Monthly Archives: April 2012

Inspiration for Foggy Days

It’s a weird thing, writing.

Sometimes you can look out across what you’re writing, and it’s like looking out over a landscape on a glorious, clear summer’s day. You can see every leaf on every tree, and hear the birdsong, and you know where you’ll be going on your walk.

And that’s wonderful.

Sometimes it’s like driving through fog. You can’t really see where you’re going. You have just enough of the road in front of you to know that you’re probably still on the road, and if you drive slowly and keep your headlamps lowered you’ll still get where you were going.

And that’s hard while you’re doing it, but satisfying at the end of a day like that, where you look down and you got 1500 words that didn’t exist in that order down on paper, half of what you’d get on a good day, and you drove slowly, but you drove.

And sometimes you come out of the fog into clarity, and you can see just what you’re doing and where you’re going, and you couldn’t see or know any of that five minutes before.

And that’s magic.

-From Neil Gaiman’s Blog



Writing Roadblock of the Week

We had to get a shock collar for the dog last week, since she keeps chasing deer out into the road. She has responded to it so quickly— we only had to push the button once or twice before she became reluctant to test the limits of her tether again.

This connects somehow with the conversation I had with my writing partner L— the other night about our shared middle school miseries, the lonely and contradictory world of precocious children trapped between the world of adults and the world of children.  The manners and words that are enforced by one group are anathema to another, and to a self-aware child the shift between the two creates a kind of split— in striving too consciously for perfection in either sphere, something of the authentic self, the instinct, is lost in the gap.

"I'm thinking about joining the mathletes."
"You can't do that, it's social suicide!"

L— and I both had the experience of our vocabularies becoming dangerous, something that stood between us and the comfort of obscurity.  When your things are regularly stolen, torn up, thrown down the hall; when you are pushed down stairs and into lockers, when the boys behind you regularly make a target of the back of your head while chanting the words that you realize you should not have said— it presses a button of fear and shame and embarrassment that is difficult, later, to un-press.  It creates a kind of tether that limits how smart it is safe to be.  It happened to me, and I’ve watched it happen to younger cousins or girls that I babysit for.  It’s such an accepted cultural thing that young women have to change to fit in— and not only is it not always considered problematic, it’s often glorified.

"Tell me about it, stud."

L— and I are both attempting first novels,  and for me there is a panic attack that I have to push through each time I sit down to work.  Sometimes I can conquer it, sometimes not.  It’s that old zap of “THIS IS UNSAFE!” that prevents me from stepping beyond the social boundaries imposed so forcefully when I was young.

I can't imagine why they thought I was weird...

But those limitations no longer apply.  I bought something that looks suspiciously like a Jedi hood the other day, and I have received lots of compliments on it— and if I didn’t, I would still wear it because I am twenty f-ing six years old, and I do what I want.  The people I hang out with now are not random strangers that I am stuck in the prison of public education with, they are awesome weirdos like me.  So why is it still so hard to overcome the wave of nausea that overtakes me when I sit down to write and find myself about to cross the line back into that imaginary world that I had to give up in order to fit in?

My present self is pretty much my former self with more weapons and a higher corset budget.

Anyway, I’m interested in whether other writers have encountered similar feelings, and how they can be managed or overcome.  Discuss!

Quote of the Day

[. . .] I believe in fiction and the power of stories because that way we speak in tongues. We are not silenced. All of us, when in deep trauma, find we hesitate, we stammer; there are long pauses in our speech. The thing is stuck. We get our language back through the language of others. We can turn to the poem. We can open the book. Somebody has been there for us and deep-dived the words.

There are so many things we can’t say, because they are too painful. Stories are compensatory. The world is unfair, unjust, unknowable, out of control. Mrs Winterson would have preferred it if I had been silent. I needed words because unhappy families are conspiracies of silence. The one who breaks the silence is never forgiven. He or she has to learn to forgive him or herself.”

Jeannette Winterson, Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal