Maybe the most agonizing aspect of being a writer is the challenge of the ever looming writer’s block. I’ve dueled with it many times in my career and have finally come to some sort of detente with it.
Like kids with lots of energy need naps, so do writers. Some operate on the premise that after all, it’s a job. They get fairly ritualistic over it all. You know: 2.3 cups of freshly ground coffee, toast with avocado to be followed by a shower and then, of course, the uniform…something that respects the craft. These prissy individuals, some on the best seller list by the way, feel that one must respect one’s craft.
Years ago I went kicking and screaming from corporate suits, panty hose and the ever present time clock. In my world, that combination was anethema to my creativity.
So I set up a writer’s nook at home, complete with a desk that had a view of the garden outside. I’d tidy my desk top, line up my pens and then hopefully stare out at the hydrangeas. It didn’t work. Command of the craft was like ordering a Prince Charming on sale at Amazon. It wasn’t my way.
So I took a wilder route: spontaneity. I figured that if Ernest Hemingway could write on cocktail napkins, as the bulls raced through the streets of Pamplona, I would try this raucous free-lance gig. It stuck. I wrote on backs of bills, in dollar store nothing books, and grabbed anything I could with a surface. I even tried dictating to a recorder. I felt like an ass speaking into it so now I just press record for ideas that fly into my brain. Never, repeat Never, on command.
Eventually, I had what shrinks might call a psychic split. Words would spontaneously arrive, sometimes in the middle of the night. Sometimes in the shower. Sometimes driving 90mph on I-5in the middle of nowhere. By the way, it never occurred to me to pull over at a rest stop. That would ruin the moment and fortunately on that particular day I had someone beside me.
This is God’s own truth. I politely asked my friend to steer while I wrote.
If someone from the DMV reads this, I’ll deny it all.
The process, however, worked. I had some cool music on the CD and again, politely asked my dear friend is she could steer one more time while I read aloud to see if the music and words worked together. It was a slam dunk.
I need to explain that I-5 goes through a helluva lot of boonies so it wasn’t as dangerous as it sounds.
When we arrived at my home, I knew I still needed more. After all, it was a script for a presentation on Mother Earth and Mother clearly had more to say.
At 3AM I crept out into the living room and wrote the second half. Order? ritual? no just taking time to honor my muses. And therein lies the option of psychic split or honoring my muses.
I found soon enough that there was a serious and scientific me an then, Whoa Nelly!, the muse, actually the muses arrived cackling with laughter, sometimes sobbing in agony, anger at the way things appear or wildly passionate with descriptions of wonder.
My “marriage” with my muses is a wonderful love afair that never ends. But freedom is the quintessential agreement. I don’t get to push. Deadlines are for dead folks. Timelines are for those who think they can control the process.
Freedom means admitting to my feeble scribbling hand that sometimes my muses need to take off for the Bahamas. They reside there in some elegant BNB, snooze in beach chairs and drink umbrella drinks until they get the inclination to return.
In the meantime, I’m on shore looking anxiously through the fog. But they do return, Always, but Never EVER on command. That’s the way they roll.
A few years back, I wrote a novel about Merlin and the Lady of the Lake. I was also attempting to finish a fabulous novella that I had started in the Himalayas. I just couldn’t figure out how to finish it.
I received an invitation to Scotland and I jumped at the chance. After all, Merlin was a Scot. I had to travel through the mirthless Heathrow airport and was vetted as a Yank who might want to make money in the UK. I was asked: Will you be making money while you are here? Fortunately I answered, O heck now: I’m praying it will become a best seller down the road. I’m only here to write.” Just in case you are wondering, had I answered some egocentric b.s. regarding fame and of course, I’d be making money, they would have put me back on a plane to the US. That actually happened to someone foolish.
After a few days in Glastonbury and ….. I eventually made it to Highland Cottage on Iona, in the Inner or Outer Hebrides. I never figured that one out. That first night I was alone, it stormed and high winds tossed the waves. At 2:30 AM I heard “whisperings”, repeat phrases, sing songy repetition. I growled, “Go away!. The sing songy phrases continued. In desperation, I grabbed my journal and pen and wrote in the dark for over an hour.
When the words stopped, I reached for the wee lamp. Pages lay before me. The storm had not abated so I climbed out of bed, turned on the overhead light and read it all aloud to the storm and the crashing waves. Half way through, I started to sob but kept the reading pace going. I had finished the last two chapters of my beloved novella.
I promise you, I could never in my scientific half come up with such a spectacular ending.
From that day forward, I deeply honor my muses and try not to notice when they are throwing stuff in their suitcases and preparing for the Bahamas. Maybe that’s the trick, not pushing. ….waiting and napping until the return.