On Tickling the Muse
I enjoy writing. Sometimes I write a blog comment on some random blog because I am looking forward to stringing the words together. Connecting ideas like a Lego castle. I have to remind myself of this when my novel is broken down into chunks that look a great deal like homework assignments.
When you have writers block, it’s about not being able to find the words to match your ego. Unfortunately, you need a hefty ego to write a novel. It’s a huge fucking task and you need the possibility of greatness as a carrot on the end of the stick. The problem becomes that we let the ego frame the questions we’re asking. Instead of just telling a story or writing a sentence, we ask the pen to produce the most brilliant and witty thing ever written. No wonder we spend so much time staring at blank paper.
I have to remind myself that this is all just a game and I write the rules. The game is not “write the most amazing thing ever” because that would be a sucky boring game full of disappointment and everyone knows it. Instead I must see what little dance I can get the words to do. A much more fun game would be “Let’s see if we can make the rhythm and cadence of the paragraph match the intensity of the characters’ current emotional state” or “Let’s see if we can make a really off the wall pop culture metaphor.” How’s about: “Let’s see if we can find a way to make an allusion to Jorge Luis Borges.” It’s a puzzle with a practically infinite number of solutions. You can always solve it one way and come up with a more elegant solution later.
Of course this is easier said than done.
I have a lot of “talking head” scenes, where I’ve come up with the dialogue but the descriptions are *weak. I would edit such a scene and it felt like playing “fill in the blanks” with description. This stifled my creativity as I had a preconceived notion about the length of each passage. I was asking myself the least creative questions (“What does the furniture look like?”), thinking inside the box.
And when I am producing this kind of blanks and boxes drivel, it helps to remind myself of the game. I do this—I write—for fun. Despite any bitching about “writer’s block” in some ways I can’t help but play this game. If I’m going to write a sentence, I’m usually going to take the extra time to think of the best possible way to say it. I will not hesitate to ask myself if there’s some way I can throw in a joke, a bold visual,a fresh metaphor—yay, even a pun. It may even be second nature, but I’d hate to say so because I know I lose points for allowing a cliché. Every tweet, every grocery list, every note in the margins will be scrutinized and scored, as fast and sure as any Yatzee roll.
From here on out, I’m not allowing myself to think of writing as a chore. Sodoku is a chore. Farmville is a chore. Word search? A chore. Character, story, dialogue: Not chores—challenges. Some things to wrap my mind around. If some beauty happens, so much the better.
*which is weird because when I was young I always prided myself on writing descriptions but felt very insecure about my dialogue.