been filled with abject banality and fluff. I'm not exactly sure how I got from there to here. I'll just have to re-read it and see if it will fly.

Maybe it helps to keep it all in perspective. Ultimately, this paper, and these words are destined to line the bottom of the bird cage, or to wrap fish guts. In the scheme of things the only thing that really matters is that you have enough food to eat, water to drink and a warm place to rest your head.

Until next time--

You can read past columns by visiting and clicking on "view all" next to "Local Columns."

In to the Wind and this column are copyright 2012 Mike Gilchrist. Readers, feel free to contact me at via email, or write to me at P.O. Box 255, Toledo, IA 52342.



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