“One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.” Jack Kerouac
I reblogged this post from a few years ago
I think I have come a long way from this but some of them still apply.
Reasons I get stuck.
1. It is hard to keep going when the destination seems so
distant and unknown.
2. It is hard to keep believing in yourself–
when there is no real evidence that what you believe
is more than your ego gone wild.
3. It is hard to go on without recognition
or validation or reward–
because you could be delusional.
It’s a distinct possibility.
4.It is hard to find a reason to keep going because of
all of the above.
5. And then there is the question of your own sanity.
So Here’s another list.
Reasons to question my own sanity.
1. I am writing the third draft a play–that may never be produced.
2. I probably could put time and effort into more lucrative pursuits yet
3.The life of an artist is often painful, disappointing
frustrating and depressing.
I hate to say it, but this leads to another list .
Painful things about being an artist.
1.The weeping, nail-biting–
and hopeless staring at an empty
2.Thefeeling that I am absolutely on the right
track suddenly changing to the realization that I’m not.
3.Awareness that my ability
to say something-
that hasn’t been said-
by countless others–
b)missing in action?
3.The constant nagging voice inside me
saying unkind things about the value or validity
of my own work
4. Experiencing shame, jealousy and resentment for the success of others
5, Trying to not have jealousy and resentment for the success of others.
6. Feeling threatened by the success of others. Oh God! Help me!!!!
7. Though some artists, writers and actors are wildly successful
famous and rich– the majority of us deal with–
Oh dear– I guess it’s another list–
The 99 percent
1. lack of recognition,
2. crushing poverty
3. the thought of dying in obscurity
4. The realization that absolute failure is entirely possible
5. The ever looming reality of poverty–
and dying in obscurity increasing with age. Yikes!
I realize that despite the above lists–
None of these are good enough reasons to give up my dream.
Not writing–because of fear of failure
ensures my success at one thing– failing.
Failure is possible enough without my helping it along.
And–If I do not write–
My fearful, negative, self will have defined me and
controlled me and won this battle.
and even though I am often–
I keep going.
1.There is no turning back for me.
2.The road only goes one way.
3.There is no place that I can go back to.
4.The road behind me is closed.
if this has not been annoying enough–
Here is another list–this one is for you .
1.What are you working on?
2. If you are not really working on something–
What are you avoiding?
3.What are you risking by not risking?
What are you denying yourself
by not devoting yourself to the discipline?
4. What terrors are you subjecting yourself to
by not confronting the fear?
And last but not least–
5. Why are you reading my silly lists.
1.Go get to work.
2.Call the Muse.
3.Wait for her.
4.Don’t make other plans
She is most likely to show up when you are actually at your desk or your easel
on tapping away on a keyboard in bed or in a coffee shop or wherever you write.
“The routine is as much a part of the creative process as the lightning bolt of inspiration, maybe more.”
Twyla Tharp THE CREATIVE HABIT
I agree with Twyla Tharp.
I think art for some of us has to be a kind of determined,
intentional creative habit that we submit to willingly.
I think habit is the right word for me.
But it is a habit that we have to hook ourselves into.
We have to manufacture our own psychological twitch.
We have to lace our own blood with the gnawing, clawing,
need to sit down and knuckle under.
This is what keeps the writer writing all the way
to the final words THE END.
Inspiration is involved. Magic is part of it.
Sometimes we need that whisper-that breath of the muse to wake
up imagination. After all what good is writing that is not inspired.
But Inspiration disappears pretty quickly when the work gets hard.
When the idea on the page starts to melt into a confused mess.
When fear and self doubt start their yammering.
But you can rely on good old habit and discipline and yes routine.
They will see you through the hard part.
At least that is how it is for some of us.
When we wait for the muse to inspire us–
or we wait for an opportunity–
to be invited, discovered, adored, chosen–
we can wait a long time.
If I relied on those things I wouldn’t write much at all.
Some people say they need a deadline.
I used to say that.
I said it because I thought it was true.
I thought I needed the pressure and the structure to
call forth my undisciplined mind to do my work.
I don’t think it’s true.
It’s just that deadlines scare me into submission.
And that is the key factor folks.
I need to surrender.
I need to come humbly to the work.
