Sunday, October 31, 2010

Smack Ma Bitch Up


I don’t write non fiction with the same literary flourishes, or cheeky-chappyness, that Ink does so this post is going to be a liiiiidle bit different. 

There's a nice li'l para under the blog name that says The Alchemy of Writing is a home for three friends who’ve never met. I’m one of those three guys. The quiet one, I guess, as I haven't posted for a while. 

Mabe a year.

Or so.


Okay, so I’d like to broach the subject of breaks in writing. Not the ‘oops, didn’t find time today’ variety, but proper ‘omg, this is driving me nuts!’ writing breakdowns. 

The highs and lows of this 'hobby' are so extreme that it can be more like a turbulent love affair: there's amazing nights of little sleep complete with eyes-lidded goofy smiles as the sun comes up, there’s fond caresses (at the keyboard!), real ‘in the zone’ moments, great celebrations of ‘Boo-yakka!’ proportions, and wistful dreamy thoughts while going about everyday life. 

Love always comes first, huh? I bet everyone who reads this would rather have a beautiful novel in print than win the lottery. Yes? But this burning passion can have a dark side: insecurity, jealousy, self doubt, petulance, mind games, and exasperation can be regular features of a love like this. 

What about when it gets too much?

Do lovers really need a holiday?

When is it okay, if ever, to storm away from writing, slam the door, prize your pen from trembling fingers, hurl it across the room, and drown out the soft clinks of it skimming across the floor with screams of, “I’m leaving you!”

And does writing ever come back, cap-in-hand, and make grovelling apologies for whatever misdemeanour got it into your bad books (f-nak!) in the first place?

I remember reading a forum post by a guy who felt trapped. He’d undergone a lot of authorial improvement, seen the quality of his prose improve, seen his talent getting nice ‘n’ honed. But he felt pressured to keep writing in the belief that any break would cause his ability to immediately start dissolving. So he was running ahead of this dissolving talent thing like a Pamplona runner ahead of bulls. And he’d worked up a feverish sweat! He was such a good writer, pouring his emotion onto the (virtual) page, that his emotional state was unmistakeable: just a few sharp breaths away from screaming!

Most of the responses to his post included variations of this phrase: ‘When the fun goes out of writing, take a break.’

Is that sound advice?

Counter to ‘when the fun goes out, stop doing it’ there’s another phrase: ‘The true test of any vocation is love of the drudgery involved.’

In one of my ‘how to write’ books the author said there were days when he felt fully eager to write, while on other occasions he’d rather drink bleach. He advised keep going, even when it feels awful, just keep writing. He also said that he noticed no difference in the quality of his work between enthusiastic days, and lousy days.  

And this is the thing: writing does include drudgery, and some of the psychological obstacles aren’t exactly small. The highs are fantastic, but some of the chores... crikey.

So... keep at it when it’s challenging Vs. when the fun stops, walk away.

Where do we draw the line? And if we step over that line, what awaits on the other side?

I think there are two main fears when it comes to taking a break: 1) that ability will deteriorate, and 2) that not-writing will become a permanent habit.

I’ve just taken a year off, and I don’t think either of those fears has a sound basis. Well, they have as much basis as any other fear I suppose, but I don’t think walking away from writing will produce either of those results. Unless... unless... uless you’re really not a writer.

While I rate practice and keeping your ‘eye in’ and such, I don’t think writing ability can ever deteriorate to inept levels, no matter how long a writer leaves the hard drive festering. 

And I think it’s purely the case that a writer will always return. As long as there’s a draw, a passion, even if the passions go dark and wild, if they turn to outright resistance or any other thing that can lead to tantrums and sulking, I think it’s fine to act on those passions. 

The intimacy of true love is only attained through supreme self honesty, and I think that’s the nub here - if the original love is inside someone, indeed if the very resistance is borne of the passion to write, then the desire to walk away is the voice of emotional reason.

Crikey, after all that I think I’m saying, ‘Listen to your heart.’ 

Probably with a little, 'Things'll work themselves out' added in. 

And a dash of 'If it's meant, it'll happen.'

Good grief. 


Ted Cross said...

I am going through a break right now, but my mind never stops churning out story ideas.

Wanu said...

