I wrote a story for Neil Fein’s “Magnificent Nose” blog this week. I started on Wednesday and revised on Thursday, into the fresh-born hours of Friday. I saved it. I was tired and not thinking particularly well, and I needed to pass new eyes over it before I published.
Friday morning I edited it again. I tried to add more funny; I tried to get the words out of the way of the story. But frankly, the whole exercise felt stale. I wasn’t into it.
There are things I know about writing. I know the characters need to arc, so I give them something new to learn or feel. I know the scenery needs to serve as the canvas for storytelling, not the story itself. I know that dialogue needs to be snappy, and that no one just stands there and talks; so you should give them something to do while they converse. I know that entering scenes with energy is better for grabbing the reader. I know your character voices have to be distinct.
That’s all academic.
Usually when I’m writing fiction, I can mentally stand in the middle of a scene. Strike that. Usually when I’m writing fiction, I love to immerse myself in the scene. In my imagination, I can stand in a kitchen, or a field, or a train car, or a dark basement. I don’t always know exactly what will happen there, but I have an idea. And I love not being married to an idea, and discovering a path I hadn’t even considered, because a character, or a scene element, or a random event takes me there.
This week, I wasn’t feeling it. For reasons that are too messy, private, and stupid to mention, my writing production and frankly most of my work has been half-hearted and dry. I’ve just been going through the motions of creation, assembly and management of various things lately. It’s ok, I’m ok; I’m just not very inspired right now.
But there was a deadline – which, truth be told, is literally the only thing that motivates me – and I’d committed to it, and a thing had to be produced. So, I sat down and wrote a thing. I used all my academic knowledge, and my personal story creation tool bag, and I created a story out of dust and wrinkled paper, and a few dead animals.
It wasn’t a bad story. Adding the humor was difficult (see above, re: uninspired) but I managed to put enough humor in there to make Neil laugh, and if I can do that, surely others will also laugh. And I actually got some very nice compliments on it, from complete strangers who have no reason to stroke my ego. So, mission accomplished. It was the first thing I’d published in a while that wasn’t a tweet or a Facebook status, and it qualifies as genuine writing.
So I guess the lesson here is this: not only do you not have to wait for the Muse to show up, but even when the Muse is assiduously avoiding you, and has sent a sack of spiders and rotting lemons in her place, you can still write. Production can still happen. No, it’s not as much fun. No, you will not feel like running up the steps of a Philadelphia courthouse à la Rocky when you are done. But if you stick to the tools of your craft, it’s possible to create a thing. Maybe not the best thing, but possibly a good thing.
Keep going. Creators create.
Image courtesy of Creative Commons on Flickr.