I need to bow my head and submit to the demands of the work.
Think about it.
The deadline causes us to comply.
We obey. We apply ourselves to the task.
You know it’s funny–but when actors and writers
are invited to send an example of
their work–in the actor’s case to audition–
in the writer’s case– to send a manuscript,
these are the words that are used.
CALL FOR SUBMISSION
This is usually interpreted as an opportunity to deliver–
to offer– for consideration.
Don’t be fooled. That is not what it means.
We are being invited to chain ourselves to our heart’s desire and do the work.
I believe that I need to come humbly and submit every day.
It is not my talent or my experience or my great idea–
that will write my play. No it’s my creative habit.
Some days my talent seems negligible, my idea muddy and unfocused.
I can’t rely on such ephemeral notions.
It is the daily submission to my creative habit/discipline/devotion
that will put words on the page.
Resistance as Stephen Pressfield calls it in his amazing books–
will show up. You can believe that.
Resistance he teaches is the inevitable opposing force to any creative act.
But I am cultivating an addiction to my creativity that will defeat resistance
like a smoking addiction will defeat a smoker’s good sense.
That is why I am sitting here on this brilliantly beautiful day,
tapping away at a blog post that few will
read. I am enslaving myself to my creative habit.
It’s a beautiful sunny day in rainy Vancouver and I know
that soon our endless rainy weather will be upon us–
but here I am writing instead.
I want to be so addicted to this that I will get the
shakes if I don’t write five pages a day on my play.
Oh and speaking of Twyla Tharp here is something of what her
Creative Habit has produced.
Getting ready for making wishes on the full moon,
July 3rd. I used to have tea parties with my
friend Rachel once a month before she moved to Boston.
She taught me the different names of the full moons,
as they appear through the wheel of the year.
The last one was the strawberry moon or the Rose Moon.
The one coming up is the Thunder Moon. I love that.
We used to eat special moon cakes and things in honour
of a particular moon and drink chai or peppermint tea.
It was lovely. Here is a painting in honour of the Thunder Moon
and Rachel. I added some digital magic for fun.
If you click on the picture you should get a nice surprise.
If you know me or if you visit my blog,
You know that I have been working on a play.
I am in my moth stage now.
After months as a pupa,
I emerged from my cocoon but–
now I am flitting around
crashing into the walls.
Is this what all that hanging upside down was for?
Ok. So anyway–
Welcome to the moth stage.
This is the part of the creative process
where the artist asks herself
What the hell are you doing?
No really What are you doing?
Ever ask yourself what the hell a moth is doing?
Well they do have a purpose.
It’s a biologically determined drive,
to accomplish an essential task.
But it’s not always obvious,
especially when you have to chase one around
your room at two in the morning.
Poor misguided moth is just trying to fullfill
it’s destiny and achieve it’s purpose.
But Moths aren’t supposed to be in your house.
They are like butterflies–and are supposed
to be outside in the natural world,
pollinating various night blooming vegetation.
Yet they some how manage inadvertently to end up in our closets–
making meals out of our favourite cashmere sweaters.
And we hate them for it.
Poor misguided moth.
She’s just trying to fulfill her purpose.
Moths and the nocturnal plants they feed on–
like the Honeysuckle flower or the Red Valerian–
can’t live without each other.
Miraculous nature has provided the moth
with dextrous long thin tongues–
an attribute completely wasted on wool sweaters,
but very important in pollinating night blooming
flowers. The moth is always looking
for the flowers. The flowers are always waiting
for the Moth. See what I mean about destiny?
So what in the world am I talking about?
And what does this have to do with my play?
Well–the moth stage of the creative process
is when the writer-
-that would be me in this case–
is madly searching for the flower but can not find it.
I’m madly flying up at that light bulb and singeing my wings.
The flower is the essence or the meaning– or the soul of the work.
I’t’s the inexplicable thing that blooms in the mind of the audience
or the reader. It’s the truth of the work.
I need to find it.
It can’t bloom without me.
There is no art without this relationship.
See. I believe this.
So there you go–
That’s the Moth state.
I saw a play recently that had no soul essence or meaning
and yet I know the young writer probably believed it did.
It was timely. And it seemed to delve into a solid and important question.
But it was trite and obvious.
