Thursday, September 9, 2010

Stuck Inside the Clogged Drainpipe of Creativity

The Story - Brandi Carlile (mp3)

My latest work of fiction stuck in writing limbo is haunting me.

It's not alone. My writing limbo is quite roomy and crowded. In fact, since back in college when I completed what might well be the worst piece of shit I ever wrote, I'm not sure I've finished anything fictional that was longer than a sestina.

When I say this 1993 short story was a piece of shit, it's not humility. Inspired by a friend's descent into drug use, I attempted to write a short story from the first-person perspective of someone on 'shrooms. The fatal flaw -- and it's not a minor one -- came from my clearly having never touched a hallucinogen in my life. The closest I'd ever been to a 'shroom was watching the guys on Young Guns take peyote. Even the damn friend who inspired my writing had never done 'shrooms. He was an LSD man.

So not only did I lack some crucially vital experience, but I didn't even have proper connection to anyone who had. Unless watching a few Lou Diamond Phillips movie counts. Quoting Dirty Steve and his obsession with the size of chickens as a crucial hallucinatory moment of inspiration is simply insufficient.

What my experience in writing a piece of shit taught me was that, if I were ever to succeed in writing anything fictional, it would need at some level to cast a harsh and critical eye on some aspect of myself. Almost 20 years later, and I still ain't finished anything.

I'm about to insult poets, so if you are one... well, first, I'm just sorry in general. But more importantly, you might not want to read what comes next.

Some 25 years after realizing I would spend the rest of my life writing, scribbling and typing words, pushing them out of my heart or mind or soul, down through the muscle fibers in my arms, and out of my frail knobby arthritisy-doomed fingers, I at last realize why poetry was so much easier for me than fiction writing.

Most poets know where the end is before they begin. If they don't, they find it pretty quickly, like a tourist who knows the keys are in her purse but has to dig around a little to find them. Poems are Bonsai Trees. They reveal detail and inspire awe in a way regular-sized trees rarely can. But when Mr. Miyagi starts clipping away, he already knows most everything about his tree, and the work is in snipping and binding, in pulling out and attending to the tiniest of details.

I'm part of the human condition that, even if I'm better suited to Bonsai trees, I can't help but stare out the window and long to be amongst the giant redwoods and towering pines. Look! There's Paul Bunyan! He's soooo much cooler than Mr. Miyagi! Unfortunately, although too many salespeople and educators tell us differently, it's not always true that we can be anything we want to be. You can't just wake up, work hard at it, and be the next Shaquille O'Neal or Jonathan Franzen.

Having left three lengthy writing projects in Fiction Limbo, most for decent enough reasons, a fourth now sits on the precipice, and I'm hoping I can find a way to keep it from falling in.

The story is inspired by a single autobiographical event and lets me have fun exploring some topics that reveal my own hangups while embracing a character on paper inspired by the woman who cut my hair recently. The opening scenario is so specifically out of date and pointless now -- a teenage boy's pathetically desperate midnight search for his first naughty magazine -- that I find myself laughing a little when I'm writing it. My generation never appreciated the "walking uphill both ways" stuff, and the current testosterone-addled teen will never appreciate needing to walk into a convenience store and pay a clerk in order to see naughty bits.

But, dammit, what began as a short story, in the hopes of me avoiding the rut of never-finished novels, has stretched. It's about to hit 4,000 words, and the end is nowhere in sight, even though I'm fairly convinced that there's not quite enough meat on this literary bone about boners to comfortably fill out a novel.

Thus, my current state of limbo. Which probably makes no sense to real writers. I doubt real writers ever get stuck just because they don't know whether something will end up a short story or a novel. If they do get stuck, it's probably less a seasional hibernation than those dudes whose head lolls over momentarily during a boring meeting.

But for now, I remain stubbornly willing to believe I might be, one day, somewhere in the future, a real writer. With the same kind of tense, awkward, nervous hope that the teenage boy in my story carries with him as he searches from convenience store to convenience store for the one night clerk willing to sell him a dirty mag.

Yeah, I might actually finish this one...


Anonymous said...

Keep going. What else is there to say.

Sara C said...

A. I'm a poet and wasn't even slightly offended. However, I also wonder if I'd ever be able to cut down the redwood.

B. I think all writers (even the very best) will tell you they get stuck, they don't know where they're going when they start, they just have a seed of a character or an idea and set about introducing themselves to that seed.

C. I can't wait to proof your galleys.

Daisy said...

Seems to me that chopping down the redwood is all consuming and leaves little time for a full and happy life. Maybe the fiction being in limbo for now is not all together a bad thing?

Bob said...

I look back at the time when I didn't have any dead ends, when I thought that everything I wrote was golden. That strikes me as more worrisome than what you're going through now. I've come to see those dead ends as good things, not wastes of time. And, as you know, behind the scenes, our blog is littered with unfinished posts from time to time, some of which have never been finished.

Bob said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Billy said...

@Sara - I don't know what your last comment meant, but if yer boy is OK with you proofing my galleys, then you go right ahead and proof away! ;-)

@Daisy - No doubt that, were I willing to full-on obsess over it at the expense of my personal and professional life, I would make much greater progress.

@Bob - When it comes to my longer-form writing attempts, it's not that there are some dead ends, but rather that, at least so far, there are only dead ends. Once I find my way to some version of a completion, I suspect the next completion will be much easier. The whole "break the seal" concept.

Sara C said...

I knew you'd like that. For a little clarification:

cinderkeys said...

If you're already at 4,000 words, I say keep going.

There will be parts you have to cut or change or expand on later. Don't worry about that. They're called first drafts for a reason.

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