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Strange dream night before last. Very.

Triggered, I imagine, by a news update on the shootings in Aurora, CO, ten miles from here, this: I dreamt I was at a lunchtime meal-meeting with my coworkers when a man with a hunting bow came into the room. The man stalked the space, aiming at each of us with razor-tipped arrows as we tried to hide. At last, in a moment as much luck as it was determination, I found myself behind him. I jumped on his back and got a choke hold around his neck, the chance my companions needed to disarm him. Very scary.

And here was the strange thing: As the dust settled, as the cops came and took the man away, as I got my jacket and came back among the company, no one said a word to me. No one acknowledged what I’d done, as if I had become invisible.

Rather, I suppose, the way I’m feeling now.

I am often a ghost among company, surrounded, often, by friendly-enough people, but no real friends. Isolation (whether imposed by self or others) is not a condition unknown to me. But that’s not the reason for occupying a place so near to squirmy discontent.

I am nearly a week removed from the book-in-progress. The reasons have not all been unpleasant: I got to spend three whole days with my dear Kristina. No, the main part of this removal from Self has come from the demands of work and the tiredness that it breeds. The numbers for this blogspace have tanked. Inside my head I am tired and alone.

I don’t like this place of inner isolation. My plot is keeping itself at an arm’s reach. My characters are aloof and unattainable; I ask them to speak to me, but they don’t. Won’t. I try to connect with the plot, yet, although I know the points are waiting for me in the notebook, they do not pick me up and propel me forward.

Being a participant in my own work. That is what I want. That is what I miss.

I know that this feeling won’t last. This adriftness is a merely a stage on which ideas will eventually play themselves out. But I am not happy in this headspace. I am a woman of direction. The work has been a refuge from co-workers who do not know the difference between condescension and guidance and people who refuse to make a connection. Faced with less-than-success, I am often tempted to walk away; to live within the improbable dream. But I don’t. I remain adrift and wait for the connections to come.

Today I will give myself wholly to thoughts. To invite the universe in. To surround my mind with the people I truly love, some fleshandblood, some not.

Screw reality.

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It was inevitable, I guess, that one morning I would wake without an idea in my head.

It happens.

My brain and my energy have conspired to draw a curtain between me and my creative self. Where I generally look inside to find a delightfully roiling well of thoughts—or at least a reassuring glimpse that the ideas are there, somewhere—this morning I look on upon blankness. As I say, it happens.

Maybe it comes from last night’s change of routine. Or the resoundingly disappointing numbers this space has been gathering lately. Maybe it’s the ions in the atmosphere. Or the exercise I skipped that would have sent oxygen to my brain. Maybe it’s PTSD (post-tired stress disorder.) Maybe it’s the alignment of the planets. For the moment (and I know very well that this is a circumstance that could change in the next five minutes) there is not a thought to be found in me anywhere.

I know that the blankness will change. But I don’t like it.

My characters, so near me so recently, won’t speak to me. They won’t even entertain the suggestion that they come walk nearby so I can watch them, a voyeur in my own world. My plot lay on the ground like a dead butterfly. The notebook, that repository of hope, is still a treasure, but it does not glow in the dark.

This is not writer’s block. It’s a doldrum. I know that. Often, acknowledging this feeling is enough to release it. In the meantime, I’ll hang on to whatever image floats nearest to my hand (the first meeting of the main character, a highly unexpected situation; I’ll hold the exciting new bits of soundtrack music I’ve discovered (Philip Glass, Steve Reich and a few other contemporary composers) for listening on the weekend. And I’ll wait. I’ll live—not as the joyful denizen of created worlds but as an alien being, stripped of my superpowers under an alien red sun.

Most of all, I’ll try not to worry about it. The curtain drew itself for a reason. And even if I can’t figure out what that reason was, I know that I must address it with the same patience I so willingly offer the gathering of the story…to the things that happen in their own time.

The writer’s job is to listen. Even if that means listening to ourselves.

Sometimes you hit one. Sometimes it hits you back.

There have been no posts save one for the past few days. Blame Spring. And tax time. And weather. And the greenish rites of the season. The things that bring real life uncomfortably close.

