Today, all I want to do is watch Garden State. Sadly, I do not have a copy of it handy, and so looks like I'll be thwarted in that want yet another day.
Also today, after an hour and a half spent fighting for words during which I spectacularly achieved zero, count them zero, I gave up on the writing for a bit and sat down with Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones. It's been on my shelf for a whiles now, but since I'm also reading another book on the craft of writing, I had been intending to steer clear of more tomes of advice. There's only so much reading fiction and reading about writing you can do and still keep a balance of getting your own writing done.
And now I'm wishing I'd picked this book up aeons ago. I sat and read for nearly two hours, and I would've made it further than halfway if I'd let myself stop and simply read — but I couldn't, I had to keep stopping to scribble down snippets. To reinforce them, and to keep them for later.
Very early in the book, in talking about writing practice, Goldberg states:
When you write, don't say "I'm going to write a poem." That attitude will freeze you right away. Sit down with the least expectation of yourself; say "I am free to write the worst junk in the world." You have to give yourself permission to write a lot without a destination.
I've seen this advice before, in the form of Give yourself permission to write a shit first draft — but that last line, about writing without a destination, suddenly unpacked a whole new level of this advice for me. Writing a cruddy first draft is all very well, because it's not about deliberately sitting down to write crud: it's about writing through self-doubts and lack of trust and perspective.
But lately it hasn't been working so fully for me, and Goldberg's snippet above unpacked why. Because letting myself write crap isn't my current rut. It's writing to a (frustratingly, stubbornly unknown) destination that's got me stuck at the moment.
My first novel was easy (said with hindsight 😉 ) in that I knew the ending, and had only to cast backwards to find a beginning which would lead up to it. The current second novel (both of them 😉 ) have only given me the beginning, and refuse to cough up more. Every short story I have on the burner at the moment is playing the same cat and mouse game.
So it's time for one of those insidious and yet oh-so-helpful little writers lies. I'll take up Goldberg's practice writing, for a half-hour or so a day after work; and then when I sit down to the proper wordcount, I'll tell myself that I'm writing entirely without a destination and any direction will do. And if the sneaky, snarky backbrain starts whispering sly truths about that nebulous outline lurking on my hard-drive, I shall turn up the iPod so I can't hear it.
It is important to have a way worked out to begin your writing; otherwise, washing the dishes will become the most important thing on earth — anything that will divert you from writing. Finally one just has to shut up, sit down, and write. That is painful. Writing is so simple, basic, and austere. There are no fancy gadgets to make it more attractive. Our monkey minds would much rather discuss our resistances with a friend at a lovely restaurant or go to a therapist to work out our writing blocks. We like to complicate simple tasks. There is a Zen saying, "Talk when you talk, walk when you walk, and die when you die." Write when you write. Stop battling yourself with guilt, accusations, and strong-arm threats.