Friday, July 18, 2008

Novel 101 (Bonus Edition)--Or why I love massages

Bet that got your attention, huh? Okay, so here's the scoop--

For the past five years or so, I've been getting regular, monthly massages. It's good for my health--physical and emotional (and, as you'll see if you keep reading, also good for my writing). My massage therapist has become a friend, and I look forward to seeing her. But, I have a confession to make. Sometimes I cheat on her. Last winter a friend gave me a gift certificate to a spa for a massage (she didn't know I was already seeing somebody). And, you know, different can be good. So, occasionally, when say my regular masseuse and I get off schedule or she has to go out of town, I sneak over to the spa to see Geoff.

Or like today.

Last week I decided to up my workout and rather than just walk, I started jogging every few blocks. I was all about getting more fit. It was working well. Until yesterday when my lower back felt like someone was jackhammering on it. With flamethrowers. Geoff fit me in. I explained that I'd started running and my lower back was now killing me. He nodded. Told me to start out face down and left the room. I did as I was told. When he came back in he started working on my legs. And then he explained what had happened. My hamstrings were really tight. So were my glutes (not in a good way). That had caused my lower back muscles to seize up. Also, my abs are not as strong as they could be (like I didn't know that!), which caused further strain on my back.

Great, Judy, you're saying. Fascinating. So you're in bad shape. Why do we care?

Here's where it gets cool and morphs into Novel 101.

I realized that what often seems to be the presenting problem isn't always the issue. I'd been applying heat to my back--which felt good but didn't help my hamstrings. Just like when a scene isn't working--maybe it's because an earlier section is too tight (like my hamstrings). Or another part isn't strong enough (like my abs). Just fixing the immediate scene might not be the fix you really need. Unless your novel is just a bunch of vignettes (and even then, probably), the problems are more than likely systemic--you've got to look at the whole. And when you shift one thing around, you probably need to see what muscles that change is pulling at. And when you can't get one part right, maybe rather than gnash your teeth and tear your hair out and rewrite that one specific part until you're blue in the face and ready to chuck the whole thing in the shredder, maybe what you should do is step back and think about what comes before and what comes after--and ask if those parts are as strong as they could be. Or too intense. What needs toning? What needs to be unknotted?

Ah, now doesn't that make sense? And one more tip--getting a massage is never a bad idea.


Joanne said...

Hey Judy, Sorry about your hamstrings, but like the tie-in to writing! I've found when I can't get one part right and I fuss with different angles to fix it, to no avail, what helps is to come at the issue from a completely different and unexpected direction. This seems to give me a fresh look at the passage, and works. Have a nice wknd, hope you're feeling better :)

Lisa said...

Hey that analogy works for me! And I'm with you on the massages too :)

Judy Merrill Larsen said...

Hey Joanna-I'm much better, thanks (and thanks to Geoff!). And yes, coming from a new direction can make everything more clear, can't it?

Lisa--great minds think alike!

Sustenance Scout said...

A terrific, memorable analogy, Judy! And I'll join the Gotta Love Massages club! Makes me wonder why more writing conferences aren't held at spas.... :)