Hi, Ted. Wow, I found the ideas stopped after a while. But! I was never the overloaded-with-ideas type anyway. I guess you have a more demanding writing-love! If you're still getting candybar scenes play out behind your eyes, then I think you'll be glued to your keyboard again pretty soon :)

Is your break brought about by other commitments, or is it an emotional/conscious decision?

(If I'm being too nosey, you can tell me to be shush :)

And thank you for putting a comment! I totally appreciate that 'cuz I was a li'l nervous to post on the blog after so long away.

R.S. Bohn said...

Hi, Wanu. Very nice to meet you.

Advice on this matter can be difficult to give. I know some people who write very little, because they "don't feel like it" or they're "blocked" or whatever other reason, and they're just waiting for creativity and inspiration to strike. I personally think you make your own luck, if you know the phrase -- meaning, you create your experience, your success, through the work itself. And I agree with the author you were reading who said that he noticed no difference in the quality of his work when he felt inspired vs. those days when he was simply toiling on. So, I just go on.

Like a little train, LOL! Thanks for such a thoughtful post.

Deb Salisbury said...

Welcome back, Wanu!

I took a 15 year break from writing fiction - between job changes, moving, and starting a small business, I was too distracted. But I was a technical writer during those years, and I think my craft improved. I'm back to writing now, and happier than I've been in ... 15 years. :-)

Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

Sometimes you need to step away and think about writing, rather than just doing it. Sometimes when you're overly worried about pinecones, you can't see the trees, let alone the forest.

That step back might be necessary. And I don't think you lose too much in the way of wordsmithing... except the chance, perhaps, to improve. But you can pick that up again, easily enough. And sometimes you'll come back better simply because you understand that big picture better. Perhaps you've missed a few techniques you might have picked up, a little experience, a little sureness, but the value of knowing what it is you want from your writing, and how you go about getting it... well, as the commercial always said (and when can a commercial lie?:), that's priceless.

Anonymous said...

Welcome "home," Wanu.

Now you may hate me, but I'd sure rather win the lottery. Yesterday it was up to 87 million here in LA [w/o the periods, thank you!] If you get that kind of money, you can have as big, as beautiful, as marketed novel as you want. You can even find a director and actors and produce your tome!!


Donna Hole said...

Some of my own fears. The worst - the habit of not writing will become permanent.

I'm semi on break - I blog and write short stories, but my novel writing suffers. The trilogy just isn't going anywhere, and the new concepts for the fantasy I'm trying just aren't developing.

Glad to see you're getting back into the swing Wanu. And nice to meet you.


Reesha said...

Those type of comments come close to Yogi Bera quotes, and yet...they are strangely helpful during times of stress and the "Am I crazy?!" thoughts.

Nice to hear you on the blog after so long.

Adele Richards said...

Great post! I'm encouraged too by Ink's comment. I'm thinking, thinking, thinking at the moment and can't get back to the writing till some more clarity dawns on the way forward. This lack of actual writing was making fear I am a classic procrastinating wimp....but perhaps I can give myself some grace to galvanise skills and ideas in the waiting?

Adele Richards said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nate Wilson said...

Welcome back, Wanu! (Even if I wasn't here when you left...)

I'm with Renee, though; I'd rather win the lottery. If I didn't have to go to my day job, just think of how much time I could spend on my novel(s)! And I could write simply for the love of it, not having to worry about the business side of things.

Alas, I don't play the lottery. So I should probably end my 5-month break and get back to writing.

Anonymous said...

I barely understood anything you were saying.

Matthew Rush said...

Well first of all it's nice to meet you Wanu. And second of all I think you're right. In fact I know you're right, at least for me.

I was an avid lover of writing and all things English language when I was in school and then I gave it up. There are lots of excuses, but there really is no true reason. None of that really matters anyway.

The point is I'm now in my mid 30s and I just recently started writing again, a little over two years ago. I'm not such an egotistical person that I would presume to say whether my writing is better now or not, but I will say that I CAN STILL WRITE.

And I do get frustrated with it sometimes, it can be hard to stay motivated. In fact recently I haven't written, or even re-written, a word of my novel for weeks. But I do still write. Blog posts don't count for much, but I also write flash fiction, and short stories and so on, and I think that as long as you're writing something, you'll be fine.

Excellent post, thanks so much for sharing.

Anonymous said...

