November 18th, 2006

Writer's Reluctance

The scene opens with a cat staring at a wall covered with sheets of paper that read, among other things, “new smells,” “tuna,” “chasing stuff,” and “dumb peepl.”


“What’s all this?” a guy asks him.


“I have writer’s block. I’m trying to get ideas.”


“Maybe you have writer’s block because you’re a bad writer.”


“A bad writer is just a good writer with writer’s block.”


(He isn’t too bright for a cat, but Bucky does sometimes come up with a winner.)


“Well then, you’ve got more than a block, dude, you’ve got the whole writer’s Lego set!”


“Yet,” the cat replies with an evil look, “I have no trouble knowing what to spray paint on your car…”


I love “Get Fuzzy” --but it does seem odd that even the funnies are talking about writer’s block.


Actually, that's a malady I don't claim. I know—roughly, at least—what I want to say. I just don’t want to say it, evidently.


It’s more a case of writer’s reluctance.


Take yesterday. I woke up early early, turned on the computer, and got to work. In theory. And it’s true, in about two hours—really the most I can force myself to devote to hammering out a lousy first draft of a fiction piece—I had a lousy first draft of my chapter. But it wasn’t a solid two hours of writing. Mixed in with the writing was a lot of thought about all the chores I had to do. At least three times I paused to debate with myself whether or not I should run a couple of errands after the draft was done, thus avoiding long lines at stores. (In the end I decided to go ahead and run the errands. I really, really hate long lines.)


I don’t know what it is about writing that makes housework so darn appealing. But when I glanced at my list at the end of the day, I was pleased with all the cross-outs—until I bothered to read exactly what I’d crossed out. I’d written the chapter draft and sent off five queries (I hate queries much, much more than long lines). And that was it for the writing. (Well, I did email some editors and colleagues, and review an edited version of a piece for accuracy.) Non-writing? Why, I’m so glad you asked: I ironed and watered the plants and mopped and whipped up some pie crusts. (Wow—now I feel worse than ever. That just doesn’t seem like very much stuff.)


So this morning I decided on a different tack: I handled the chores first (there weren’t very many, anyway, given my pseudo-productivity yesterday), and then settled in on the chapter.


For a while it went pretty well. But then I got to a point where I knew this draft would be nearly identical to the draft I’d been revising. So I cheated! (Shocking, no?) I broke down and copied-and-pasted.


It was only a couple of lines, so I didn’t feel too bad.


But then I did it again. This time, a couple of paragraphs.


And it didn’t stop there! All told, I copied-and-pasted three times from my last draft to my current re-write. I feel unclean, I admit—but at least the draft is done.


It would be much simpler—and only moderately more painful—if I could slice off a hunk of my brain, drain the story out onto the page, and just be done with it. Hey, there’s a great idea for some inventor out there. I hope you’re getting to work on the procedure right now.


In the meantime, I will take comfort in the fact that even feline literary geniuses have trouble translating their brilliant story ideas onto the page. (Of course, if my story contained such scintillating subject matter as “tuna” and “new smells,” I might not have writer’s reluctance at all.)