Monday, October 11, 2010

~ Of armchair Tolstoys and backyard Kings ~

The whole world is a stage – or at least a book. And we, no matter how insignificant a role we might play, are all writers within it. Everyone has a story to tell – a drama to unfold – or a song to compose. As was quoted many times to me, "If you walk down a street and ask a stranger how his or her novel is coming along, nine times out of ten they will say, 'Well, I'm stuck on such and such a part.'" We all have something to say, the problem is that not everyone can find the words to express what they desire to pass on.

It seems that everyone is out there writing furiously on their book, or their play, or their short story. Characters are being created from mere abstraction sand lifetimes are quite often terminated with the ripping of a page the mark of a pencil. Whole worlds and universes are constructed from the swirling miasma of thought while tyrannical kings hold their land in thrall and by the force of the blade. Lovers meet and are thrust apart by forces unknown to them (the authors) and homicidal maniacs run rampant through the streets of a small city in Maine. All these lives, these worlds and kingdoms are brought to life and destroyed by one thing – the writer.

Throughout the country there resides an infinite amount of stories and sagas stored up within the collective memory of the human race, and there are many who would attempt to grasp these narratives and put them down on paper for the rest of the world to read. Some of these writers are successful in their attempts and quite easily bring their characters to live, letting them show us all their trials and tribulations that they must go through until they reach their ultimate goal. However, there are also those of us who must still hunt and peck at our keyboards while trying to get even a spark of intelligence to come from the lips of our latest hero.

Though not excluding the prolific writers of the world, we armchair Tolstoys tend to frequent a place in our minds which resembles a dead end street. Once the character has finally gotten up to speed and it seems that his steps cannot falter – wham! – he face plants into the stone and masonry wall which has suddenly sprung up before him. Dead in his tracks, he appears dazed and looks about without a clue as to what is to come next. A single word escapes his mouth, "Uhhh…..?"

At the same period of time that our character is looking stupefied, we quite often are doing the same. We even make the same sound. Last thing we knew, we were running along with our characters, recording what was happening when suddenly everything stopped; vertigo struck us; and then we were back sitting before our laptops with an unfinished thought on the page and a stupid look on our face. In vain, we try again to pick up the thought where we left off and begin running again, but all we can do is falter a few steps before we throw up our hands in frustration and begin to mutter obscenities at the computer, all the while imaging a recreation of the scene from Office Space where they take the fax machine into a field and beat the living (or non-living in this case) hell out of it.

This block, the band of all bards, minstrels, and muses of the written word strikes frequently and viciously, often leaving us drained and unable to function for a long period of time. Even when armed with our sharpest #2's, we strike out and stab only empty air and thoughts. The mélange of interplay between our characters, their worlds, and their goals lies beyond our reach. Sometimes it is far on the horizon, so we cannot even discern what we were looking at before. While other times, it teases us with glimpses so close that we might even see an action occurring but no know what to do with it.

There is always a great temptation to write through the block, to force the story to continue on. This seems to be a real difference between those of us who scribble in obscurity and to those who are able to produce the vital characters which draw us into their lives. Though there is great frustration in having to stop the forward motion of a world in progress, to force the characters into actions they aren't ready to do is a sure way to self-destruct a saga in the making. Characters will balk in making their smoothly. Each world from their mouths will sound as if rough-hewn and not finished, perhaps forced into being. Eventually they might even rebel enough to sit down and say that they refuse to move one step further.

Thus, we are forced to do what all the great writers do. We wait. Twiddling the thumbs always words and you can do it for free. The problem is you really get bored fast. It seems to be a good attention grabber for about thirty seconds. You could always start another writing project to see if something different comes along. However, there is the tendency to simply start making preparations for what to do when the zombie apocalypse happens. Useful, but not effective the short term.

Maybe you should try playing golf. If you don't play, even better. Take lessons. That way you can spend your time worrying about your slice instead of why your character is sitting there in front of a wall with stars floating around his head. This, along with various other methods of distraction (including doing laundry and participating in a Zombie LARP to get a feel for the impending apocalypse) should keep you busy enough to let your head work out the problems without your mind getting in the way of its working.

Then it happens. Your fingers start to itch and long for the feel of a keyboard beneath them. You start to daydream and realize that what you are thinking about is what your character is supposed to be doing at this moment. It's about this time that you realize that he has woken up from his daze and is ready to start telling you where he wants to go. The only thing that is necessary is for you to listen to him as he picks up the pace of his travels. Record what he does, all he sees, and where he goes. Let him be the writer, and be just a traveling companion yourself. If he has been given the life that is necessary, then things will finally fall into place (with probably only a few nudges for direction from you). It's only when we try to take over his story that the balking will begin again and the stone and masonry wall will appear once more.

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