Saturday, June 21, 2014

More random thoughts on writer's block and giant robots...

Did you realize that it's possible to have writer's block in one area of your writing life but not another? I didn't either. In fact, I've (over)confidently stated before that I don't even believe in writer's block. And in terms of this impenetrable wall that makes writers drink, that's still true. But my brain does enjoy a sort of line-item veto sometimes that nullifies specific projects that it feels have gone a bit stale. For instance, until recently I found myself uninterested in blogging and unable to come up with anything I was willing to put on paper relevant to the things I was watching crawl past on my Facebook and Twitter timelines.

Maybe I was a little afraid that I've already said all I have to say about the processes of writing fiction. I'm not generally interested in repeating myself.  Even if I had been interested in posting long reflections on the matters that matter most to me, I've already delved as deeply as I think I should into gender politics and sexism in nerd culture, I've ground my ax on matters of book banning, Amazon's antics, and the slow-motion murder of bookselling.

Those are stories I've told so many times I wonder if anyone cares to hear them one more time. There's a thin line between blogging and boorishness. If I can't find something fresh to say, I tend not to say anything. So I ignored the modern world and worked on teaching myself shoemaking instead.  That was new. That, I had no trouble writing about.

I saw someone at a writer's conference awhile back who was wearing a tee shirt that claimed "Writer's block is when your imaginary friends refuse to talk to you."  That's clever, but it's not how it works for me. For me, the problem isn't my imaginary friends giving me the silent treatment, it's when I've heard all their stories before. It's like being at a dinner party with long-time friends & realizing you've all heard each other's stories already.

With real life friends, this leads to in-jokes and companionable silences. In fiction, it leads to stagnation.  And when what you write is already difficult to sell because it's a bit zany, you're already on your back foot. As hard as zany and original might be to sell, zany and stagnant is something no one wants to read, much less buy.

For my money, writer's block is more like hand-written social awkwardness than it is anything else and there's only one cure for the "All the stories have been told" syndrome: Go out and get some new stories.

Or to put it in Howard Carter terms: When the old robots rust, go out and build some new robots. Bigger ones. Better ones. It's hard to save the world without them.

If I'm telling the truth, one of the things that scared me about Howard Carter Saves the World was how quickly it came out of me. If someone was willing to pay me to do so, I'd happily tell those stories for the rest of my life. It's a type of story that allows me to posit a scenario and then completely let go the reins and give the story its head. In a world that madcap, I can follow the story wherever it leads and not be worried I wouldn't have something to say no matter when it went.

And I'm not saying that in case any of the publishers or agents currently entertaining then notion of picking up that book will be convinced by my sincerity. I just enjoyed the heck out of writing it, as you might recall if you were around when I was posting fresh chapters three times a week.

It's a popular conceit that writing is socially-acceptable schizophrenia (I think that quote belonged to EL Doctorow, but don't hold me to that) which gives rise to my compatriot's tee shirt.  Not that the tee shirt or Doctorow are necessarily wrong. I myself have noted that if your inner voices tell you to do stuff, you're crazy, but if the voices just tell you stories and make you write them down, you're a writer.

The trick isn't getting the voices to talk to you. The trick is getting them to tell you stories that someone else will want to hear, stories that you and everyone around haven't already heard a thousand times before.

But then, that's always been the trick, hasn't it?

~ Scott

This blog post was, in part, inspired by this TED talk given by Sting...

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Pages to Type is a blog about books, writing and literary culture (with the occasional digression into coffee and the care and feeding of giant robots).