She didn’t go through the moth state.
Nothing unfolded or bloomed or revealed itself.
It needed a moth.
The Moth state can drive you mad and you can end up
in a drawer pollinating your socks.
But it leads you to the thing that the story is about.
It leads you to the thing that makes the audience
sigh or cry or ache or laugh in recognition–
or even just connect to your idea at a deep level–and engage.
Because this is the purpose of art.
That is what we are trying to do
Kandinsky puts it very well–
“The artist must have something to say,
mastery over form is not his goal,
but adaption of form to its inner meaning”
My play has a deep truth in there somewhere.
I know it.
I feel it.
I am drawn to it.
I am shaken by it.
I have come close to finding it–
But I haven’t yet.
Now it’s dusk and that’s when Moths get busy.
So hopefully tonight–
Hopefully I will find the flower that is waiting to bloom in my play.
My grandmother was quiet and mysterious and knew mysterious things.
She was part gypsy, at least that is what I grew up believing.
She could heal wounds, and cure sickness, and she always knew how things would turn out.
She could predict bad news, and see right through untrustworthy people.
She knew what to do about both.
She had secret recipes, and special remedies,
and wise old sayings, to fit every situation.
She believed in good luck and friendly forces.
She also believed in the unfriendly forces,
and she took great pains to protect us from them.
I would watch her fill a little cloth bag with needles,
and nails and bits of broken wire.
Sometimes broken twigs and spiky leaves and dried nettles–
for the teas and salves and poultices she made,
would end up in the little bag.
She would put the little bag under the door mat.
What are you doing Gran? I would ask.
“Doing what needs doing” she would answer.
My mom would tell me, “Oh it’s something Irish–
a superstition that’s all.”
But I would watch my Grandma hide a bottle of my Grandad’s whiskey,
way in the back of the cupboard.
She would carefully sprinkle a line of coarse salt in front of it,
and then stack the mason jars of peaches and carrots
and crabapples in front of the line of salt.
What are you doing Gran? I would ask
“You can see what I am doing.
Or are your eyes just for show then, and you can’t really see?”
My Grandad would come home, and look behind the piano for his whiskey.
He’d come into the kitchen scratching his head.
He’d open the cupboard and move the jars around.
“Where have you hidden my whiskey Maggie?” he would say.
But he would never find the bottle.
It was right there in front of his eyes, but he couldn’t see it.
If I asked Gran too many questions though,
I was always told something that would make me feel
as if I shouldn’t have asked– as if knowing this information,
would be a terrible burden to me.
It wasn’t what she said, it was what she didn’t say that made me know this.
So I didn’t ask questions–
at least not often.
Sometimes though Gran would make me feel,
as if we had shared a special secret.
I could never remember the secret.
I just knew something wonderful had passed between us.
And every moment I spent with her seemed magic, and precious,
and I was convinced she had remarkable abilities.
I was convinced she could make things happen.
She did things efficiently quickly and without any fuss.
She seemed to do whatever she did, without actually doing it.
She would tell me a story of her girlhood in Ireland,
while she ironed the shirts, baked a pie, washed the dishes,
and swept the kitchen floor.
I would be so carried away with the sound of her voice
and her tales– of the fancy french seamstress that taught her
at the Dressmaking school in Belfast, or the Scottish School Master,
who was sweet on her sister Esther–
that I couldn’t remember the unfolding of the
ironing board, or the basket of white shirts, or the
flour and lard, or the rolling pin or the big bowl on the table,
or the broom or the dustpan. Yet suddenly she would be taking
a golden brown apple pie out of the oven.
And the shirts would be hanging crisp and white on the hangers.
The dishes were washed and the floor was swept.
I didn’t have to ask any questions
I knew she was magic without being told.
So I have been writing about writers block.
I find it to be a fascinating phenomenon.
I know a few writer friends who complain about it.
That’s probably the reason I am writing about it here.
Wikipedia tells me that Writer’s block is a condition, “primarily associated with writing as a profession, in which an author loses the ability to produce new work.”
I am reminded by the article of how some great authors have apparently been plagued with
the condition, to the point that their careers were destroyed.
