01 April 2015
Starting where you are
The other day I was watching the season 1 finale of of Project Runway: All Stars (a fashion design reality show and one of my many guilty pleasures), in which Mondo has the fashion designer equivalent of writer's block at the absolute worst possible moment: he has only four days to design and make a collection for the runway show that will end the competition and decide the winner.
But there he sits (or rather paces) in his studio, hating all the fabrics he's bought and repeating to the cameras, "I'm just not feeling it." He spends the entire first day that way, at some point finally giving into his apathy and fatigue and deciding he's not going to agonize over it anymore. He's not feeling it, and he's going to give himself a day off, despite the fact that he's under a serious time crunch already.
The next day he comes back into the workroom with the realization that the pressure from the competition has made him feel a little crazy. That's where he is at that moment - feeling a little bit insane - and that's what he decides to use as inspiration for his collection. Bam. He knocks out a cohesive and interesting collection over the next three days that [SPOILER ALERT] wins him the grand prize. And you know why? Because he didn't try to fight himself. He met himself where he was and used it.
As a writer, I find myself constantly struggling to *not* fight myself because I have so many ideas and so little available time and energy comparatively.
But it's no use wishing I were more skillful than I am or to have energy when I don't. If I want to be a more skillful writer, I need to write more. If I lack energy, I need to rest. It's no use beating myself up over these things.
If I sit down to work on a particular story and can't get my head in it, what do I gain by trying to force it? If I can't get my head in the story I meant to work on, what *can* I get my head into? I can almost always get my head into something - word association freewriting, a prose poem, even just writing down exactly what I'm feeling and thinking that's taking up all my mental space.
If I can't access a particular emotion I need to write a scene because I'm instead feeling angry or sad or lonely, what good does it do to become frustrated on top of that? Instead I can ask myself, "When might my characters feel the way I'm feeling right now?" I can still connect with them and learn something about them even if I can't write the scene I'd planned to write.
This week I find myself once again meditating on the necessity of starting where we are and the impossibility of doing anything other than that. I'd planned to write a post about writing process as I taught it in college composition classes many years ago, but "I'm just not feeling it." I tried several times to write it and hated what I wrote. It's not that I'm lacking the knowledge or ideas about what I want to write; it's that I haven't been able to reconnect with my reasons for writing it. I keep getting stuck at "Why should they care?"
So instead I wrote this post. Because this is where I am.
Where do you get stuck in your writing? Do you fight yourself a lot?