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January 23rd, 2002

Writer's Blocking

I shared my brainstorming notes with a friend of mine yesterday, and his primary response was, "I'm jealous." The reason for this, is that he has apparently decided that he can't write any more, which depresses him utterly. But instead of doing anything about it ... such as, say, working on fixing the problem ... he seems content to complain about what a tragedy it is that he can't write. He says he's tried to fix it without success ... but as far as I can tell, his attempts to try and fix it consist mostly of doing the same unsuccessful things over and over again until he just gets even more depressed.

Now the truth of the matter is that he can write. I know, I've seen him do it. However, my observation is that he has a few methodology problems, not the least of which is massive impatience. He doesn't want to start with a germ of an idea, build on it, work out the permutations, build a solid foundation and then go back and revise to make it stronger. He wants to pour out The Wheel of Time into his word processor the first time right out of the gate -- and to do anything less is an abject failure, meaning "he can't write."

His second big problem, is that he only wants to write when he's burning with inspiration. When the muse has struck him with lightning and the words are pouring out faster than he can get them down, that is when he's writing. Anything not that, isn't what he's interested in.

The problem with that, of course, is that the muse needs to have something to work from -- even muses don't pull brilliant ideas out of thin air. Since he doesn't do the necessary work to create a situation in which the words can come pouring out, they never do -- thus leaving him feeling abandoned by his muse, when really it's the other way around.

The truth of the matter is that he has a natural gift for creating cool ideas ... or taking a premise and building a fascinating scenario around it. But his impatience -- and his habit of getting bored / frustrated / distracted when it starts becoming too much like work -- screws him up again and again.

It's frustrating from my POV too, because I know there's a brilliant writer in there -- I do occasionally get these tantalizing glimpses. But he needs experience -- or more accurately, he needs practice. He needs to learn to love his craft and his tools, and particularly he needs to learn to love the dogwork.

His third problem is that he writes based on what sounds good to him at the time, with little or no interest in whether or not he's saying what he actually thinks he is. If you point out that some phrase he's written makes no friggin' sense, or some word he's used is totally inappropriate, he gets defensive. "I don't care! It sounded good at the time!"

Why somebody would rather be excused for sloppy writing than to just go back and fix it is beyond me. (Why somebody would show a first draft to people and wish them to receive it as a masterpiece, is beyond me, too.) However, my friend and I have some pretty fundamental disagreements on various things, so what the hey.

Of course, I'm an English wonk. I love the language as a work of art in its own right, as a precision tool that can used to do just about anything, in the hands of a master craftsman. For me, saying not just what I want, but exactly what I want, is a big deal. My friend, for the moment, seems more interested in just having people's attention.

My friend dislikes being methodical about anything; he wants to be like Anakin Skywalker, winning the day by accident. Frankly, I couldn't stand that, and I think it's due to my vanity. If you succeed purely by luck, then any idiot could have done it! He wants to be a wild talent, someone who is just naturally a brilliant writer by birth. He's intimidated by tasks that require skill, because he thinks of himself as unskilled -- so he avoids taking on such tasks, and so he never learns any skills. This cycle goes 'round and 'round and leads to just digging himself a deeper hole.

But there's another cycle, the exact opposite, which he could be taking instead. He could step up to the plate and take on a task that required skill and keep at it until he did it right -- which would force him to learn skills to succeed at that task -- which would give him the confidence of knowing he has that skill -- which would enable him to take on bigger tasks.

I have attempted to nudge him in that direction various times, without success. Either I'm not a very talented nudger, or he's a very talented resister. The thing is, he is following that model in his professional life, and it's paying off for him. Why he doesn't apply that same lesson to his writing, I don't know.

I tried to point him in the direction of Creativity Rules last night, because I think if he read it and -- more importantly -- actually did the exercises in it, let it sink in to him, and let it transform his mode of thought, it would make a world of difference. Then maybe I could finally read those cool books of his that are buried under the tons of rough drafts he won't let out!

He didn't seem interested. After all, what's the point in having a book that helps you, if you can't write? Sigh. Oh well, it's his life ... I'll just keep moving forward with my own work in the meantime, and if he wants to sit there and be jealous, well, it's his problem.

-The Gneech

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Antiheroes and Everymen (Everymans?)

I think I've nailed down just what it is that bothers me about hobbits.

In this earlier entry I mentioned how cool I thought it was that the warriors in LotR got to run around and kick butt, but there's more to it than that.

What bothers me about hobbits, meek scholars forced to adventure against their will, and grim anti-heroes, is that they set our sights too low. Heroes should be big, not small. We don't need Everyman as the hero, because every man already CAN be a hero, if you see what I mean.

Rather than elevate us to the level of heroes, what the current trend does is to diminish heroes to the level of "ordinary people." Sort of the literary equivalent of the phrase, "When all else fails, lower your standards."

See, I think heroes should be larger than life, and should do great things, precisely because it is outside the realm of ordinary experience -- it gives us something noble and wonderful to aspire to, a higher calling that can enrich our lives and give us a purpose to work towards.

This is what bugs me about hobbits; this is also what bugs me about "true crime" dramas, gangster movies, and chick flicks. Some people look at such things and take comfort in the fact that these "heroes" are just like them, but to me, that's just depressing. I want to be inspired to be better than I am!

This is why I am so fascinated by Conan, I suppose. I realize that it was an important element of the Baggins family that they weren't run-of-the-mill hobbits ... but even a enchanted-sword wielding, dark lord-defeating epic hobbit is no Cimmerian. ;)

-The Gneech

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