I’m foundering a little…writing words, not attending to the bigger picture. The wall is grafittied with questions about the where and the why of the what that the book is. Is it art (in a loose interpretation)? Is it a mess? Is it vandalism pretending to be adventurousness?

I expect that most writers reach this place—like marathoners and triathletes do. All the training, all the preparation, all the work…suddenly it’s stone wall as far as the eye can see. You don’t bounce off it gracefully, you slam into it. And it hurts.

This is the time to be the water on the rock: the patient, constant presence that, in time, can turn a shoreline of stones into a white sand beach; that can break a wall to bits.  Water does not see itself at work, it simply does what it does.

Yes, I’ve been at this book for a long time. Yes, the moments that take the breath have sharp-edged little pebbles of doubt mixed in. As it is, as it was, as it always shall be.

Time to get back to lapping at that stone wall, looking for cracks in the mortar. Water doesn’t just tear down, it also builds. Ask any beach dune.

 

The elements are there. Most of them…some…okay, a few. Some of the language is right—some of it even better than right. So what’s the problem about finishing the damned book?

The problem is that I am still writing words rather than ideas.  And I’m writing them in language that is bound by convention.

Without going into the actual substance of the book, this is what you need to know. The worst thing that the end of this book can be…well, there are lots of worst things it can be: pop-scientific, pseudo-spiritual, and acid flashback are just three of them. And one of the worst of the potential pitfalls is that the language that portrays the ideas must…

a) be emotional enough to convey the extraordinary wonder of the experience (read: accessible and human),

b) be obvious enough to have clear, descriptive impact about an unseen place (in other words, if it’s too trippy, no one will get what the hell I’m talking about), and

c) be in a form that not only communicates but represents another dimension of thought.

No small challenge, huh?

Sometimes, the task I’ve set myself feels as if I’m standing at sea level, trying to pitch a pebble all the way up to the Hillary Step…and the thing just keeps falling back and hitting me in the eye. My language has been bound by gravity and weighted by convention. I write form and neglect content. I search for content and I get nowhere fast. Getting nowhere fast makes me wonder whether I’m a good enough writer or smart enough to pull off the task. The small things that DO work make me believe that, with more thought and hard work, I’ll get it done.

What I need—what I want—is to open the trapdoor in my head, the one that opens onto sky. But ahahhhhhhh….Now we are in chicken-and-egg territory. Without the idea, the language can’t fly…without the flight, the ideas won’t come. Mobius loop. State of stall.

Time to put the head to the page and make myself go away. Time to open up and just let it fly.

Da Boyz (Clancy and Moe, cats) are chirping and racing up and down the hall. The writer sits staring out a window at a sky that, disappointingly, promises to clear. The writer took to bed and slept for 12 hours. The writer has not brushed her hair; she is wearing the clothes she slept in.

Meet Lynn in half-on invalid mode.

The problem with the scene-in-progress is massive. The burden that it has loaded onto the writer’s shoulders is about the weight of a house. Or a planet. Or a universe—which is fair enough, given that the universe is what the chapter is about.

I am full-out suffering over it. Was bound to happen. That’s what I do. The lover-on-the-page is not giving me what I need, what I’ve asked for. And I can’t—won’t—send him packing.

I set the problem aside, on a pedestal, stare at it and fret. I’ve tried reworking it (a process that won’t stop), I’ve tried making mental note of the parts that are working well, the ones that carry the viable kernels of the section. And now I’m going to set it aside for the day. I’m going to let it float around me like an anxious ghost, but I’m not going to engage it. I will keep the mental door unlocked, but the lover will have to come to me.

Instead, I will indulge in an unexpected opportunity. Glorious K is having a get-together in SGF, 130 miles away…a gathering of my dear K and wonderful new friends…few-enough people that meaningful conversation will be possible. I’ll let the miles spin out under my car. I’ll think without thinking. I’ll get to help cook (the place at gatherings where you’ll always find me.) And I’ll let Change do its best to shake me out of the brain-stall.

