Wednesday, August 18, 2010

When the *%^&(* Flows Without End

So what does you do when you can’t string three words together without it sounding like the equivalent of fried shit on a crisp Ritz cracker? The cracker isn’t enough to pull this off. A full sentence simply scares the hell out of you. You’ve written pages and pages of excrement.

Welcome to my present writing life.

Well, if you really can differentiate the excrement from the cream, you are off to a good start. Sometimes a smallish fire is worthwhile. There might be catharsis in the burning of manuscript pages. (I picture Toby from “The West Wing” now, burning speech drafts in his office and suddenly wish I smoked cigars—reason enough to keep an old Zippo around.) Don’t burn just anything. You might need some of the shit. But still, knowing when you suck can help. If you can separate the pages that need burning from the others, you’re already off to a good start.

Not great advice? Step two: remember that crazy, lovely, lonely, brainy Georgian who made art out of simpletons, yes, good old Flannery O’, and you will be reminded that you’ve got to stay in the chair. Sit down. Face the page. Maybe, okay, quite likely, write some more shit. But you’ve got to do it. Face the blank page. Stare into the empty air. Pick up the pen. The only real way through is to produce work.

In the meanwhile, change form if it helps. Write in a different style. Use a different technology. Write in the journal rather than on the stack of manuscript pages. Post to the blog. Sometimes you can trick yourself into quality by changing the venue or fooling yourself into lowering your standards (because really you are aiming to raise your standards—you just need a springboard into text).

Be productive in other ways. If you are being judgmental about the text you are failing to produce, maybe all that negativity is actually perfect for going backwards and facing the story that you said was done but that you know in fact really isn’t done because it has that one fatally flawed scene, or is it that whole damn chapter of the novel that you know you’ve let slide on every revision, every reading, acting as if the good teeth around the festering, infected, pus-filled decaying one won’t really bother you (or kill you for that matter if you wait long enough). Maybe it’s time to tackle what you’ve been putting off. Hate your work at present? Then go hate the work that can really cause good work harm.

Finally, basics like reading. You’re producing shit. Read more. Read the good books, the hard books you keep putting off. Learn from them. Study them. There are days where it is important you read more than you write, if for no other reason than to prepare for the days when you will write more than you read.

Think I’m full of it? Probably. But what have we got to lose?

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