Using one thing to remind you of something else is symbolizing. We’ve been doing that since we sat in the Hohle Fels caverns in Germany 40,000 years ago carving pornographic figures from mammoth ivory. I wore a 40,000-year-old fossilized walrus tooth, recently carved into a face, on a chain around my neck while writing about the first human children to use language. It helped me to feel something 40,000 years old. When my story shifted to early Mesopotamia, I wore a golden bull’s head pendant copied from one found in the royal tombs at Ur, dating to around 2500 BC. It helped me to imagine what kind of people would make such a thing. That’s what writing charms do. They help us to feel a connection with the story and to imagine details.
Whenever you find yourself looking at what may be called charms, talismans, totems, fetishes, figurines, or whatnots, think writing charms! A good one can be anything that relates to what you are writing. M and I drove up to watch the last shuttle launch and she had us standing in line in the NASA gift shop so she could get a photo autographed by an astronaut. As the line wound past the obliging spaceman and towards the cash register, I spied a dark blob the size of a small marble displayed on white cotton in a glass case. It looked precious & at $35, I looked closer. It was a fragment of the Sikhote-Alin meteorite that landed in Russia in 1947. Subsequent research showed it to be from the Asteroid Belt, formed with the solar system 4.5 billion years ago. Writing charm! Imaginations of life beyond earth become more real when you hold something from there.
Other charms in the drawer include a 1940s Alice Caviness gold typewriter pendant for when I just need to be reminded to write, a 19th century Half-Eagle coin for thinking about life before electricity and a new Charles Albert deaths-head pendant which does nothing for me now but I saw it and had to have it. Maybe I’ve been charmed into killing off one of my characters in order to think about it.
Writing charms are plentiful and inexpensive to acquire. They can appear in unexpected places and abound in second-hand markets from estate sales, antique shops, consignment shops, pawn shops, flea markets and garage sales. As symbols, they don’t have to be the real thing. They only have to focus your thoughts on your story. I could not afford an authentic prehistoric carving but a fossilized walrus tooth carved by a Renaissance Faire artist served the same purpose. And, serendipity, questing for a writing charm is a rewarding form of procrastination.