This is excerpted from a post I did on Through the Toll Booth in 2008.
You are a writer; an artist. If all your novels, stories and poems flow forth abundantly—golden words, clever concepts, satisfying connections and solid structure tumbling fruitfully from your brain to your fingertips and onto the page or screen, then this post will be of no interest.
If you occasionally struggle, or if you are procrastinating right now because you sat down to write and could not think of a darn thing to type, read on.
I’D RATHER BE WRITING (NOT).
George Orwell said, “All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery. Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not DRIVEN ON BY SOME DEMON whom one can neither resist nor understand.”
If it’s so hard, why do we write?
Because we're driven on by some demon – whom one can neither resist nor understand.
We all know that writing productively is magic. But sometimes it's that being productive part that's hard.
Robert Olen Butler says in his book, From Where You Dream, that “…Writer’s block probably suggests that you have an artist’s instinct. [It happens to writers] because some important part of them knows that they’ve got to get to the unconscious. But they’re not getting there; they’re thinking too much, so there’s nothing there. Except it’s not quite nothing—you sit there thinking, fussing, and worrying: ‘Gee, I’m not writing,’ ‘I’ve got to write now and I’m not writing,’ ‘Oh my God, I’m not writing.’”
Creativity. Visits from the muse. How can we as artists tap into that all-important creative part of our brains? Keep it healthy and well-oiled? Strengthen it so it’s not fragile and temperamental?
After all is said and done, when our writing is not flowing, we’ve got two choices:
1. Show up with no excuses. If necessary, force yourself with tricks and treats to work and plunge past the block,
2. Back off and go “refill the well.” (See Jane Cameron and THE ARTIST’S WAY)
Option 1 is usually the right answer, and the more you do it the better you get at it. If you’re a pro, you produce. But every now and then you have to go with option 2. And surf the Internet.
If there’s one thing to learn about the writing life, it’s patience. Patience for learning the craft, patience with the process and learning how you work best, patience for a “finished” work, patience, lord knows, for publication. And faith all along the way.
In the end, we must have faith. In ourselves. And, I believe, in the universe.
Remember in the film, Shakespeare in Love, how the theater troupe was always one step from disaster? Financial, creative or legal? But how the production would always come together beautifully, even transcendentally in the end, and the players all had faith in the fact that it would work out?
Phillip Henslowe: Mr. Fennyman, allow me to explain about the theatre business. The natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster.
Hugh Fennyman: So what do we do?
Phillip Henslowe: Nothing. Strangely enough, it all turns out well.
Hugh Fennyman: How?
Phillip Henslowe: I don't know. It's a mystery.
Now go back to work.
Ann Jacobus's YA thriller ROMANCING THE DARK IN THE CITY OF LIGHT will be out from St. Martin's Press on October 6, 2015.