Blocked

Writer’s block sucks. It’s unfathomable to the non-writer and demoralizing for the writer. After all, you write because you love it, right? So what happens when that love of the work turns into something else or gets wrapped up in other feelings? A whole lot of nothing. I’m in the midst of a four-year run of this condition now, and it’s starting to eat away at my soul. Maybe blogging about it will help. I’ve done sillier things.

I should emphasize that the “block” I’m dealing with is personal in nature. I don’t get writer’s block on the job (i.e., for other people), except in rare cases. Writing for myself is something else. The needs of a customer are always known, or if not known, can be discerned by asking questions. I’m a much more difficult customer.

  • Do I know what I’m trying to accomplish?
  • Do I know who my audience is?
  • Will this work be engaging to the reader?
  • Is the work saying what I want it to say?

I don’t always have the answers to these questions, nor am I terribly confident when I answer them.

Ghosts from the past

Several years ago, I got into the habit of sharing one piece of creative writing with a lady friend on a daily basis. Part of the courtship ritual, as it were. However, the relationship did not go as hoped for, and so it ended.

The problem is that in the process of ending that relationship, I also yanked out a lot of the wiring that I used to write creatively for fun. Writing was something done for her. Being a creative writer was someone I was in that relationship. Writing after that brought me right back to the mental state I was in fresh out of the relationship: No, I don’t write anymore. That was something I did for her. That was a different life, a different person. Somewhere along the line, I made the mistake of using a real person as a “Muse,” and now find myself, years later, not wanting to return to the writing habit because it puts me back in the headspace I had when writing for that specific person.

Given the number of relationships I’ve screwed up over the course of 40+ years, you’d think I’d have the sense to separate the creator of the product from the recipient. But no, my subconscious juxtaposed the two in this case and decided that writing “for myself” was no longer possible.

It’s vexing, and a little sick-making, to be honest, because it’s not like real people are flawless or will never let you down. They will, just as I no doubt let down the person in question and others along the way or since. Indulging in a “muse” is a great way to short-circuit a professionally minded brain because when I have paying work, I don’t have the luxury of waiting for inspiration to strike before getting to work. The work must be done, sit in front of the goddamned computer and crank out the prose. If you don’t, you don’t get paid and you don’t eat. QED, the writing gets done.

However, that’s business. Writing for oneself is a slightly different animal for me. I never felt confident (or good) enough to write fiction for a living. I was a little too addicted to things like eating and having a roof over my head to write stories for a living. I pay the bills by writing and editing content for others. Fiction or poetry became things that I wrote for myself, in my free time, when I felt like it.

So when you start connecting all these dots together, you can see how writer’s block can and will interfere with the idea of writing for pleasure. I write content for other people or organizations. And while I do enjoy the process, especially when the content has to do with human space exploration, I realize that the thoughts are not my own but the ideas of others. I settled for that sort of writing to pay the bills because I lacked the confidence to write stories for a living. I suppose if I had forced myself to earn my living writing fiction, I might have gotten better at the craft through sheer repetition, persistence, and practice.

Yet the daily practice stopped when I ended that relationship. I was writing for her, after all, and she was no longer part of my life. So then what?

Quitting drinking helped clear my head, mostly. Yet I still had this injury to my soul lingering the background. It’s like a mental limp, hobbling my ability to fully express myself, either because I felt that my reason for writing went away or because I lost confidence in the person who wrote because the writing (or I) was insufficient to keep the relationship going. In the process of breaking the relationship, I inadvertently broke something fundamental to my well-being as a human being. The recycled mantra in the head is akin to, The writing failed, I failed, and so I don’t write anymore.

I can appreciate the works of others–indeed, my reading has been voracious over the past few years–but I can’t contemplate my own work without a feeling of vertigo or seasickness. The person I was in that relationship was someone who wrote, and that person failed. I haven’t been able to become that person again, and that hurts. I need to fix this. I’m tired of hurting. : (

Expectations: Fiction vs. Real Life

I take my fiction experiences–whether they’re written, on a stage, or on a screen–very seriously. An interaction on Twitter this morning made me consider some of the ways my feelings toward fiction manifest themselves.

Here was the Twitter exchange I had this morning:

I didn’t appreciate having my attitude toward villains described as “simple minded” or immature, yet I responded politely as shown. Yet it’s true: I’m not interested in the motives of bad guys in books or movies.

This is an old habit, going back to my youthful love of the Star Wars saga. The fascination people had with Darth Vader or Boba Fett, for example, eluded me. Even Vader’s revelation that he was Luke Skywalker’s father didn’t move me that much. My 11-year-old self assumed that he was lying. The subsequent confirmation of Luke’s parentage made for an interesting resolution to Return of the Jedi, but I remained a fan of the heroes. Vader didn’t redeem himself until very late in the game.

