You must do the thing you think you cannot do.
Here, on this lovely not-currently-snowing day, we bring the Duluth trilogy to a close. In case you missed them, part one is here, and part two, here. These all came about in the throes of writerly angst, when getting anything, even an incoherent brain dump, on the page felt like an insurmountable task. Obviously, that wasn’t permanent, but boy, did it feel like it at the time.
Duluth, pt 3
Since a writer’s work is, literally, all in their head, (and yes, I know I’ve drifted from the original topic of this post, but I don’t care; I’ll bring it back around) the upside is that there will be far fewer needles and surgical procedures involved in the writer’s recuperation, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less exhausting, aggravating and even painful. It’s neccessary, though, because writing isn’t something one can turn off. If you are, you are, and if you aren’t, you aren’t. While it is possible to be a writer who doesn’t write, as in someone who is genetically predisposed/hardwired/whatever term you’d care to use, who does not choose to exercise that ability, they aren’t the easiest people to live with and trust me, they’re not having a good time. It’s like trying not to breathe.
There’s the want. There’s the need. The how, however, that’s a different story, pun intended. Trust me, it’s easier to maintain a full creative well than to refill it. Ever try to fill an empty swimming pool using your kitchen tap? Whether it’s hooking up the garden hose so that one end is in the sink and the other in the deep end, or carrying buckets with or without the help of family members. it’s going to take a while. A long while. By that time, it’ll be too cold to swim, so what’s the point? Nope, better to call one of those trucks from the pool company and have them all dump it in at once. That, for the writer, is reading. A lot. In genre, out of genre. Books. Magazines. Backs of cereal boxes. Posters on the coffee house wall. Junk mail. Actual paper letters (really, send a writer one of these and they will love you even more.) Ebooks. Forum posts. Graphic novels. Library books. Closed captioning on movies and tv shows. Read read read read read read read until it’s not possible to hold any more.
Like with the pool illustration, if the creative well is empty, it may take a LOT of reading, a lot of taking in story in all its forms (movies, tv, plays, dance, computer games with a storyline or character development, etc.) It gushes in and in and in and in and in and in….that’s our transfusion. Next comes the physical therapy. Writing. Actual writing. I’m not going to say words on the page, because that phrase, I am pretty sure, was the piano that dropped on me, personally. Or maybe the pigeon that pooped in my eye when I looked up to see if the piano bench was going to fall, too.
At any rate, this stage of recovery means that there has to be actual writing. Meaning stuff in the writer’s head has to go someplace where it is possible, at least in theory, for somebody else to see it. Whether or not they actually do is not that important at this stage. For those who have a hypercritical gremlin in their head, jumping up and down and screaming “yes, it is!” it is okay to smack that gremlin with a copy of Outlander. If our writer had been in a physical car accident, do we expect them to crawl out of the wreckage and run a marathon? I’m thinking not.
What happens at this stage is spewing out everything that’s in the writer’s head, because even while the well is filling with good stuff, the bad stuff still has to come out. I’d say expressing pus, but that’s gross, but I also am taking advantage of this time to smack my hypercritical gremlins, so yes, it is at times like expressing pus. Bad stuff out so there’s room for the good stuff to come in.
Somewhere in the middle of all of that, things will begin to balance. The writer will get back in touch with why they accepted the invitation of all these people who live inside the writer’s head. The type of story, the type of character. They will get their voice back. They will fill notebooks and flash drives and whatever other method of storing data modern technology comes up with in the time between writing this and someone else reading it. Some of it is going to be venting. Okay, a lot of it is going to be venting. it’s going to be rough and confusing and attract hypercritical gremlins like blood in the water attracts sharks. Keep going. Because at some point, the balance will be reached. (Yes, that is passive phrasing, and no, I do not care, because hypercritical gremlins get my boot in their butt at this stage of the game.)
Up and down the steps. Up and down and up and down and up and down and then one day, without thinking about it, without planning to, without advance approval of the physical therapist, the writer takes the stairs instead of the ramp back to their room (or more likely, the vending machine on the third floor because that’s the one that has pub fries and gummi bears) – well looky there, stairs. Bunches of them. Climbed up and climbed down and the world did not end. Time to go back home and get back to business. And find directions to Duluth.