I Am a Genius: listen to my words

I Have the Conch

 

listen to my words

Posts Tagged ‘writer’s block’

Automatic Writing

This will be another in the continuing series of articles about writer’s block that I write in order to keep me writing. In case you wanted to know, this technique works somewhat sporadically for me. Frequently, I don’t have the motivation to write anything. Since starting these articles I’ve written somewhere around 10k in about a week. Only about a third of that are these thoughts on writing and writers block. Something about just getting material down on paper (or in pixels, as the case may be… and is) frees up a process and allows me to write more. Heck, it gets me typing instead of just staring at the screen, or, more commonly, playing a few levels of Oni, Diablo II, Neverwinter Nights, or the like.

So, I guess I’ll just stick with my comparison to the writing process to the flow of water, a comparison I’ve used many times in the past and will continue to use in the future, I think. It’s a good metaphor.

In this case, I’m looking at writer’s block as a dam. It’s blocking the flow of words from wherever they originate. Somewhere in my brain I suppose, but that’s a topic for another thought. But by simply getting a trickle started. Just the tiniest fracture in the dam wall, and a small amount of water begins to come through. This widens the hole, and more and more water comes out. Supposedly this would result in thousands and thousands of words gushing out, rampaging down valleys, drowning unsuspecting villagers and cows, destroying homes and businesses, causing millions of dollars of damage…

- wait. I think I’m confusing which is the metaphor, and which is my subject.

At any rate, my point is, if you (I) begin writing, it increases the likelihood that you (I) will be able to write more. And, as indicated by my experience with my last week’s writing, this writing won’t be just useless, you’ll (I’ll) be more enabled to write more prolifically on the subjects that you (I) most want to write and which you (I) feel are most important.

Of course, this assumes that one moves relatively quickly between. I suppose it probably varies from person to person, but if you write a little bit, then take a break (such as watching the Lord of the Rings Special Edition DVD – guess what I just got…) for a while, it hurts your “groove.” Stay in the groove, the groove is your friend.

So far, a lot of the things I’ve mentioned about writing seem to be little tricks. However, writing is not simply a collection of little tricks. Make no mistake about that. There is nothing easy about being a writer (with certain exceptions we all tend to believe in, like Stephen King, who apparently writes fifteen novels before lunch). Writing requires patience, discipline, and hard work (much of that work involving your head, high rates of speed, and impact with a heavy, blunt object such as a desk or keyboard).

If you don’t discipline yourself, often times forcing yourself to write, if you don’t have the patience to rewrite pages that aren’t your best work, if you don’t have bust your hump to get projects done by deadlines, then you won’t complete your writings.

Yes, there are techniques to help you work on writing. To get you into the “groove.” However, these techniques have nothing magical about them. If these techniques work for someone, it’s because there is a psychological enabling that is functioning there.

All this is to say that you can’t do automatic writing for fifteen minutes, then go watch Maury Povich and Judge Judy and expect to come back to the table (the one that holds your paper, typewriter, computer, or whatever you’re using to write) and write quickly.

Automatic writing, as I see it, will accomplish three basic things. One, it will help you come up with ideas, much like brainstorming. When you’re just writing to write, ideas you may have otherwise rejected come out and have a chance to develop into good ones. Automatic writing will help you be able to write new things that you hadn’t even planned before. They may help you with your current project, or they may help you come up with a new one (just don’t get so distracted that you don’t finish your current project–discipline, remember?).

Two, automatic writing will help you develop your writing skills. “Perfect practice makes perfect” my arse. You can’t be perfect until you learn to be perfect. You have to make a mistake so you can see what your mistakes are so you can fix them. That’s what practice is for. Automatic writing allows you to root out the bad juju you have in you, release the impulses and feelings you have that are working against your more serious writing, and work on your word choice.

Finally, automatic writing gets you in the groove, as I have been discussing. It helps you jump-start the writing process. But none of these things will work if you jump from automatic writing to an unrelated activity before doing your “serious writing.” You’ll lose your train of thought, resulting in the loss of ideas. You’ll lose any of the cathartic effects you may have gained. And you’ll lose your groove, and if you have a problem with writer’s block, well, then, you just wasted your time, didn’t you? It’d be like doing warm up stretches, then eating a big lunch before you go do your exercises.

Use automatic writing and the other tools you learn properly, to become a better writer.

The Muse

I’ve always been an advocate for the idea that the best cure for writer’s block is to write about having writer’s block. Usually this leads to a long sequence of uninspired drivel (such as my personal essay on panty hose), but a lot of people think it’s good enough to publish anyway. It usually isn’t, but I’m going to go ahead with the idea anyway.

I’d like to make some observations on writer’s block. First of all, I find that I’m an excuse maker. If I’m not too busy, I have writer’s block. But I always have too much to do (or must start by playing a game of Spider Solitaire) if I have really good ideas and feel “in the groove.” Incidentally, any writer will tell you about “the groove;” this is a mode of thought, emotion, and inspiration that makes it “feel” like it’s time to write. It comes at unpredictable time, and frankly, is a much more progressive manner of speaking about “the muse” (of whom Rodin , incidentally, had the most appealing vision).

At any rate, I don’t think I’m simply an excuse maker. I think that I have an innate psychological function that perversely operates only when I have too much else to do. “He’s busy, let’s give him lots of ideas and put him in the groove.” Perhaps personifying my psyche is a bit weird, because after all, that sort of identifies my mental attributes as a distinct being from myself, and despite appearances to the contrary, I am not that schizophrenic. It does, on the other hand, allow me a digression to keep me writing.

But to bring me back on track, I believe there’s something about being occupied that gets my mind moving. If I have to speak to a number of people, or get some tasks done, I feel movement, rather than stagnation, and I believe I can get things done. It also provides an environment where I have more stimuli and can make the connections I need to make.

On the other hand, if I’m just sitting around playing Unreal Tournament (and no, I haven’t acquired the coveted 2003 version yet), I don’t feel like I’m moving forward in any respect (except number of frags); rather, I feel stagnant. Inertia takes over and I fail to work on anything.

I came to this observation today at work, when it was somewhat slow, and I was only taking three or four calls an hour. I have been writing steadily for the last few days, netting close to three thousand words a day while only working during my shift. Then, today, when it was so slow, I suddenly felt completely unmotivated to do anything. There’s a connection, opportunity and inspiration typically don’t coexist.

The same thing happened earlier today when I was at home. My wife took the kids to run errands and left me alone for a couple hours when I was free to do anything. Instead I sat at the computer and made fun of the %#Two Towers Protest.

This leads me to believe I may be able to manipulate my writing “groove.” If I can falsely manufacture an environment where my psyche believes I’m busy (which may present a challenge, assuming that, as I believe, I am NOT schizophrenic and my psyche is a participant in my activities) then I should be able to get some writing done.

Hence the discussion of the phenomenon and circumstances surrounding writer’s block. Assuming all has gone well, and the 2×4 I forcefully and repeatedly applied to my psyche’s head did its job, I should be able to fool it and get some work done.

… or not.

Crap.