As far as change is concerned, this is chump change to be sure, as wonderful an evening as it will be. It is not change at the level of the psychic paper shredder trash bin of starting the chapter over. But I’m hoping that even a little bit of distance from the work will let the story miss me just a little. We’ll see.

For now, I’m just waiting. Jingling the chump change in my mental pocket. Hoping for the absence that makes the head grow fonder.

Discouragement. And hope. In equal measure.

I have been watching my blog stats fall inexplicably over the past few months. Plummet might be a better word. From high triple digits daily to a double-digit doldrums. A bit discouraging, that. More than a bit.

I took Skydiaries’ precipitous growth as a hopeful sign—even though the numbers were so good that I feared some cyber-anomaly was at work. Been getting more and more subscribers (thank you, thank you) almost daily. But.

Wise blog-friends like Alexander Zoltai advise me to look away from the stats; to look through the numbers to find what new core friends have found their way here. I keep waiting for WordPress Fresh Pressed to discover me. It ain’t happening.

What is it, then, that keeps writers going? Does the tree in the forest make a sound if it falls unwitnessed? Am I just a boring, uninspired, uninspiring writer after all? (And, no, I’m not asking those questions with any expectation or desire that they will be answered…so please don’t try.)

All these questions would be easier to deal with if I weren’t where I am in the book right now: out in the middle of the universe—literally. In the writing-into-the-silence place days lose their meaning. The silence itself is uncomfortably echo-y. I feel, somehow, as if I’ve become a wraith…that I’ve passed away in the night and yet I continue to make noises that the world no longer hears.

One wonders where the love is. The love that feeds the mitosis of creativity and grows from it. One wonders how to keep it alive.

Worlds turn. That’s what they do. Even inner ones. Tomorrow will be different from today—hell, even today might still be different from today. For now, I’ve just got to keep reminding myself to find the fire. Even if the fire is currently playing a rather cruel game of hide and seek with me.

Do parents ever get tired of their children?

I don’t mean momentarily tired, like “Go play in your room for a while” tired. I mean tired—like I-never-want-to-see-you-again tired.

That’s what I’m feeling for the work in progress right now.

A troubling emotion…or lack of one. I don’t remember feeling this for the last book, a work I still love. This book is longer. More plotty. Right now, I want it to go away.

I have just finished—well, maybe finished—a section that should be thrilling me. All I feel is tired. I can no longer tell, at this stage, what is good and what is self-indulgent tripe. I can’t find the pace in the story, although I know it’s there. I can’t find the magic in the passages I know I love. It is all distressingly familiar.

Well, of course it is.

I love this book, but it has sat on my shoulders for nearly two years. I have been sitting in the same room with the thing for every minute of my waking life for what feels like forever. It was worn me ragged. Rather than telling myself that it was all a waste of time, rather than throwing my laptop in the trash and myself in after it, I have opted to push my emotions away for a time.

Maybe this is a defense mechanism…a pre-empting of my fear for ending the book and all that the ending represents. Maybe the thing IS self-indulgent tripe, after all, and I’m just being honest with myself. Maybe I am just mentally exhausted.

I don’t know what it is. I barely know what I am, or who.

I know that this grinchiness won’t last. Tomorrow will be different. Maybe tonight will be. Maybe all will be well in five minutes—the most likely scenario. What I need is to finish. To set this work aside and throw myself into the tides of the next one. To go for a long walk on the empty beach of myself. To accidentally bump into the love of my life—me.

Forgive me, children of my heart. Mommy really, truly does love you. Mommy just needs to be quiet for a while.

 

[UPDATE: Better today. Better. Mommy just needs her coffee….]

 

 

In our e-salon this morning, the four of us found ourselves at an odd convergence. In the downs. The doldrums. The intersection of Who-the-hell-am-I? and What Do I Think I’m Doing?

The landmarks, the expressions, of this difficult juncture were a bit different for each of us, as were our ideas about how to find the way past it. But the fact is, each of us was feeling a similar pain.

Being a writer, an artist, a musician is a sacred path. And that path is a tough one. The road to Golgotha. A road filled with spikes and bear traps. An ice road with dangerous deeps under a thin and cracking surface.

