Wednesday, May 14, 2014

All The Ghouls Come Out To Play

Call it "writer's block," self-sabotage, or demons... there can often be an ugly, malignant tumor with spines sunk deep into creativity, leeching your inwardly directed energies to turn them against you. "Whoa, he's going dark," you might say. Yes, because such a grueling descent often leaves you with no choice in the artistic process but to see what heights your grasping mind can reach.

Developing my book from a seedling of an idea when I was thirteen into a weighty, epic fantasy took ten years for a slew of reasons: puberty hijacked a lot of my time, then school, growing up, all the while every finger of inner turmoil helped design this growing entity like antibodies for a sickness. In my early twenties, with only eighty-four pages and a bold disdain for anything that would keep me finishing the rest, I packed up and moved to a cheap apartment to tackle the beast head-on.

That was three years before I finally called it "finished" on a momentous day of accomplishment (which incidentally was one year and many rejection letters and stringent rewrites ago).

But those three years taught me a great deal about the misery and remedy that often go hand in hand, always for me like some disgruntled ironclad gatekeeper I'd station in my own way just when the door to advancement looked clear. Every day's writing became an exercise in passing through that jealously barred archway, when many times before I'd find myself circumventing or altogether stalled.

For awhile I managed a thousand words in a session (recommended by Stephen King in his memoir On Writing, by the way) but would often be so burnt out the next morning I wouldn't write much again for a week or two. It took over a year to find a sustainable daily pace, and I settled at 640 words (my closest approximation to two double spaced pages). I wrote the last 250 pages of my book at an average of two pages a day, and each day's writing ranged from around five to eight hours, depending on flow.

Now, recalling my college days, I handily bullshat (copyright) my way through a few papers longer than that in the two or three hours before they were due, and got A's. So why was this frequently such an excruciating endeavor? Because I wanted it, and needed it, and loved it more than anything, and my inner "gatekeeper" never looked too favorably upon anything of that sort.

Delving into the creative waters, I dug through many protective layers that often take shape to enable a person to go about his/her daily business without feeling naked and breaking down, and was left completely vulnerable to every bad memory and negative thought, which skulked like schoolyard bullies daring me to just try and pick up something fun to play with.

It was usually rough sailing when the session started, and I'd find myself looking down at the little word counter every few minutes, silently cheering when I passed the 140 mark, which could take an hour or two. So many initial rushes of excitement for a new idea or elegant sentence were immediately accompanied by impulses to feel disheartened, guilty, about anything, anything that could stop my momentum and keep any new discovery at the fringe.

But then, I found, despite a handful of days when I just couldn't crack through that wall, the more desperately I fed my passion, it fed me back many times over, until I reached this euphoric state in which no neurotic stone in my path warranted even half a thought, the bad forcing me to rip out the good for hours without stopping.

I almost always woke up the next morning feeling hungover even when no alcohol was involved (though sometimes I drank after my writing was done), because the wheel would keep spinning and spinning in my mind when I tried to sleep. But I rolled out of bed, listened to music for a few hours to relax and prep, and did it all again.

And at the end of each day when I put in my two pages, looking back at paragraphs that took ten times longer to write than read, I knew I had beaten the hell out of the worst kinds of things, and became more and more immune to every snare I could possibly set.


  1. The combination of writer's block and distractions (of any sort) can make an already tough process all the more difficult. I hit the wall on an epic fantasy project that I'd spent about three or four years working on and finally decided to shelve it. I just wasn't "ready" to be the writer that that particular book needed. I moved on to my current project and then things started flowing again. Everyone's writer's block is different, I think. But we all seem to struggle with it at one point or another.

  2. I know exactly what you mean about having a sustainable pace. When I first began my fantasy project 5 years ago, I would wake up at the same times every morning to write what was in my mind's eye. Then, something happened. I have decided that it is best to allow my story to "be itself". I've learned that it's very easy to find ourselves trying to make a story something that it's not. And I've also learned that what works for another author may not work for me at all. It's quite an adventure!