I’m tired, I’ve got a cold, I’ve had a really bad week, yet here I sit with coffee coming fast and strong and hammering out a blog post. Why? Because (cue up James Brown) I feel guuuud. Now, isn’t that an odd thing to say on the tail end of so many words of woe and such a sad title?
Yes and no (writers should always write with authority — uh-huh).
Being sick and/or dealing with sleep deprivation are part of a writer’s life, part of the writing process. Move along, little doggie. But bad weeks, weeks spent in a fugue state where one considers tossing this writing business in the gutter for the sake of something more invigorating, motivating, stimulating, and all sorts of other gerunds is just not right.
And that’s where I’ve been. Again. I’ve written before about my brother Daniel and the PTSD-type world I’d slipped into when he suddenly entered my life after disappearing 10 years earlier. I wrote about evil and how it walks this earth. Well, it happened again, but this time I caught it before it swallowed me whole. Thanks to Facebook, my journals, and the blessed calendar, I was able to go back and trace when I started starring at a void where my writing mojo should have been. It was Dorner and his eventual capture in Big Bear, California. The San Bernardino Mountains, the same mountains where Daniel lived, where the property was that brought him back into my life.
But this post isn’t about me. It’s about you. The writer. It’s about all of us in creative fields who find our creative natures turning around and hurting us.
If we’re creating anything of substance, really digging down in the dirt of our lives for a memoir (that’s one of my current WIPs) or the phantoms of our imaginations, we’re bound to step on something that bites. Something that hurts. Something with venom that makes us believe such a thing as writers block is a reality. It isn’t. I’ve never had zip-my-jeans block or tie-my-shoes block. I’ve never been blocked from being human, or a woman (the equipment is always there), or vulnerable. But those things do get stuck and knotted and scary.
Case in point:
Years ago, when Robert Stone was at the top of the literary heap, I had the opportunity of participating in an intimate Q&A with him. Questions about his inspiration and process and books flew around the room like paper airplanes, then I got my chance to ask the question I’d been wanting to ask a “real” writer for a long time: Have you learned anything unexpected about yourself through your writing that surprised you. I’d just finished my third major project and saw a reoccurring theme I never imagined was hidden in my psyche.
Stone flinched as if hit in the belly, hung his head, remained silent for a very long time, then looked up and said, “Yes. Next question.” Uh-oh, that hit a sore spot. At the time he was writing Damascus Gate, but it would be quite a few years before he published anything again. If you read the review I’ve linked to the book’s title, it’s impossible not to wonder just how deeply he was digging in 1997, or the internal turmoil he was going through at the time. It’s downright spooky where his writers mind had taken him before the rest of the world caught up. That had to be a rough and painful ride. His writing hasn’t been quite as powerful since that book.
The literary writer Darrelyn Saloom writes in her blog and on Cynthia Newberry Martin’s blog, Catching Days, about the stutter in her writing while she tended to her aging mother. Writing is not what we do, it’s who we are. Sometimes parts of who we are swell, dominate, and take on a life of their own.
So what are we do to when we dig down into the specifics of our lives or our stories in search of the universal, hit something and get hurt or overwhelmed. When we stop. When we spend compulsively on books and suck our local Starbucks dry?
I agree with all the tips and tricks to be found on the web, especially Rachel Thompson’s suggestion to step away. At the very least, we’re taking an active roll in an inevitable part of a writers life.
But sometimes that intense writing life folds and makes a glued envelope of that clean sheet of paper we’d intended to fill with words, and it stays that way despite our best efforts.
Get busy and do nothing. Roll in it. Wait. There’s something in that void, and eventually the light will come on and you can see it clearly. It will always play into your writing because, honey, there’s nothing in our life that isn’t part of of who we are, and we are writers.
This time around, I turned to Jung, the psychologist, and two of his quotes that rarely get passed around. He was asked when he determined a patient was cured, and answered, “When they run out of money.” In this writer’s life, time is my currency, and I can’t afford wasting any more of it on this stuff that hurts. So I went into it with another of Jung’s quotes tied around my waist so I wouldn’t get lost. He said nothing in our life is ever cured, but we do find greater life forces that pull us past the broken bits unharmed.
I took two days, on purpose, and watched a bunch of TV, played with the dogs, ate potato chips for breakfast, and set my unthinking mind to work on cultivating a greater life force to get me over this hump and any other hump like it that might come in the future. Tick-tock, wait it out, tick-tock, watch the dogs, tick-tock, so cute at play. Tick-tock, tick-tock.
Knock-knock, open the door. Open the next and the next and the next and keep walking the hallways of silence and places of fear. Scream and wake up the life force that’s sleeping. It’s needed. Now.
And it did. And it grew. And I remembered I would never go without a fight or buckle under any threat, not even a sentence or scene that would not behave. I had to back off and let who I am — in all four corners — wake up and come together.
That’s it. It’s that simple, and that hard. And you can sing along with James Brown if this is of any help to you. Or sing your own song, once you find it.
Wake up that writing part of you that’s bigger and tougher and stronger than any wicked witch that doesn’t belong in your story, that story you dug down so deep to find and tell, even if every single word of it is a truth that never happened.