Friday, March 24, 2017
When the Thrill Is Gone
It's been a crappy week. Really. The eldest cat had the words "atypical cells" mentioned in his proximity. And due to a confluence of other events coming together in a big FU to the fam, we're in the process of moving off the boat and putting it up for sale.
Those of you who know me know this is just about The Worst Thing That Could Happen. (TM)
And here I am to talk about fun. Well, sure. Because let me say that there's nothing like life dishing up a bit of perspective to make you appreciate just how much shelter losing yourself in writing (or whatever thing you love) has to offer. As Hatshepsut (right) so aptly and expressively demonstrates, nothing is fun and games all the time.
I suspect we each of us have our favorite parts of the writing process - the parts that are fun. For me, the first idea stages, proof of concept, plotting, arranging the conflicts and the characters, drafting the first few chapters - that giddy, get lost in the flow stuff. But into every life a little rain must fall, yes? So it is for every project. Every book has bits that defy fun.
Here's my theory on that, though. Writing isn't supposed to be fun. I don't mean that in a 'It's work!' sort of way. My assertion is that the creative process is a PROCESS. That means going through a cycle with identifiable stages. It means descending into the labyrinth and getting utterly lost before working out how to extract yourself before you starve or get eaten by the minotaur. It's maddening and sometimes scary stuff. But it's necessary.
You know Chris Vogler's work The Hero's Journey? Where he describes story arc as a mythic construct with a series of stages? It isn't just the story that is a Hero's Journey. Every time you start a book, YOU are the hero accepting the call to go on an adventure.
The Call to Adventure - your initial idea. This may include all of that heady plotting and proof of concept work.
Refusal of the Call - the point at which you think this story won't work. Or the dog pukes his bodyweight on carpet and you spend days at the vet clinic in mortal terror, story forgotten.
Supernatural Aid - call it inspiration. A visit from the Muses. You get a bone tossed your way from the story or from the characters. A tiny scene volunteers. Doesn't matter, you get driven back to the work.
Crossing the First Threshold - you've invested in getting this book done.
In the Belly of the Beast - You dive headfirst into this new thing you're creating. It swallows you and for most of us the suck starts here.
The Road of Trials - Obstacles, complications, all the head pounding against desks comes in this stage. You're being challenged. Your creativity is being challenged. Seriously. This is YOUR arc. By the time you finish your story, you will be creatively capable of more than you were when you began, simply because you faced down problems you thought you couldn't solve.
I won't list out every single stage. But you can see it, yeah? The descent into the pit of despair to face your greatest fear, the big battle with your demon(s), the return carrying the Golden Fleece, as it were.
What I hear when someone, including me, talks about writing being fun, is a desire for writing to be easy. That is straight up Refusal of the Call. It's wanting to skate along the surface of writing, never delving into the depths of a story, declining to walk the road of trials in search of something meaningful to bring back from the journey. Writing, and the hero's journey, are meant to be - well - difficult. Challenging. Hard, even. Because only when the writer is forced to grow by some tiny increment (writers have growth rings like trees - each one the pages of a story) does something human and resonant emerge from the writing.
Sure, but dang, how do you face that? You learn to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Redefine fun. I do NOT like being scared. DO. NOT. LIKE. So guess what I'm going to get my face rubbed in every single book? I have a choice - run away from that or turn around and walk into it. I've tried both. I don't recommend running away. Makes it last longer and you just get tired. Whatever you deem unfun, reframe. Turn to face it and make yourself an explorer. Dealing with an emotion set that makes you want to hurl? Take it apart, piece by piece - catalog the sensations for use in writing. Got a scene to write that makes you want to slit your wrists with your felt pen? Walk away from the keyboard. Grab a paper and pencil and sketch out as many ways for that scene to happen as you can think of. Make 'em stupid and ridiculous. Make them serious. Funny. Tragic. Heroic. Somewhere in that exploration, you'll hit on something that speeds your pulse and you'll know you've found The One.
At the risk of sounding like Yoda, I'll say: Don't seek fun. Seek the discomfort, because that's where the jewels are hidden.
But by all means, if you're blocked, change your venue. Change your mode of operation to break up the kinesthetic expression - if you write on a keyboard 99% of the time, go to long hand for a day. Dictate. Whatever shifts you to another part of your brain and muscle memory. Remember to take breaks. Exercise. It shakes stuff loose. Why do you think Frodo had to walk across the whole of Middle Earth?