My problem is turning off the ideas. Any time they do stop flowing and I am not grateful for the break, I look around and write what I see.


Today I was riding, earth bound, along a highway.

I saw a bird in clear air beside me.

I think it was a finch, it had a finch beak, but it was large.

Today I decided NOT to google it but to enjoy it.

I saw it drop, unafraid of earth.

Mocking “sure death by gravity”.

I saw it glide, and wheel, and free fall, and recover.

I saw it dance upon the wind

Today I felt envy

(Author's note: Eh I didn't say it was always good)

Wanu said...

Ink said you were a great bunch of people, and he's so right! Thank you, Alchemists, for welcome backs and kind words. It's a great pleasure to have my fist interactions with you.

I think it isn't really the done thing (? not sure), but I feel compelled to reply.

RS Bohn – yeahh... It's a little like the Hare and the Tortoise. Seems like there are people who write in speedy bursts then sleep under a tree for a while, while others... It's the tortoise that wins in that story tho, huh? You might be onto something... perhaps noteworthy that the guy who said keep going, well, I was reading his book wasn't I?

Deb – fifteen years!? That's gotta be the biggest writing break ever! It's brilliant that you're back into it and all happy. I think you should win a prize. Shall I send Ink to you? Hehe.

Ink – it's so rare that I've heard you complain about any aspect of writing. I think it doesn't really happen. You mention breaks, challenges, the need to keep going (a la Schultz) and even how you probably need your agent to shimmy you along a bit, but you tend to follow these things up with the most outrageous enthusiasm. Cutting words? You said it was a perverse kinda pleasure after the first few thousand, lol! You seem to tackle everything with the same 'it's a challenge – whoa, now it's fun!' response. As ever, the voice of writing reason, you've even got a cool approach to breaks. That was all good 'n' insightful what you said. And you're right, being centred in yourself, knowing what you want from writing, and what it means in your life, that really is priceless.

Anonymous I – lol! Ooooonly just, you could only just produce a maga-blockbuster movie with that kinda money. I totally take the point though. Actually, when I wrote that bit about winning the lottery It was more unsure at first, all like 'Yes? No?' I shoulda left it open, huh?

Donna – I imagine a trilogy is a hefty thing to work with. I kinda think the subconsious shifts things around, slowly making sense of things, with the inevitability (and about the same speed sometimes) as tectonic plates shifting around. I expect something's happening deep in there that'll come out as one hellva flowering sensation given enough time.

Reesha – Haha! Yes, so nice when other people are sitting in the same canoe watching the same paddle drift away on the brown water. At least there's someone to talk to :D

Adele – I wonder if you already know what needs to be done, but it's the scale of the task that puts you off?

Nate – lol! I so underestimated the draw of a big lottery win. But yes! You've only got one base covered if you don't play the lottery, so yes. Five months is quite a bit short of Deb's fifteen years, I think you're on safe ground, :)

Anonymous II – Oh dear. Thanks for reading tho, :D

Matthew – I'd also add, for you, that I think life experience is one of the biggest things in a writer's tool kit. There's no doubt that taking it up again in your mid 30s will lead to much more graphic characters and mature writing than what you'd have produced a decade or so earlier.

Anonymous III – You're totally doing what's recommended in soooo many writing books – picking little somethings and writing about them and what they mean to you. It's a fantastic thing to do, and I gotta say I love what you wrote! Visceral imagery, lots of personality in the writing, internal and external reflections, poetic expressions. Wow, and I loved the simplicity of staying in the moment described so well 'Today I decided NOT to google it...' and I totally love the end note, after all that in-the-moment clarity and seeming appreciation, you slam that little passage home with a lovely twist.

I think that habit is totally working out for you!

Wanu said...
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Adele Richards said...

Wanu - Hahaha! I think you are right! Keep nudging me to get on with it!

I wrote the first draft in a frenzy and then went back through it to discover holes in the plot you could drive a truck through (as Stephen King would say).

Fortunately the thinking is bringing some clarity as to the way forward. The plot is making more sense. Oooh I can feel actual WRITING happening again soon :-)

Gael McCarte said...

Wanu - this is from annonymous, aka Gael McCarte, author of Today (with the bird). I want to thank youfor your careful assessment of my piece. I am really quite amazed that you put that much time and thought into it. Wow!!