“I sought a theme and sought for it in vain,
I sought it daily for six weeks or so.
Maybe at last being but a broken man
I must be satisfied with my heart.”
–William Butler Yeats
“The Circus Animals’ Desertion”
I don’t believe in writer’s block, and neither should you. I preach this to my students each semester.
Are there moments you aren’t feeling it? Are there times you get lost staring at a blank screen/piece of paper and blink to realize half an hour has passed? Are there days when the thought of picking up a pen makes you shudder?
Affirmative. Yup. Certainly.
But there’s an easy cure: write.
Sure worked for Yeats. He started writing about writer’s block and gave the world one of his best poems, which is saying a lot from a beloved Nobel laureate.
I know it sounds counterintuitive, but it’s accurate. I’m also aware that when the Muses have clammed up, the product is often sub-par. When someone points this out to me, I have a simple counter-question at the ready: “And when you’re writing in a flurry of inspiration, how pristine and polished is your first draft?”
Editing. It’s our best friend. And one cannot edit without first getting something down on the page.
Granted, this dedication takes discipline. It’s even worse for freelance writers like myself who don’t have an editor or publishing house breathing down our necks to deliver a product.
It’s especially true for a fellow like me, who has a lazy streak as wide as an L.A. freeway.
So, after posting a quick, half-hearted update on this blog eight days ago, I set down to finally finish drafting “Fear Caller.” How well did that go? See paragraph 2 above.
Frustrated, I started writing a new scene, one I doubted would make the final cut, simply to get the words flowing. Halfway through, I scrapped it and started anew. Ten minutes later, I peeked at Facebook, took the dogs on a walk, thumbed through my critical edition of The Merchant of Venice. Surprisingly, by that point, it was time for bed.
The next day was no better. Nor the next. I’m starting to think “Fear Caller” is my white whale. I will eventually haul it in, even if it costs me a leg. Just not yet.
Sometimes, we just have to break our own rules.
How to recover my mojo? Maybe I needed a fresh start.
As I explained this summer, my first short story, “Archer Bob’s Blue-Ribbon Guide to Unique, Curious, and Inexplicable Roadside Attractions,” was born when because I was hellbent on proving to another author that story dice were useless.
I’m nearly as proud of that short story as she is to force-feed me humble pie.
Let’s give it a shot, I thought. Toss something on a page, save it for later, and go back to “Fear Caller.”
Only this time I wanted to make it even more difficult. At the top of the page, I jotted specific parameters. I wanted to write in present tense. (Don’t even know why. I just went with it.) I would choose close-third person. (Everything I’ve written thus far has been first, so it’s time for a change.) Also, my protagonist was going to be named Valentino. (I’d just read The Two Gentlemen of Verona the week before, and the antiquated name seemed to give an added layer of oddity to the effort.)
Playing with story dice often makes for weird yarns anyway. Not like “Archer Bob’s” is solidly set in the realm of verisimilitude. As I rolled, I had the same idea in mind. “Stop making sense. Just go with it.”
Good advice. My dice were: a broadsword, a conical flask (often used by chemists), a brick wall, a salt shaker, an elk, and a clown. Oh boy.
Timer set for fifteen minutes, I put pen to page. Valentino sits at a diner carving a hashtag symbol into a spilled pile of salt. The television above him blasts the evening news, reporters discussing the spate of evil clown sightings that grips the city.
That was Tuesday. Thursday night I completed a first draft that, as per usual, ran far too long for a short story, clocking in at nearly 9,000 words.
Last night, I finished a first edit, whittling away at least 750 words and a bevy of typos and dangling modifiers.
By now, I know my process. I’m not going to look at it today. Tomorrow either. Since the next day is some sort of holiday I’m told, I may not even revisit it then.
But, oh, I am going to eviscerate the bastard. I’ve got multi-colored pens at the ready, intent on tearing the document to shreds. I’ll contemplate every verb, underline weak nouns as I break the spine of my thesaurus, and curse with red ink every blasted adverb.
I’m delaying “Fear Caller” again. There’s something out there I just can’t seem to grasp.
I grabbed hold of something with this one, though, and I should have it available on my author page by early January.
In the spirit of giving, in hopes that maybe other struggling writers will happen across then and want to see what can come from shaking things up a little, and–in all honesty–with a little hope that a few might become enthralled and pre-order the story when it’s released, I will be putting up the rough, barely edited prologue soon.
Keep your eyes peeled.
And keep scrawling away, no matter how uninspired it feels. There’s a reason they make ink in red.