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Updated: Jan 29

For those of you of a certain age, I’m sure you remember Gene Autry, the Hollywood cowboy who sang “Back in the Saddle Again. “ I thought of that song as I sat down for this morning’s writing. The trip through the frozen north (see previous blog) took it out of me and when I came back home I got sick.

American actor and singer Gene Autry (1907 - 1998) (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)

Then Thing One and Thing Two got sick. Then Sally the Anxious Lab got sick. All of us except my daughter had colds. Sally, on the other hand, had the worst case of dog diarrhea I’ve ever seen. Labradors always have their nose to the ground and Lord knows what she picked up but the result was disgusting. All these events explain—I hope—why my brain has been frozen.

Lots of writers, including yours truly, have ping-pong disease when it comes to writing. For the past month I’ve been worried that I won’t get my groove back and anxiety will win. One side of my brain says, “I stink. What was I thinking? I can’t write. Nobody reads anymore anyway. Nobody will like this book. Besides, we’re all gonna die when the bombs fly or the icebergs melt so I might as well give up.” On the other end of the spectrum is this: “Wow, that page was pretty good. I’m really in the groove now. I should keep going.” The next day it’s, “Oh my god, this is crap.”

You see what I mean by ping-pong? It’s guaranteed to make you crazy.

A writer friend of mine suggested I “change it up” to see if that would shake things loose, so I put down the computer and went old school. I took a pencil and legal pad out on the porch on a wintry but sunny day and wrote a bunch of gobbledygook. But the pencil was moving and I hoped my demons would take their ping-pong balls and paddles and shove them up . . . well, you get my drift.

Cellist Pablo Casals playing instrument. (Photo by Ed Clark/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

So here's my theory: Music is a lot like writing. Pablo Casals, the greatest cellist of the twentieth century, practiced the cello every day until he was in his 90s. He was famous for beginning each practice session by playing all six Bach unaccompanied cello suites.

When asked why he practiced so much or insisted on the Bach pieces as a warm-up, Casals would invariably answer with a version of “I think I am making daily progress.”

My mother was a conservatory-trained pianist. She played and taught music all her life. Even as she was dying of cancer, she played at home for her own enjoyment. Her hands were arthritic and it must have been painful, yet she still played. Mother was my piano teacher when I was young and I think she harbored secret hopes that I would become a concert pianist. I remember each lesson started with boring old scales. Warm up the fingers. Warm up the brain. Casals knew this, too. Sit in the chair play your scales. (Or your Bach suites.) Practice.

And so today I’m singing “Back in the Saddle Again”(inside my head). I sit in the chair. Keep the pencil moving. Practice. And shoot for daily progress, not perfection. And so far I hear only the sound of silence, not the vicious "crack!" of a ping-pong ball.

In the next post I’ll pose an important question: Do my characters want small pox, cholera, or malaria??

I hope ya’ll have a good week. If you are a reader, thank you. If you are a writer, sit your derriere in the chair. Until next time . . .

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