Now it would be my guess that the underlying cause for the writer’s block–things like
anxiety disorders, major depression or alcoholism, were the reasons that the writers
were blocked to that degree. Of course it could be argued that the Writer’s Block
caused the depression etc so perhaps its a kind of vicious cycle. I don’t know for sure.
But I am continuing to address, the subject even if I don’t know if it exists or not.
And today I am addressing the strange bugaboo–
The Idea— and how having one or not,
stops writers from writing.
I wrote a post a few weeks back about ideas
In that post I quote Neil Gaiman who says–
”The Ideas aren’t the hard bit. They’re a small component of the whole.
Creating believable people who do more or less what you tell them to is much harder. And hardest by far is the process of simply sitting down and putting one word after another to construct whatever it is you’re trying to build:
making it interesting, making it new.”
But even if ideas aren’t the hard bit I still hear people complaining about them
in two ways.
“I have so many ideas but I can’t seem to get to writing them so I don’t write”
“I haven’t got an idea about what to write about so I don’t write.”
Ok so then two separate cures are in order.
But first, What is an idea?
The dictionary defines an idea in a lot of different ways.
The three that I think are most useful are:
1. a mental concept
2. an impression
3. an opinion, view, or belief:
Usually when writers say that they have an idea for a play, or a story, or a screen play etc–
they are using definition #1 a mental concept. They are thinking of either the narrative,
or the characters or the event, that causes a chain reaction and so on.
Sometimes they are thinking of all of these things–but in a general and conceptual way.
I know writers who can tell you in a couple of sentences what the idea is.
They have a powerful burst of inspiration and they see it all in their mind.
“It’s about a pair of star crossed lovers who would
rather die than be apart–and so they do die.”
But the story or play is not a mental concept and so the idea is not enough.
So if you are this kind of writer and you get the mental concept kind of ideas–
but you are stuck on how to write the actual play or story or what have you–
I think that the cure for you is to immediately begin to outline the idea as quickly as possible.
At least as much of it as you can. You can start from the end and decide what ultimately happens.
They both die.And then go back to the beginning to figure out how.
Some writers start at the beginning and outline the “beats or scenes of the story.
They give the scenes titles.
THE PHONE CALL
MARY RECEIVES THE PHONE CALL THAT CHANGED HER LIFE
Phone rings. We see Mary listen. She gasps and faints.
The outline helps the writer contain that powerful burst of inspiration–
so that it doesn’t escape or fizzle out.
It helps lay out the story and show you what parts of the story you know
and don’t know.
The outline of course can be changed and tweaked and restructured but
it allows you to keep the chaos of possibilities at bay.
And you can work on a scene– in any order, without confusing yourself.
SCENE ONE THE BED CHAMBER OF THE DUCHESS
The phantom pirate climbs in the window with his dagger and approaches the sleeping Duchess–
And then if you are a little shy on the details–you are missing some technical info–
like how to kill a duchess with a dagger perhaps–
or even how to scale a castle wall,
you can jump to another scene.
Some writers tell me they can not work–without an outline.
So hurry up. Take that mental concept of yours and create the outline immediately.
Ok. But then what if you are suffering from the other
kind of not writing.
You might be like me.
My kind of idea is more like Defenition #2 An impression.
I will have a fuzzy emotional or visual sense of something.
Some injustice. Some struggle or paradox.
It’s an idea suggesting itself but it’s not very clear.
I have to write to clarify my thinking.
I am like an archaeologist digging and sifting through the layers, of my own imagination.
I don’t know exactly what I am looking for, but I know it’s there–and I will
recognize it when I write it.
So the cure for me is to write my way to the idea.
So you see if you get these kinds of ideas– or even no ideas at all
the cure is to write your way through to the part of your imagination where the ideas are.
But you know–ultimately I think the only cure for any kind of writer’s block is to write
and keep writing–anything at all and to do it every day–which is what I am about to go
and do right now. How about you?
In this post I am going to address the notion of writer’s block.
In all honesty I don’t actually get full blown writers block.
I write every day. I am always journalling, blogging, scribbling,
pondering, musing, reflecting, or working out something on paper.
Writing is how I clear my mind, and make sense of the world.
It’s a habit I guess.
However–I do get Writer’s Delay.
I do reach a point where I hit the fabled brick wall.