Maybe this road is no different from the one that anyone travels daily. But as one whose life is made of feeling deeply and looking with magnified focus at what makes us what we are, the trip is hard-going, sometimes.

Our heads go on without us. Our shoulds tug at our coattails. We tell ourselves that we have nothing special to offer. We let the small wounds and slights of daily life puncture our tires. We think too much, as my mum used to tell me.

What we have such a hard time remembering is that the road runs backward and forward at the same time; that each downturn has its pinnacle, from which the view is exalted; exquisite.

Doesn’t make the dark valleys any lighter, but it’s good to remember that the high places are there.

As my friend J and I were just reflecting, the road is like the one that runs through water: the rip-current that lurks in a magnificently turbulent sea. The person who fights the undertow struggles against it to the limit of her strength. Is pulled under. Drowns. The person who understand that the current soon returns the swimmer to the surface will surrender to it, be pulled under, and will pop back up again at a place closer to shore. Because the nature of the invisible road is to give us back to the surface again. One of us drowns, one is spared. The difference is how we deal with it.

We need the upside view. We work for it, live for it. Sometimes we struggle through the uphill climb to reach it, not trusting the downhill momentum that will get us halfway there. If we just let it be what it is.

(A Black Friday post offered with the melancholy knowledge that nobody is reading anything today…)

When we look at chapters that don’t work, one of the hardest tasks we can set ourselves is to try to understand why.

Standing back from the work, looking at it from a new perspective, can be painful. Impossible. We stalk around the thing. We kneel to it. We squint at it until we’re crosseyed. We poke it with mental sticks.

Is it dead? Or is it just playing possum?

I’ve tried everything…. The Walking Away from It Trick. That doesn’t work, I just feel guilty. The Patience & Forgiveness Trick—good luck with that. The Run Your Head into a Wall Trick…all I got was a headache. The Go Ahead, Sleep Late Trick.  More guilt.

I am in full-on anguish mode. My imagination is stoppered-up tighter than a bottle of flat Champagne. Following the logic of my own plot is a process akin to trying to read during a dyslexia flare: It’s like looking at a plate of spaghetti and trying to follow an individual strand from one end to the other without touching it.

For a writer, this is what suffering feels like.

The upside (and damn me, I always wind up looking for the upside): Suffering is usually the last stage on my personal Kübler-Ross scale of grief. I worry, I fret, I punish myself, I hate every word and comma, I despair of the chapter ever coming out right…and suddenly the door opens and the answer is there.

My duty to the tale is to suffer as much as I can. And wait for the happy ending.

The writer at her best does not come up with ideas. Ideas come to her.

When an idea comes—an image, an emotion, a point of dialog, an entire, mind-blowing plot-turning revelation—it comes, sometimes, from the ethers beyond in the head. A sweet-roiling pool. A vast, living cloud, like the cloud where data lives.

Receiving the idea is like touching a greater universe in which all ideas are present and waiting.

Sounds crazy, I know.

I’ve posted the sensation before, what it feels like, that place in which all one needs to do is open one’s soul and take dictation. The connectedness to wonder as one channels ideas from that infinite reservoir of possibility that exists in the out-there. The serene, tingling excitement of it.

When one pulls an idea toward the heart from that glittering place, one reaches past the door of humanness.

And sometimes the universe shuts the door in your face.

Lately, the door has been shut. I reach for the story and bump my knuckles against blank silence. I can read back the progression of a chapter’s lines from memory…but the bigger thought—and the place it came from—are denied me.

At times like these, practice does not make perfect. The writing wheels, greased by the work of blogs and commerce, rarely propel the rest of the creative mechanism.

Craft and fiction are close relations who are no longer speaking to one another.

I haven’t figured the way around it, yet. The things I’ve tried in the past, the walks, the silences; the cupping of the idea in sheltering mental hands, like carrying smoke; the willingness to be taken over by the emotion of a scene as if I were channeling a spirit at a séance… none of these has worked.

They will. I know they will. But for now, I’m fidgety for my view of heaven, and bereft in the quiet of myself.

Sometimes silence is not possibility. Sometimes, it’s only silence.

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