Between yesterday and today my total word count is up to 2370. I spent a lot of time tilling the same ground, not contributing much to my overall word total, but improving the story told. Better to feel good about 2370 words and a quality opening, than 5000 words that will need to be cut by half. I don’t see any way around this. I am a plodder. Call me tortoise pen. I am proud.
North by northwest. The round table nearest to Sprouts. I decided to face north, because I never face north, anymore. When I am here. All the best seats, for a wheelchair, face into the crowd. I usually try to write at some oblique angle. I want to focus, and not be distracted by social interactions.
Now that the weather is cooling down. Now that I am in afternoon shadow, rather than staring down summer’s desert sunset. I can sit here and look out at Southern Avenue, while I write. I am one with the ancients. The Sun dictates seating arrangements. She typically calms down.
A man goes back in time, with his iPhone. He trades the phone to the ancients living in Babylon. In exchange, they make him King, for his stay. Filled with indulgences of the flesh. When it is time to go back to the future. In order to prevent the people of Babylon from writing anything in their ancient texts. That could possibly get back to his wife. He leaves them in darkness. After shutting down the internet.
I yawned. I leaned my head back against the headrest of my wheelchair. I must be tired. I believe I am.
I think I should stop writing now.
I am surprised by my ability to write, today. I hurt.
Not bad. Because, I can write. But, when I have painful days that are not bad, I sometimes ask why I should bother.
The answer is that I never know what will happen after trying. Each day of practice is another chance to crack the hard shell of the walnut. The meat is tasty. Yes.
I just wrote a passage for the narrative that forms the basis of my book. Today, I can hold my head high. On my pillow, as I drift to sleep.
Writer’s block. I highly recommend three books. They were recommended to me. I’m just passing them on. I present them in the order I read them. These are the three classics, in my library of writing books. My hard copies are all on loan, and I don’t expect them back. Just keep them in circulation.
The first is Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg. This book transformed how I approach my daily practice. In fact, I didn’t actually have a daily practice, prior to reading this. My first year of writing, I had a regular practice, but not daily. And, I focused on producing manuscripts.
Natalie completely changed my approach. She taught me to write from within a journal. Some people can produce lots of great books, just working up manuscripts. But, that’s not her approach. And now, it is neither mine.
The next is The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield. A book to disabuse the aspiring writer that there is any short path to success. It is work. It can be brutal. Get used to it. It is a job, like any other. Grind, in order to succeed.
The last is The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron. I have had a funny relationship with this book. First, Wen Ling had to hit me over the head with it (only figuratively), to get me to read it. I wouldn’t. Then, I actually began this book before The War of Art. But, I finished the latter, first. Then, after my diagnosis, and as my last year of software-engineering played out, I ignored the title on my Nook. My symptoms had overwhelmed me. I could sense that Julia’s book would require more effort than I could provide, in that moment. So it sat waiting for the right conditions, before I would open it.
I came back to it naturally, as I renewed my creative effort. I had just spent the better part of two years writing, or, as I imagine it, thinking physically, about all the stuff happening in my life. Wen Ling and I had separated. Then, I discovered I had this health challenge. Followed by an adjustment period. Journaling helped me to come through all of this with an optimistic and accepting attitude. Somewhere around November/December of 2012, I began to think creatively, again.
Initially, I wanted to return to the book I had abandoned, before my symptoms had begun to dictate my days. I had already discovered the first of five principles for dealing with my symptoms. (More on this in my next post.) I had had just an absolutely great concept for a book. But, when I tried to pick it up again, something was missing.
I found it difficult to resume that relationship. Too much had passed in the interim. The story felt distant, to me.
I needed new inspiration. This is when I turned to The Artist’s Way. I have seen a number of reviews, by people who say it is just a bunch of ‘New Age Hooey’. I completely disagree.
Julia Cameron will ask you to do some strange stuff, in the way of weekly exercises. For instance, one of the exercises I undertook was to pray for creativity. Now, understand, I am an atheist. But, I did the exercise, because I was serious about unlocking my creativity.
The book contains Julia’s philosophy, in twelve lessons, each with exercises. These twelve chapters are intended to be followed, in order, one chapter per week. And, Julia tells people that the exercises must be followed. You can’t unlock your creativity just by reading about it.
Well, I had a deep burning intention to do just that. This atheist prayed, and did a lot of the other exercises, too. I even adopted the attitude that I would take on the all of the difficult assignments, to better challenge myself.
Somewhere in week seven, my creativity unlocked. I began my current project. I’ll go back and finish the The Artist’s Way, someday. I think the people who pan the book are just too stiff to be exercised.
Writer’s block is no match for honest effort, and these three books. I recommend them all. Julia asks the most of the reader, in terms of follow-along practices. Brand new writers, I might tend to steer toward Writing Down the Bones, instead. Natalie appeals to the youth in all of us. The War of Art most resembles a pep-talk. Sometimes we need a good pep-talk. This would be a great book for a newly crushed writer, after sharing their first bad work. Pick yourself up. Get back on that horse!
These three books are better, for blocked writers, than what I will share. Instead, beginning in my next post, I will spin a tale of what happened after I took all three to heart, and tried to write a book as my health continued to deteriorate. This past year was my most challenging, yet. But, by applying the idea that my disease was just a form of writer’s block, I discovered some adaptations that have allowed me to find the energy, and the mental clarity, to begin my book. I couldn’t say this, even one month ago. Back then, when I told people I am writing a book, I never hid the fact that I wrote everything in my journal.
Now. I am beginning my book. It is no longer confined to my journal. I am back to working up manuscripts. In addition to journaling. (I would love for readers to share their favorite books on writing, in the comments section below. Or, blog about yours, and share a link to your physical thoughts, as a comment/pingback.)