I stop. I agonize. I worry. I get depressed.
I want to quit- throw in the towel.
I tell myself horrible things and predict dire circumstances for myself.
None of this is useful of course, but luckily I don’t spend a lot of time on this phase.
Eventually I ask myself where do I go from here?
Thing is–I am rarely able to answer this question.
Where do I go from here? It’s not a helpful question.
It is what I call a bewildering question.
A better question is What does my character want right now?
Or What is getting in the way of what my character wants right now?
What is she going to do to get past the obstacle right now?
Sometimes I go deeper– and I ask Why does my character want what she wants,
Or how desperate-how driven, is she to get what she wants right now?
Is she hiding what she wants from herself? Is it a secret?
What will it cost her if she doesn’t succeed? What will she stand to lose?
Has she admitted to herself or anyone else what she really truly wants?
How does, what she wants, affect her?
Does she think she deserves what she wants?
Does it drive her insane?
Is it killing her to not get it?
Or one of my favourites–What is she willing to do? To sacrifice?
Who is she willing to hurt, maim or kill?
What is she willing to risk, or lose or destroy?
Do you see what I mean?
Do you see how all these questions focus the story,and move it forward?
Do you see how these kind of questions enliven your imagination?
Do you see how can amplify and intensify the action of the story?
These are the good questions, that will help me write a more compelling story, and better dialogue.
So there you have it. My #1 Magic Cure for Writer’s block or writers Delay.
Ask Good Questions.
Sometimes my plot, theme, and everything else will emerge from these questions.
If I am at the wall, it’s because I have forgotten the questions or I need to ask them again.
Ok Now maybe you are not at the place where you think you even know what to write about.You are not ready to ask what your character wants, because you don’t really knowwho your character is. Or maybe you have an idea but you don’t know what to do with it? It’s a idea that is getting dirty with waiting.
Sometimes I haven’t got a clue what to write about, and I am sure I have
an inferior imagination, or that I lack the intelligence that a writer needs–
see yesterdays post here
and other times I have so many ideas clamouring for my attention–
that I can’t decide what to write about.
So next time I will share what I do when either of these things happen.
I am not a person that likes to make mistakes in public.
And I am squeamish about the subject of failure.
But here I am publicly declaring that I have failed more than a few times.
I have given up, quit, stopped, thrown in the towel.
I have been: rejected, dismissed, ignored, misunderstood.
I have faltered, and stumbled and fumbled and messed up in many ways.
And I have lived to tell you about it here.
The reason I do this is simple.
It’s to remind myself to keep going despite failing.
And it’s even more important to know and accept that most assuredly we
will trip over our own limitations
and tumble over our own foolish mistakes.
The thing is to keep going anyway.
This is the only way to defeat the malaise–
to go boldly past the fear–
to leap across the emptiness that will be there.
The thing is to stand courageous in the face of our fear.
And especially — the kind of fear that disguises itself as:
self pity, self doubt, or worse judgement and criticism of
I am learning–to leap past these creativity killers or
go directly to Creativity Jail–a dank depressing place where you
hear recordings of how badly you suck– played in heavy rotation.
Write your play, your novel, your screen play, your poem–
or write something else. Make a list. Write a letter. Just keep going.
Practice. Practice practice.
And remember some fearful part of your self
will try to stop you—
-not enough knowledge.
-not enough imagination.
-not enough time
-not enough credit
-not enough positive feedback
-not enough originality
-not enough energy
-not enough ability
-not enough clarity
-not enough talent
-not enough money
-not enough space
-not enough mental acuity
-not enough privacy
-not enough experience.
-not enough patience.
Don’t listen to that part of yourself.
If you don’t have enough of something
figure out how to get it but keep going.
Keep Going. My motto in life.
Here are a few of my favourite quotes on the subject
You fail only if you stop… Ray Bradbury
“I never know where I am going with a painting. I only know where I’ve been, and frankly, I believe that every painter is in a state of continual failure. The only constant in a painter’s life is failure” William Bailey
Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor. Truman Capote
and my most favourite of all from Emily Carr
“I thought my mountain was coming this morning. It was near to speaking when suddenly it shifted, sulked, and returned to smallness. It has eluded me again and sits there, puny and dull. Why?”