The last time I made a post here, I set myself a goal of writing a chunk of this every week. It was probably foolish to start right before the holidays and a vacation, but I figured I’d find time, that finding time would be part of the fun.
Best laid plans, right?
But the plans didn’t go awry for lack of time. I managed to sit down at the keyboard several times, even managed to get some words down. It felt like work, but it is work, right? It can’t always be fun. The words were no good, but it’s supposed to be a Shitty First Draft, right? You can’t polish something that doesn’t exist, right? I tried to push through, because that’s what you’re supposed to do. Right?
You’re all nodding sagely. “Ah yes,” you’re saying. “Writer’s block.”
What does that mean, though?
All I know is that every time I sat with my fingers on the keys nothing came. I knew there had been something in there, once, but it’s like when you’re trying to get the last drop of water so you tilt the bottle all the way up and then wait, and nothing comes and you’re sitting there with an empty bottle against your lips feeling like an idiot (and looking like one too).
So I quit.
Just before Christmas, when I should have been gearing up to write every day and get my first 1500 words of a fun pulpy story up on the left pillar1, I quit.
And then I sat and thought about it. This is a project for Adventures in Storytelling, and goddammit I was going to learn something.
It’s like that water bottle — I was trying to pour but nothing was coming. I kept coming back to that. I didn’t feel like I was blocked, the way I always figured writer’s block would feel. I felt like there was nothing to block. I felt empty.
So, you’re thirsty and your water bottle is empty. What do you do? Assuming it’s possible, you fill it. And what do you fill a storyteller with?
Stories, of course.
I had been so focused on creating that I hadn’t given myself any time to consume. I had the foresight to set aside time to write during the brutal month of December, but I didn’t give myself time to read. My writing suffered for it.
I think — and I would be interested to hear if you agree — that the mind is like a machine. Obviously that’s physically true: we need calories to run our physical bits, brain included.2 But I think it’s creatively and spiritually true as well. We need creative fuel as much as we need physical fuel. Inspiration, muse, whatever you want to call it, if you don’t have anything to sustain the fire, the fire can’t keep burning. If you don’t eat, you can’t work.
Ira Glass talks about the taste gap3, and I think it’s very important and very true. It’s the idea that we started doing our creative work, whatever it is, because we loved other creative works, but that in the beginning we’re not skilled enough to create things as good as the things we love. Glass’s solution is to “do a huge volume of work”. He’s right, of course, but I think what he leaves out is that we should never stop consuming things that do have that special quality we wish our own work had. Things that are as good as our ambitions.
I walked away from the keyboard and picked up a book4. And I think it was good for me — it reminded me what a good story looks like, what a good story feels like. It illuminated some of my bad writing habits, habits that were solidifying every day that I consumed nothing but my own work. Most importantly, I remembered why I started.
Now, I’m no expert. And I’ve heard of some writers who don’t read fiction while they write, or worse, don’t read fiction at all. That’s obviously never going to work for me (the mere idea hollows me out), but does it work for you? Am I off the mark here with this idea of creative fuel?
Honestly, this is a fun project that I took on for fun. I know this post makes it sound not-fun, but read on.↩
“writing while hungry” is a post for another day↩
Please click through, if you haven’t heard this already. It’s worth hearing.↩
”Wait a second,” you’re saying. “Was this whole post actually just an excuse?”↩