Back toward the Light

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Toward the end of the film, Fried Green Tomatoes, when the main character, who has been going through a mid-life crisis, suddenly starts to settle into a new, saner rhythm, her husband asks, “What changed?” She answers, “The light?”

While that’s not exactly true, I understand the thinking behind the line. Although in the modern first world we can control the light at any time of night or day, natural light still has a lot of power over us. Winter Solstice, two weeks ago, marked the start of increasing light every day, and on days when rain or snow haven’t messed with natural sundown, I have been feeling more hopeful and creative.

I want to dig into my novel again. It occurred to me that, although traditional conflict means making every possible situation and interaction get worse for your main character, the opposite might be just as stressful for some people. Dealing with a rash of unexpected good luck might lead to decisions that could be just as problematic as decisions stemming from bad luck.

The fact that my life has been in small ways imitating art these days surely has absolutely no possible bearing on this experimental idea.

Social Media as a form of Constructive Procrastination

Social media is not the villain everyone claims it to be. Sometimes social media actually helps us get stuff done. I often have a Word doc open on one side of my computer and some social media site open on the other side. When my brain wanders, it has a place to go for a few minutes to rest and recuperate and do other things that also probably start with the letter R. If I am lonely, I can feel connected briefly. If I feel like what I say doesn’t matter, I can hit the little thumbs-up hand and Like all kinds of stuff.

I mean think about it. Facebook has cat videos (and goat, otter, dog and people videos, but we all know what really matters). My Facebook feed also has groups dedicated to my favorite actors, TV shows, movie franchises, writing and social justice, mostly in that order. You would think that such things would be Inspirational, Moving Me To Write Stuff. I mean, after all, putting up motivational posters in Pinterest helps me to get my sorry little butt to the gym, right?

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Of course, the gym is easy. You show up and lift things over and over again. Then you go lift other things over and over again. You don’t need to think, “Yes, sure, but WHY does this 25 lb. weight NEED to be lifted? What is it trying to ACHIEVE? What will be the CONSEQUENCES of my lifting it?”

Is there anybody here, maybe that lady on the elliptical machine or the guy jumping up and down, thinking, “WHY must she lift that? Why can’t she just LEAVE IT ALONE?”

And the chick who takes the laundry basket filled with used towels, she is probably thinking, “I am the PROTAGONIST, dammit, not that 25 lb. weight, which isn’t CHOOSING to be lifted, the way I am CHOOSING to launder the damn towels for the tenth time since Monday!”

And the trainer who is showing some guy the Proper Way to Do Squats, she glances across the gym floor and thinks, “Yes, but HOW WILL IT ALL END?” Or possibly, she is just wishing she had had that second cup of coffee.

I mean, you don’t actually have to PLOT your gym time. The weight might or might not be expecting to get a happy ending, but it’s not telling either way, so you can pretty much tell people, when you get to the end of your workout, that you killed it.

So social media must work, because, no, I haven’t worked on my novel today, but I did just manage to bang out a blogpost.

Plan B

So, after writing about a hundred pages of a novel in the past three months, I am at a standstill. I’ve tried writing little bits, transitions, etc., but that did not get me very far, so I am instead now taking notes on the next story, which has characters and some action but no clear single plot, so it’s not exactly making me feel any better. Is it productive? Yes, potentially. Does it feel productive? Nope.

Not Talking about It Doesn’t Make It Better

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Artists are a superstitious lot. In a recent essay in the National Review, John J. Miller tells how some of the writers he interviewed refused to discuss writer’s block. One even said it was “the way some people won’t talk about cancer.” The implication is that talking about something will magnetize it to you and then you are done for.

Somehow I doubt that is how cancer works, and although I can imagine exceptions, I think that also isn’t how writer’s block works. Not talking about cancer, not getting tested doesn’t make cancer not hit you or not kill you. Generally speaking those strategies only make it worse.

One could argue, I suppose, that since writer’s block is a psychological/intellectual/emotional issue, focusing time and attention on it might foster the self-doubt that could create it, but I think if that’s true, you might already be dealing with it, as if the talk only watered the seeds that were already there. But if somebody is going strong on a piece of work, what are they so afraid of?

Also, just as talking about cancer to just anybody isn’t necessarily going to solve it—unless you are talking to a certified doctor/surgeon, the cure isn’t coming—so talking about your writer’s block to your cat/boyfriend/boss may not help either and depending on how they respond to your concerns, yes, it might well hurt. But there are people out there who can help, people who know what kinds of things can cause blocks, so you can talk about the actual problem rather than the symptom of the problem. (And no, I don’t mean some kind of Freudian b^!!$&!t, which I only mention at all because Miller points out that it was a Freudian who invented the term writer’s block.)

Just a surface level consideration brings up a number of possibilities: crippling anxiety, overwork in other arenas, tackling a problem the writer doesn’t know how to solve (and may not realize it), inadequate sleep or hydration, and of course, the one that Miller highlights, perfectionism.

Perfectionism is one of the most dangerous, because it may actually have been useful to the writer in the past. I see a lot of MIT students who got here by insisting on perfection, but will never graduate until they let go of it. As Miller says, “They may be letting the perfect become the enemy of the good—or even worse, as my old boss Fred Barnes once put it, they’re letting the pretty good become the enemy of the good enough.”

One of the exercises that helps is the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) strategy: give yourself a deadline and some supporters and write an insane number of words per day for a very limited time, focusing on quantity, not quality. Make friends with the good enough. It’s not a whole solution, but it’s a start.

Miller, John J. “Wordsmiths Without Words.” National Review 23 May 2016: 23-24.

Driving around the Writer’s Block

So here I am at work staring at a blank Word document while my schedule goes from blue—filled with clients—to white—abandoned and alone. Ordinarily I would simply write, but my brain is empty. I have written at least a hundred pages of my novel and don’t really know how to get over the middle hump—ALWAYS my problem with every novel I have ever tried to write.

I suspect I’ll just skip several weeks and attack some of the scenes I do sort of know what will happen in—is that sentence even English? Outline the third wedding and some of the anniversary party, hope that inspiration will strike or my characters will have interesting conversations and mention something they have been working on or I don’t even know, anything.

That Poem about the Quokka

A friend in need, Mike Allegra, heylookawriterfellow, recently gave me a writing topic when I was sore in need of ideas. He wrote, “Aw! Blockage stinks. But I’m here to help; write about quokkas. You’re welcome.” I had never heard of these, but when I Googled it, here is the picture that looked back at me.

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The kangaroo’s cousin, cute little quokka

With teddy bear eyes and a winning small smile,

Nicely nocturnal you feed on the seedpods,

Leaves and soft bark by the light of the moon.

 

Quick! Make a wish! A big steaming mocha

Or peppermint muffins stacked up in a pile:

Some sign that you haven’t been mocked by the food gods.

The Nightblooming Rainbow will bring it right soon.