Sometimes I’m writing — doesn’t matter what it is; it could be a blog post, or the new novel I’m writing, or a short story — and I end up staring at the screen or page, dumbly, blankly, wondering where I’m supposed to go next. Like the map I was following so merrily suddenly had no more roads to go on. Like the map I thought I was using to get to Nevada was actually a map of Nepal.
Usually I keep staring for a while. I write a sentence or two and then I erase them. I get up and get more coffee, hoping the jolt will dislodge something in my brain. I drink the coffee. If it’s late enough, I substitute whiskey for the coffee: three fingers on the rocks. I get sleepy and then chastise myself for doing something that is making me sleepy instead of giving me better words, more sentences, a place to head. I curse the computer. I pull a Tarot card to see if it has something reassuring to tell me. I refill the water in my jar of tulips instead of writing more.
There’s always the option of leaving the desk. Sometimes a dream or a good walk around the block is enough to make epiphanies happen; it doesn’t happen for me, but I’ve heard that it works for other people. My mathematician pal takes epic walks, thinking about proofs and abstractions as he goes for miles. Unfortunately, that’s not me — going for walks makes my head go blank. I don’t end up thinking about anything, let alone what’s supposed to happen to Anni after she leaves the restaurant.
Plowing through is ugly. It makes a mess and leaves rubble in my wake (that’s what editing and revision are for). There are tips and tricks that can trigger better writing than simply forcing my fingers to move — one old chestnut I’ve found useful is grabbing a book that’s got the same circumstances mine’s got; maybe my party scene could take some tips from Joyce’s “The Dead,” although I personally think that party scene goes on for a bit too long, and almost always skip to the beautiful, beautiful ending — and someday I’ll share those tips and tricks with you. But not today. Today is about plowing through. Running the fifteenth mile of the marathon when you think you’re going to throw up or pass out.
So I write garbage. I write nonsense. A memory crawls out of my brain about Captain EO — yes, throw that in there. Kissing. Lepers. Whatever I can think of. Later, I can clean it up. Right now, I have to make shit happen. If a gorilla crawls into the taxi, I let the gorilla crawl into the taxi.
Does it “work”? It doesn’t matter; I can tear it apart later. The whole thing might end up in the trash. But there’s something mighty about not stopping when the words dry up. Learning to keep going starts to feel, well, amazing.
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