Until recently, whenever I wasn’t writing for my blog, it was because of my symptoms. My newest problem is actually the type that writers dream about. Ideas for my book and my blog are coming fast and heavy. I can’t write for my blog until I can capture all my thoughts, and organize them, in some fashion. This is not a bad day, by any stretch of the imagination.
I hope your writing day is as good as mine. I will share my work as soon as I can separate my blogging thoughts, from my book thoughts. I am trying to write for the blog, but too many good paragraphs, that actually belong in my book, are creeping into my next deliberate post.
My writing voice and my blogging voice are the same. But, I want the topics they address to be different. My difficulty is in noticing the book ideas, before they land on the page. I’m trying to write for my blog, but my book keeps taking over my mind. Keeping the two separate is my latest cognitive challenge.
I don’t want readers of my blog to be disappointed that they could have just read my blog, instead of paying money for a book. My intention is that you, my readers, will hopefully be doubly delighted that the blog was free.
I am not there, yet. But, today I am willing to begin speaking to my evolving artistic statement.
What is an evolving artistic statement? I’ll tell you tomorrow, if today’s blog post is still not completed, but my energy is still good. Today, I can afford a quick aside to tell my readers how my day has been. Think Tony Tiger!
If tomorrow is the same, I should be able to give some depth to the notion. But, if tomorrow is different, I hope the only possible explanation is that I completed what I am working up, today. In the future, I look forward to returning you to my newly developing narrative.
(If I wait too long before explaining ‘evolving artistic statement’, tell me in the comments section below that day’s piece. I really do want to talk about it. I just have to write today’s thoughts while they are fresh. My artistic statement isn’t fresh. It has been evolving.)
My symptoms are to blame. I have increasingly been struggling with thinking. I am fairly certain that this is disease-related. And, when I can’t think, my writing bores.
I have been wanting to post something to my blog, each and every day that I fail to do so. Lately, I can’t trust my own judgement, as to what is worth sharing. In fact, on many days, reading anything at all is difficult. And, when I can’t follow a simple narrative, I am a defeated judge of quality.
The good news is that while I have been struggling to think, I have also made headway in dealing with the problem. Today is a perfect example. A myotonic-dystrophy fatigue forced me to nap this afternoon. Pain invaded my sleep. I nodded off tired and woke with a raging muscle ache. Everything hurts, but my head and neck distinguish themselves in this rodeo.
Normally, I wouldn’t be capable of writing for my blog under these conditions. But, today is no typical day. Today, my efforts at fighting through brain-haze are paying dividends.
While I might not have made much progress with my book, these past eight months, I have learned quite a bit about managing my symptoms. In the past, I have referred to this condition as writer’s block. But now, I would be wrong to do so. I know better. I would like to share with you some of what I have learned. For, today, in spite of my symptoms. I not only can read. I can write.
I will start by telling you where I am. People, who know I am writing a book, often ask. Well. How far along are you? How many pages have you written? I can tell my answers leave them silently wondering. So, today is just a progress report. I know it seems weird that I need to begin my discourse on writer’s block with a progress report on my book. I wish it was easier to explain.
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You see. The problem is that my book is embedded in my daily journal. Every day, a new page. Here is how I now organize them.
I have a Journal folder. Journal is broken down by years. Years are broken into months. And months, into days. Days are pages. All things, else, are folders:
2014-08-04: This is the name of today’s page. August 4th.
I find this particular YYYY-MM-DD format highly intuitive, because, the alphabetical is chronological. No need to look for things. My memories are embedded in time. It’s easier to remember what I wrote by recalling what I was dealing with, when I thunk that thought. And, it is easier to scan my work if it is sorted chronologically. It synchronizes my eyes with my brain.
But, mind the zeros. The zeros are necessary to retain order. This would not work if I had named the 2nd as 2014-08-2. Because, I would have a crisis brewing by the 10th.
My journal is all digital now. But, I have volumes of spiral bound notebooks dating before 2011. That year, writing by hand became difficult.
2011 is mixed between paper and digital. It is the year my symptoms grew loud. My new book actually starts around January of 2013.
Because, by then, I had received a diagnosis, and had the better part of a year to come to terms with what was happening to me physically. By 2013, I was ready to move beyond it, as a subject for my journal. I had accepted my new situation. By the time 2013 was new, I wanted to write the book I had started, before my symptoms came, to occupy my thoughts. But, that unfinished, old book, and those motivations, seemed too distant.
I know what I should be doing. I should be writing a book. I mean, I have all the time in the world, given that I don’t work, due to my disability.
That’s what I have been telling myself this past year. And, believe me, I have been trying. But, it is time for me to begin speaking about what has been holding me back. My book is the paramount focus of my writing efforts. But, I also have this blog. And, I want to say things. But, I’m telling you that this is not enough.
My daily output was dwindling. I could see it in my journal. It was evident here, on my blog. And, it wasn’t from a lack of effort. I was just finding it difficult to say the things I wanted to say.
Now, it would be wrong to refer to this problem of mine as mere writer’s block. It was certainly a part of the problem. But, it wasn’t even close to being a good, or proper, understanding. And, I can only tell you this now, because I have been learning so much, this year. For instance, I could not have even known where to begin, just last week. Because, last week, this narrative had not yet emerged from within my fog. I could see the shape. I knew I was close to it. But, I couldn’t properly describe what I saw.
So, I’ll begin as though I am discussing writer’s block. And hopefully, after I go on to reveal how much more there was to my case of the dreaded condition, I’ll remember to come back to it, in summary. This tale will play out over the coming days, here, on my blog.
If you want to know how to defeat writer’s block, I will tell you how I defeated mine. I can’t promise that this would work for you. Your circumstances are probably different.