Friday, April 5, 2013

Searching for Headroom

" '...You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato. There's more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!'

A Christmas Carol
Charles Dickens 

When writing went from a pastime to a serious endeavor as a novelist, so too went the fantasies of writing the Great American Novel, becoming a NY Times #1 bestseller, earning millions and getting a seven figure deal for the movie rights. Yes, that was a letdown, to be sure, but in my heart I knew I was writing because I wanted to. I enjoyed the research, the work, the late hours letting my imagination conjure people, places and plots. I was having fun. Of late I haven't been having much fun.

The problem is writer's block, but not the kind you are led to imagine is the dark despair of a dearth of ideas. Most writers have more ideas than they will live long enough to commit to keyboard, monitor and hard drive (more modern than paper, you know).  No, the blockage is much more prosaic. It is ordinary life. The things we all have to do. Earn a living, take care of our obligations, spending time with family and friends. These all take time, energy and increasingly a piece of my soul. Which brings me to my Dickens quote.

The actual muse that drives each artist is as individual as a fingerprint, and it occurred to me last Christmas, as I watched George C. Scott deliver those famous words as Scrooge to Marley's ghost, that Dickens could have been describing the creative act. It doesn't take much to upset the applecart, so to speak. Sitting at a keyboard, of course, is the first task, and comes highly recommended from experienced writers, but in and of itself is pretty useless.

I also need a clear head. One that isn't jammed with the detritus of the day, demanding my time, disrupting my process. As they say, messin' with my head. I haven't been able to find that place recently and as a result I lose the momentum of the story. I used to dream in character dialogue and plot lines. Now I dream about elder care and medical procedures and mortgage payments and dinner menus. This is not helpful in finding the way back to the keyboard for something other than Facebook debates on politics or Tweets about where I might be having dinner, perhaps the source of that undigested bit of beef.

And that's really the thing here. Petty annoyances accumulate to create disruption and dyspepsia of my muse. It's really bothersome, too. My writing should be where I find my solace and diversion and when that element is missing it manifests as a cantankerous attitude (well, more pronounced than usual, at any rate), and a sort of irritability whose source can't quite be pinpointed and an amplitude that can't quite be quantified. 

Now this is the point where the reader would expect despair to win, and read an announcement that I was leaving my writing behind to devote more time to other things. You would be wrong. This is actually where I tell you that I draw inspiration from my friends and colleagues who know exactly what this place looks and feels like, yet manage to forge ahead in spite of the challenges. Friends like Jennie Shortridge, who just launched her latest book Love Water Memory, and Robert Dugoni who actually had to tell his law firm that he was a writer first (and a damn fine one), and a lawyer part-time. William Dietrich whose work ethic and finely honed skills as a writer set a standard to which I aspire, Kevin O'Brien who has carved a niche in the thriller genre to be envied and Garth Stein who actually got that brass ring. All these writers and many more whom I know and respect show me that the trick is not in being beset by daily life, but inspired by it.

Now comes the transition. The moment when I actually sit at the keyboard and create new worlds and characters. Now is when the beef, the mustard, the potato, cheese and the gravy come together to make a meal. And sometimes just musing on a blog will kick start the process. So to all my patient and long suffering readers, thanks for lending me a moment as my collective of silent shrinks. I'll try not to waste your time. 

Pardon me for the interruption, I need to get back to work.