“…writers are a savage breed, Mr. Strike. If you want life-long friendship and selfless camaraderie, join the army and learn to kill. If you want a lifetime of temporary alliances with peers who will glory in your every failure, write novels.”
(the pen name of J. K. Rowling) The Silkworm
A writer out of loneliness is trying to communicate like a distant star sending signals. He isn’t telling or teaching or ordering. Rather he seeks to establish a relationship of meaning, of feeling, of observing. We are lonesome animals. We spend all life trying to be less lonesome. One of our ancient methods is to tell a story begging the listener to say—and to feel—
“Yes, that’s the way it is, or at least that’s the way I feel it. You’re not as alone as you thought.”
You’ve got to trust your own judgement – and during the first draft, all that judgement can really say is: okay, keep going. Right now, it’s not great. But it’ll turn out okay.
Which means the first job of the morning, almost every morning, is to drag your carcass to your desk and overcome a paralysing crisis of nerve.
Obviously that doesn’t include the days you take off because you’re having a paralysing crisis of nerve. But the trouble with those days is, they’ve got a tendency to fuse and merge into each other until months or years have passed and you wake up one morning wondering whatever happened to that novel you intended to write.
A book doesn’t pour out in an uncorrected gush of inspiration; it’s got to be sweated over, built up brick by brick – and sometimes what you’ve built up has to be knocked down with a sledgehammer.
The first draft is crap. You revise it and make the second draft a bit better. You make the third draft a bit better still. You keep going until you’ve done the best you can do. You hope to make it better next time.
On the back cover of Paul Cronin’s book about filmmaker Werner Herzog, Werner Herzog – A Guide for the Perplexed, is a list of the great director’s life lessons. With a few small changes, they could apply to writers too. Or life in general.
Always take the initiative.
There is nothing wrong with spending a night in jail if it means getting the shot you need.
Send out all your dogs and one might return with prey.
Never wallow in your troubles; despair must be kept private and brief.
Learn to live with your mistakes.
Expand your knowledge and understanding of music and literature, old and modern.
That roll of unexposed celluloid you have in your hand might be the last in existence, so do something impressive with it.
There is never an excuse not to finish a film.
Carry bolt cutters everywhere.
Thwart institutional cowardice.
Ask for forgiveness, not permission.
Take your fate into your own hands.
Learn to read the inner essence of a landscape.
Ignite the fire within and explore unknown territory.
I can’t find the original source of this piece, so it may be like that famous Abraham Lincoln quote: “Don’t believe everything you read on the internet.” Still, it strikes me as good sense and practical advice …
“Writer’s block…a lot of howling nonsense would be avoided if, in every sentence containing the word WRITER, that word was taken out and the word PLUMBER substituted; and the result examined for the sense it makes. Do plumbers get plumber’s block? What would you think of a plumber who used that as an excuse not to do any work that day?
The fact is that writing is hard work, and sometimes you don’t want to do it, and you can’t think of what to write next, and you’re fed up with the whole damn business. Do you think plumbers don’t feel like that about their work from time to time? Of course there will be days when the stuff is not flowing freely. What you do then is MAKE IT UP. I like the reply of the composer Shostakovich to a student who complained that he couldn’t find a theme for his second movement. “Never mind the theme! Just write the movement!” he said.
Writer’s block is a condition that affects amateurs and people who aren’t serious about writing. So is the opposite, namely inspiration, which amateurs are also very fond of. Putting it another way: a professional writer is someone who writes just as well when they’re not inspired as when they are.”
Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose or paint can manage to escape the madness, the melancholia, the panic fear which is inherent in the human condition.