26 August, 2008

Neil Said There'd Be Days Like This

I hit the wall this weekend.

Last weekend was sweet and easy as anything. The world, as Terry Pratchett once so memorably put it, was my mollusc of choice. My Muse suited intention to action, and we Got Shit Done. It looked for a while there like we had a good thing going.

So I, of course, like an idiot, believed this weekend would be the same.

I'd even downloaded a fuckload of new music to help the muse along.

I'd made sure there was plenty of food laid in.

Preloaded some posts.

Cleaned me room.

Ready.

Aim.

*

Neil Gaiman wrote the greatest piece ever on writer's block. It's in the Introduction to his short story collection Smoke and Mirrors, and I'll reproduce the pertinent bit here, begging his forgiveness:
I'd been having a bad week. The script I was meant to be writing just wasn't happening, and I'd spent days staring at a blank screen, occasionally writing a word like the and staring at it for an hour or so and then, slowly, letter by letter, I'd delete it and write and or but instead. Then I'd exit without saving.
That's exactly how it is.

Imagine yourself consigned to the deepest pit of uttermost black despair, and then imagine being handed a shovel and told you're not quite finished sinking yet. That's how this weekend has been. I spent six hours writing two sentences. And I'm not even sure I'm going to keep those. The story feels like a lead-encrusted butterfly with half its wings torn away. At this point, there's just no chance in the universe this poor broken thing's ever going to fly.

It's terrible. Stick it in a blender, press MUTILATE, and it would only be an improvement.

It has no direction. No purpose. No meaning. No intensity, conflict, interest, or redeeming quality whatsoever.

Neil, speaking to the masochists who choose to subject themselves to National Novel Writer's Month, warned us it was coming:
Dear NaNoWriMo Author,

By now you're probably ready to give up. You're past that first fine
furious rapture when every character and idea is new and
entertaining. You're not yet at the momentous downhill slide to the
end, when words and images tumble out of your head sometimes faster
than you can get them down on paper. You're in the middle, a little
past the half-way point. The glamour has faded, the magic has gone,
your back hurts from all the typing, your family, friends and random
email acquaintances have gone from being encouraging or at least
accepting to now complaining that they never see you any more---and
that even when they do you're preoccupied and no fun. You don't know
why you started your novel, you no longer remember why you imagined
that anyone would want to read it, and you're pretty sure that even if
you finish it it won't have been worth the time or energy and every
time you stop long enough to compare it to the thing that you had in
your head when you began---a glittering, brilliant, wonderful novel,
in which every word spits fire and burns, a book as good or better
than the best book you ever read---it falls so painfully short that
you're pretty sure that it would be a mercy simply to delete the whole
thing.

Welcome to the club.

That's how novels get written.

That's how stories get written, too, actually.

You know something? Novels are easier. There's always some other bit you can work on. They're spacious enough you can allow yourself to babble until plot, theme, character, and all that rot get themselves untangled and settle into some semblance of decency. Every word has to count, of course, but they don't have to count for quite so much. Whereas, in a short story, constraints of length place demands on each and every word that would be considered exploitation were they employees.

I'll be honest with you. I've always felt considerable antipathy for short form writing. Oh, I like it when it goes well, mind you, and it's nice to have a completed project in something on the order of weeks rather than years, but still. I bloody hate writing short stories.

Except.

Except for the challenge. I likes me the challenge. Because, let's face it, the dam will eventually break. Words will come spilling out in a thousand gorgeous waterfalls over the jagged slabs of concrete. And some of those words will splash on the page, and I'll have arranged them just so. Reduced those glorious streams to their barest essence. There's something profoundly satisfying about saying so much with so little, like those evocative few lines of ink that somehow paint an entire landscape in Zen art.

And it can happen. It will happen. Just not this weekend.

So it goes.

You don't give in to despair.

You push through the pain.

You engage in creative wastes of time.

And you remember what Neil said.

And you never, ever, give up.

That's how stories get written. Eventually.

3 comments:

Glynis said...

Thank you!!!!

That's just the post I needed to read....

Back to the blank page and damn cursor winking at me.

Dana Hunter said...

Glynis... am I right in thinking you're my glorious Glynis from the Death thread? From the heady days of yore? Because I've been meaning to ask, and I'm pretty sure, but I've been afraid to have all of my hopes dashed...

How I've missed you!

NP said...

So apparently, you and I had a very similar weekend.