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05/26/2007 Archived Entry: "Writers are very strange beasts ..."

THE HUMAN BEING IS A STRANGE BEAST. At least creative ones are. At least this one is.

Here's one of those little personal, non-freedom-related writer-revelations you can skip if you're only visiting Wolfesblog for the political rants:

Struggles between being creative and the need to live as a practical, social, non-trogloditic, fully functional human being have ruled my life. On the one hand, I can be responsible, efficient, tidy, right on top of my to-do list, and acceptable to my friends and family. On the other I can butterfly-stroke through the waters of creativity, writing, drawing, dreaming.

But I can't do both.

When the to-do list rules, my creative brain becomes so cramped that the thought of sitting down to a keyboard or a box of pastels is literally terrifying. I become so detached from my own abilities that in my more drama-queening moments I believe I'd rather kill myself than sit down to work. I can't do it. It's beyond me. I simply don't have whatever talent or inspiration I'm going to need. My soul is dead and can't be revived.

Then I finally break out of the tyranny of the to-do and find joy and inspiration in a creative project. And real life suffers -- the bigger and more successful the project, the more the danger to reality. I cherish the delusion, at these times, that I'm a perfectly normal, conscious human being. I'm certainly a happy one, forgetting the hours as they fly past. Bur normal? Ha!

In a creative state, I once made my morning tea then put the tea pot in the refrigerator and the milk carton on the hot burner. The only severe car accident I've ever been in (knock wood) happened when I was in a creative state. The accident wasn't technically my fault; a pick-up truck crossed to my side of the road and hit my Honda Civic head on. But I've always felt as if my lack of mental presence contributed somehow. As if I could have seen the enounter coming and avoided it had I been in "to-do" mode instead of an "ohmigod, I just got such a brilliant idea!" state.

I really need a keeper. Someone to take care of stuff when I'm off in Creatopia.

Alas, that's not the way life works. When you're a woman in a relationship, chances are you're the one who gives up the creative work to become the permanent "to do" party. That's not universal, I know. But it's usual. Has been for me, anyhow. So I neither keep nor am kept these days. Which has plusses and minuses. The only person who gets in my way most of the time is me. But I have to live with myself without relief.

One function of a keeper, for a creative person, is being someone to bounce ideas off of, and someone (poor thing) to whine at. Writers especially, as has been noted before in these pages, live in a frequent state of highly dramatic tragedy as they contemplate the profound horror of their own sufferings, torturing themselves for the sake of a profession they like to regard as being more arduous than ditch-digging, coal-mining, and professional crime-scene cleanup combined. Poor dears. (Poor Me!)

The whining -- however it may feel to the poor Keeper-of-the-Wild-Creative -- isn't mere whining. It has its purpose, and a necessary one, as we'll see toward the end of this screed.

The process of coming up with the right idea or the perfect expression of an idea isn't a smooth one. Days, weeks, months may go by when nothing will gel. Yet the brain must keep working at it. For all writers' laughable creative drama queening, it really is a tough process. And a discouraging one. One that would make even a "normal" person lose self-confidence.

Worse, you may get a "brilliant" idea, soar on a wave of manic joy, then discover a few days or pages later that your "brilliant" idea not only doesn't work, but is a total piece of crap.

Since last summer, I've been working on a book that I frequently think of as impossible. I have a partner on this project, one I'm very grateful for. But by agreement, he's a largely silent partner in this early (and how long am I going to have to call it "early"?) process. He has contributed, and will contribute, much of value. He has a huge role toward the end of the work. He and I have had a couple of good brainstorms. But both of us understand that he's not somebody I can just call up and toss a random idea at. Or subject to a long, loud, self-pitying whine.

I've made three complete re-starts on this project and believed, at more than one point, that I'd have to abandon it completely and let my long-suffering partner down.

Recently, I had a series of good, happy creative breakthroughs after months of considering the project all but dead. I still think the brilliant ideas actually are brilliant. But the "to-do" state keeps intervening. The plumber arrives, then has difficulties that keep him going back and forth from my place to the shop. The dogs need to be walked. I must meet a deadline and drop book work in the interim. Then, once the creative flow has been choked off, reasons for not working turn into excuses for not working. It's too cloudy and depressing. The sun is shining too temptingly. There's a dust bunny over there under the table. Netflix calls. Blackberries are going to take over my backyard trail if I don't hack them back this very minute!. I make elaborate plans and promises about how I will (surely, starting tomorrow!) discipline myself into easy, brilliant writing. I continue most dedicated dithering.

Because I have no keeper (no wife!) to either take care of some of life's necessities or kick me in the butt, I finally mire to the point of self-loathing. At that point, I can pit myself against even a heavy-duty brat like F. Scott Fitzgerald for whinery -- though fortunately I do it accompanied by a nice mug of sweet tea rather than a bottle of booze. (My liver thanks me.)

Once I'm mired to the point where I fear not earning a living, I know it's only a short time before I rise back up. I have to rise back up because the alternative is starving my poor doggies to death or pursuing that scintillating new career in pizza delivery (and that avenue is closed off, now that I don't have a driver's license).

That's the darkest moment. That's my "hitting bottom." But even at my worst, I also know it's the sign of the proverbial coming dawn, even though I'm so turned around I have no clue as to which direction the sun will come up.

Last night I went to bed in that state, expecting to wake up at 2:00 or 3:00, full of paralytic anxiety. But I slept all the way through the night -- the first good sign, even though I still awoke battering myself with the nerf bat of contempt. I don't know whether the night's sleep is a sign of the coming change or whether the change comes largely because I finally get a night's worry-free sleep. Either way, it's a Sign.

But I didn't feel one whit more confident. Far from it. I was merely ready to chant a litany of all the reasons why I couldn't do the job.

I grabbed my Morning Pages journal, from my days of going through The Artist's Way. I started writing down all the reasons I just plain couldn't write this book: because its aim is impossible; because I can't find the right blend of the practical and the inspirational to offer; because nobody will publish it anyway, or if somebody does, the marketing will be minimal, the reviews almost non-existent, and the audience both skeptical and small. This book asks its readers to do a hard, hard thing for freedom and to believe in a reward that seems perilously theoretical. Nobody will do it. People will think it's beyond the pale. They'll think it's beyond the pale because, even though it's a good idea, I'm not good enough ... etc. etc.

I went on like that for four handwritten pages of self-pity. By the time I'd scrawled out four pages of dead-solid, irrefutable reasons why this book simply could not be done, or at least not be done by me, I was burning -- absolutely burning -- to get to the computer and work on it. The demons of hell couldn't have prevented me. No plumber, no telephone, no degree of sun, wind, or overcast could have deterred me. I had two from-the-gods phrases in my head, a total of six words, that launched me on a leap I could not refuse to take.

I put down my tea, got out of bed, threw the dogs out with bowls of food, and began to write. Three hours later, the bed isn't made. The dogs aren't walked. Their dishes aren't picked up. Yeserday's laundry goes unfolded. I'm not dressed. My teeth and hair are fuzzy from sleep. There are not only dust bunnies over there under the table, but there are at least two frolicking a foot from my slipper-clad feet.

And I have a chapter written, half a dozen problems solved, and a general idea where the next chapter needs to go. And I've written this blog entry, to boot. My shoulders ache. I need an aspirin. But I've done it. I'm happy. I feel ready to do more.

Now I'll stop and take care of all those to-dos. And I'll pray to all those indifferent and fickle-hearted gods that the flow will still be running when I can get back to the computer.

The human being -- at least the creative one -- at least this one -- is a very strange beast.

Posted by Claire @ 02:21 PM CST

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