Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Priming the Pump

I've been wrestling with a block for the last few days. It's not that I don't know what to write about next, because almost the whole novel is in my head now. It's more that I either don't have the time or the energy to forge ahead in the story. My Clark Kent job has been kicking my ass the past few days, as it is wont to do every now and again. When I get home, all I want to do is vegetate.

But there's a job to be done... (cue superhero theme music here) ...and no one to do it but me. Let me tell you, being a self-motivator is difficult for me. Especially when I have things working against me like exhaustion and burnout and that all-time champeen of time wasters, Mr. Attention Deficit Disorder. I've been a disorganized time waster my whole life. My study habits (when they existed) used to make my mother, an elementary school teacher, clutch her head and moan miserably. So like everything else in this artistic adventure, I'm making up new habits as I go along.

Last night and the night before I forced myself to sit down and start plugging away at the block. Last night was marginally easier than Monday, but both nights were difficult. I hadn't been writing for almost a week, and the consistency of the story - a warm, silky liquid when I'm going fast and strong - had gooped up to the point of being almost solid. It took me a while to get the first few sentences right. I tore about half a page out and reworked it before I could stop rolling my eyes at myself. But then last night, the story loosened up around me and I was suddenly back in my fictional town of Bulton, sitting with Jack and Bertram at the picnic table behind the orchard's fruit stand, listening to their worried conversation about Dan. I fell back into it, and the feeling was bliss. But I had to "prime the pump" - an expression that Brian K. Ladd and myself use frequently to describe the act of working the cooling story from something thick and viscous into a liquid river of fire running right through the center of our brains.

One of the most pleasurable sensations in the world.

I was transported last night, taken from my bedroom in the dark recesses of 1 am to a sunny summer morning in a little Southern town, just outside the beautiful reaches of a huge peach orchard. It was so real I could almost smell the trees and the thick curls of Bertram's pipe smoke. I was lost for hours, and happily ignorant of the time. But before I fell through the "hole in the page" (a phrase I humbly borrow from Stephen King), I had to push and work and shove and mentally sweat my way through clunky dialogue and halting character action. I had to persevere, keep pushing against that block which had taken up residence between my fingers and my brain and wait for the story to start breathing again. Eventually it did, and the sound of its labored breath smoothed out after a bit and became fluid and loose. Until then, though, the priming was all I could do, and I pumped that story until my arm damn near fell off.

It's a valuable lesson, one I keep learning over and over, which amounts to one we all learn when we're small, barely old enough to hold a fat red pencil and make our straggling first letters of the alphabet: Never give up! Keep trying, it'll come eventually!

Gotta keep that at the forefront of my mind.


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

That's why I try not to let more than a day go by without writing. Then even if I'm beat, writing will bring me back to life because I'm excited to do so.

B. Miller said...

Indeed, Alex. It's my goal to write every day, but sometimes that just doesn't happen. I have better habits than I did in the past, though, and all I can do is work on improving them. I just keep reminding myself that one day this will be my full-time job! But to get there, I gotta be stoic about writing as much as I can.

Tamika: said...

We all toss around in this same boat from time to time. I have made procrastination an art for too long! Writing requires sacrifice for me everyday. There is never the perfect time of day or the amount of time I would desire to scribble away at my novel. You have to make time, and that can be painful.

But not impossible. Happy writing!

Anonymous said...

Writers block does not mean the ability to write, it means the ability to write something intelligent, meaningful, or releveant to your WIP.

I use a junkyard to place stuff I write while enduring Writers Block. Later, I can visit the scrapyard and pick and choose a part that I need.

Stephen Tremp

B. Miller said...

I'm definitely getting into better habits about making time, Tamika... it's just getting started that's the issue, once the story is rolling it doesn't matter what time it is or where I am, that stuff is definitely coming out. So once I figure out how to get the motor going it's usually smooth sailing from there.

Stephen, I also have a "junkyard" document, saved as "darlings" - referencing Faulkner's advice to "kill your darlings" - I usually use that document to edit out fluff I might actually be able to use at a later date.

Thanks for the encouragement, you guys! It means a lot!! :)

Helen Ginger said...

This will sound a little nutty, but it seems to me that when I'm having "writer's block," I stop dreaming. When the dreams begin to return, I know I'm coming out of it.

Straight From Hel