When I am my flow state, I can write anything and everything. There is no hurdles, the wind is at my back, and everything seems crystal clear. It all happens suddenly: I feel a release, of tension but also of gravity, a falling in. I am falling into the process, the story and myself together like spelunkers descending down into the earth.
But that’s not how it was today. At first.
My day began how it began two days ago–tough and slow, like pulling teeth. I couldn’t get started; and when I did start, it stopped. I began to get annoyed and then panicky. I stood up, got some water, sat back down again, vowing to myself to not get up again until I’d written another 3000-word scenario. Then, a few minutes later, I got up again.
But something happened as I rose to my feet that next time. I recalled something I’d read in that book on the enneagram. I’m a Type 4, I’d related to you yesterday, which basically means when I’m stressed, I’m the romantic type whose prone to fits of hyper-idealism, emotional rollercoastering, all juggling a solemn case of envy and melancholy. Those are my blind spots. But the point of the book is that if you recognize your blind spots, you can exercise caution to do better next time to tap into your full potential. And so, as I stood in my room, I made a promise to myself–write shitty. Stop trying to be a literary writer, David. Stop trying to be someone special and important, stop trying to impress your parents and your friends and everyone else in the world, stop trying to write the Great American Novel (whatever the hell that is anymore), and just write!
All I had to do was write 3,000 words. And this was only to be a novel scenario, a simple paraphrase. Not a final draft, not anything anyone would see (no, not even for you, my lovelies). So what was I balking for? What was I so afraid of?
I ran through a simple cheesy scenario in my head, giving my imagination license for anything it wanted. And with a cry/laugh escaping my lips, I jumped into my seat and indulged in my shitty side. And became a teen all over again.
It wasn’t easy. In fact, it was the toughest writing session of my life. I felt like I was wrestling some creature that had leapt from the murky muck of my mind. I wrestled my ego, ladies and gentlemen, and it was a fight. I squirmed in my chair like someone was poking me in the side, escaping only for a moment or two to pace up and down the length of the room. I had to breathe, encourage myself, gulp my green tea, and smile smile smile. My head and neck hurt, my dry mouth went dry. And all the while, my ego wrestled me screaming, ‘What are you doing?! Don’t write that! You’re an artist, a writer of integrity, a novelist!’
Which was the problem all along. I hadn’t given myself permission to write shitty drafts, to make these mistakes; I’d given my permission to be perfect, to be great, to be flawless. Which are all ingredients for writer’s block.
After my words were up, after the match was over, I felt lost, beaten, embarrassed, and tired. None of it would go in my book. I’d lost time, effort, energy, and most definitely momentum. What the hell was wrong with me?
But as I took a look at the damage on the page, as I scanned my mind and my heart for mortal wounds, I realized that no matter how cliched or cheesy I my writing was (there was actually a line I’d written that said “Cheesy sappy scene right here. Cliche!”), I’d happen here and there upon a moment or a phrase or a line of dialogue that rang true, that spoke to me from a deeper place.
And so today I realized a thing or two I’d like to share with you (rhyming is fun).
First, I proved to myself that I could physically put up with writing shitty and to execute it. I will not win every wrestling match, but I certainly know now that it won’t kill me and the matches that seem the worst most certainly will never result in the worst writing. If I show just up to the match, goddamnit, I got a fifty chance of winning.
Second, I got it out of my system. In times of creative stress, the mind wants you to do something else, anything, especially something that doesn’t require thinking. That’s why I all of a sudden notice how dirty my apartment is just before a big reread.
Third, it will make me more creative. Once the floodgates opened, I added lasers, clowns and fireballs, ghosts and evil stepfathers. I will not keep any of it, but I can examine the need behind it (i.e. add more tension and conflict, whatever your genre).
Fourth, it gave me a sense of accomplishment and momentum. I DID something about my problem instead of wallowing and overthinking and overanalyzing. That for me is a win.
And finally, when I was forced to type as fast as I can (and when you write shitty, you better be going 100 miles an hour), the force of storytelling got me to the other end. Masked in shitty shitty words and cliches, my spirit spoke and made itself known to myself. Sometimes just this urge alone, no matter what the condition of your words, is enough for the day. The FEELING of telling a story, beginning to end, is enough. That’s why it’s so hard to work on a second draft–until I uncover the voice of this novel, I will be hearing nothing but echoes of echoes.
You will have to trust that you’re doing it right.
You will have to catch yourself when you get down on yourself, when you’re self-sabotaging, and all the other things that stop.
But most importantly, you will just have to push on.
Work shitty. I give you permission.
Create and Complete, fellow storytellers!