The prequel movies depicting the transformation of Anakin Skywalker into Darth Vader was a narrative mess, and I still wasn’t that interested in Anakin’s fall from grace. What did bother me was the Clone Wars movie, which was set between Episodes II and III. There, Lucas had already set the trajectory of Skywalker as heading down a dark path. What, then, was one to make of this cartoon that depicted him as becoming better or more heroic? Were we supposed to feel that much worse when he succumbed to the dark side? Anyhow, it didn’t work for me, given the narrative arc shown for the character at that point in the series. I was also not pleased to read “there are heroes on both sides” in the opening crawl of Star Wars III. The original Star Wars trilogy worked because it depicted a straightforward morality tale of good-vs.-evil. Who the heck do you root for if there are heroes on both sides?

For me, fiction is about structure and meaning. This is probably because I read and wrote stories as a way to make sense of the world or to make the world a better, more just place, if only in my mind. I had enough examples in my adolescence of the bad, the mean, or the violent succeeding; I didn’t need or want that in my fiction. Call it idealism, call it escapism, call it what you will: to be satisfying to me, stories with obvious heroes and villains need to end with the hero triumphing.

I recall another expectation about fiction that created a great deal of amusement for one of my professors in graduate school. It was a hypertext class, and one of the reading assignments was a “novel” called If on a winter’s night a traveler by Italo Calvino. That had to be one of the least-satisfying reading experiences I’ve ever encountered. The book consisted of a series of episodes in different genres, none of which connected to each other, and all of which ended without resolution. I came into class infuriated that the author had wasted my time. The professor, amused, asked me, “Why are you so upset by this?” I replied, “Good fiction isn’t supposed to do that!”

Since I’m probably on the verge of being called simple-minded again, I’ll just state my objection here: If I wanted that sort of experience, I could turn on the news.

Much of the fiction that works for me takes the form of a structured morality tale. There are other works that are not conflict-focused or are more ambiguous, like man vs. nature–I’m talking here about man vs. man stories. There are also tragedies, such as the darker works of Shakespeare, but those don’t appeal as much to me, either. Again, I’m trying to make sense of the world and perhaps reinforce my rather naive hopes that good will triumph in conflicts. If I wanted to hear that “the world doesn’t make any sense,” I could read any number of columnists or bloggers. If I wanted to see conflicted human beings acting in a manner perceived as villainous, I could turn on the evening news. If I wanted to see evil triumph, I could read histories about some of humanity’s worst despotisms.

There are writers and readers out there who thrive on relatable, multi-layered, or even sympathetic villains. I wish them well. However, I am not the market for those sorts of stories. They don’t interest me.

Writing for My Own Pleasure

When I turned 30, I sat down and turned the little Star Wars stories I’d written between ages 8 and 18 into a full -blown novel. I never tried to get the story published, of course, but I enjoyed the process. With the ending of the Skywalker saga last year, I toyed with writing a sequel. I haven’t (yet), but I keep arguing with myself about the project.

I had multiple reasons for not attempting to publish the first novel. Lucasfilm had its own set of stories, many of which mine was not as good as or compatible with. Plus, it was just for fun—fan fiction. Also, as a first novel, it had any number of first-novel faults. However satisfying it was for me personally, it just wasn’t that good.

So now, 31 years later, I find myself mulling a sequel. I’ve written a few more novels since then, so it’s not a question of ability. At age 51, I’m simply struggling creatively. I don’t write much fiction at all. playing around in the SW universe is easy. I know that place. Many of its environments and “rules” are already established. Writing fiction there is fun. All I need to do is move my own characters 30 years forward in time and adapt them to the stories depicted in Episodes VII-IX.

But why write such a story? Why put in the work if it’s only for my own amusement? Maybe to prime the creativity pump. If I put in the time for that story, other ideas might come to mind. I’ve done sillier things to kill time. I just need something to fill the dusty, empty space that has occupied my life over the last year or so.

Forced in on Myself

I’m not expecting any great “transformation” or personal insights during this period of enforced isolation. They could happen, mind you, but I’m not expecting or forcing any. What follows are my thoughts about the state of my soul before and during this shared crisis called pandemic. Continue reading “Forced in on Myself”

Star Wars in the Age of Immersive Entertainment

In the last two weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to experience what I guess I’d call the cutting edge of entertainment: Star Wars: Secrets of the Empirea virtual reality experience licensed to a company called The Void, and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, the new “land” at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Each experience, in its own way, shows the direction we can expect interactive entertainment to go in the next few decades. Continue reading “Star Wars in the Age of Immersive Entertainment”

Writing About What Hurts

I participated in an hour-long online on “How to Write Stories That Matter,” hosted by Jeff Leisawitz. I keep trying different things to kickstart my internal creativity, but quite frankly nothing’s helped. “Writer’s block” is putting it kindly. I found the session quite useful–it’s not Jeff’s fault that I’m stuck. Still, I appreciated Jeff’s inputs, perhaps the most useful/important for me being, “Write about what hurts.” Continue reading “Writing About What Hurts”