Monday, November 18, 2013

Feeling Pretentious

I would wager that most artists have had instances when the image in their heads wasn't making it to reality intact.

When scenes were being pesky. When the characters had all gone to their trailers, boycotting the plot. When the note dancing in the imagination can't be found in the piano. When the red on the canvas wasn't deep enough to rival the mental one. When the right word was a cousin of the only one that agreed to present itself.

Those times can lead us to ask ourselves, "How will I ever do this justice?"

Sometimes they even lead us to wonder, down in the quiet and terrified parts of ourselves, if we deserve to call ourselves artists at all.

I'll confess. I have one of these episodes in the middle of every first draft. My writing hand stutters and falls impotent. Every sentence becomes a battle against the white page. And I start to doubt my commitment, my ability to write long term.

I only get one day a week to do any serious work, and my uniform isn't exaclty professional (as can be seen from the picture above). The demons of the Valley of Doubt like to use these facts against me when I've hit a rough patch.

It hasn't gotten any less frustrating or terrifying over time. Even knowing these times yeild some of my most creative breakthroughs doesn't ease the worry that I'll never write anything worth reading again.

But I have picked up tricks to help manage the doubt.

1) Plan for the slump.
I plan my writing goals to reflect the time I'll be spending grappling with doubt.

2) Give myself permission to make something awful
This helps during the first draft slump when everything I put on the page looks like utter garbage.

3) Push on until the goal is met
When I get to the point that I need to make a goal, I bang away at it until I hit the word count, even if its stiff and will get the editting of its life come next draft (see number 2).

4) Allow myself a short break.
Sometimes, if it's a temporary slump, I can get the brain moving by giving the old sinews a stretch.

5) Project planning
Putting ideas down for another project, brain storming a brain worm, or fleshing out the details of the scene I'm stuck on can be just the thing I need to break through the barrier.

Doubt is something we will all have to deal with at some time in our lives. We will suffer at least one crisis of faith. But these times can be overcome, can be useful. They will either solidify our resolve or lead us down a new path that is better suited for us. Either way, as horrible as they seem at the time, these episodes serve an important purpose for my art and my path. I'd wager it could be useful for all of us.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Making it Work

Some days I work well under fire. The pressure of a looming deadline is enough to burn out the detritus. I throw words down, caring more about the getting there than the how.

Other days, I follow a meandering path. The feel of an idea tugs me along, begging to be expressed. The what of the work is more important than how far it takes me.

Still other days, I might as well throw darts at the dictionary and see how many times I can use the skewered word in a paragraph before the sight of it turns my stomach. At least doing so would result in sentences being produced.

I've breezed through 2500 words in one sitting just to struggle with 500 the next.

Conventional wisdom tell us to write every day. Doesn't matter what or how much. Just hit the page.

But if, on those slow days, it takes me four hours to get those 500 words down, wouldn't my time have been better spent doing something else? Planning a challenging scene to come? Making notes for potential revisions? Networking? Blogging? Research?

And that doesn't even take into account the spontaneity of life.

For those of us who live in a world where we're forced to pursue our dreams part-time or not at all, writing everyday is not only impractical but impossible.

Thus, the insistence that we must do so in order to be "real writers" serves only to  heap on guilt and doubt. And we can do that to ourselves without any outside help.

So what's a more realistic alternative?

Do what works for you.

Each writer is different and works from a different environment. It should go without saying that we'll all approach the work in different ways and at different paces. Yet we're told to adhere or have our pen privileges revoked in the name of protecting the efforts of "serious writers."

Completely ridiculous.

If you have to take notes through the week and power write on your day off, do it. If you need to spend months on a super-detailed, moment-by-moment outline, have fun. If you need a little less (or a lot less) structure, go with it.

Every trick and technique in the world is a tool, not a taskmaster. Make them work for you.