By Stephen Jay Schwartz
The title sounds better when said in a Jamaican accent. I don’t know why, but it does.
Lately I’ve been sitting down to write and I stare at the current scene and instead of moving forward I look at the people in the cafe and I think something completely off-track, I think about how everyone has an orifice or two in their body that leads to the inside of their body which allows them to consume solids and liquids and evacuate liquids or semi-solids (gross) and they walk around like this doesn’t bother them, like it’s normal to have these holes in their bodies, and for some reason their bodies don’t cave in around the holes, they stretch and compress and the holes remain, and the people act as if nothing about this seems odd and, I don’t know, if it were me I’D GO MAD.
After which time I focus on the page and re-read the sentence I wrote and discover it looks strangely dyslexic and I delete and start over again.
Where has my mind been lately?
I don’t remember writing like this when I was under deadline. On deadline I move forward confidently with the fear of legal consequences guiding my hand.
Even as I sit here now, at another favorite cafe, I stare at the fish in the aquarium, not because I’m lost or have nothing to do, but because the fish are staring at me, and I find this disturbing. I do not know what it is they want nor why they’ve chosen me as their target.
Am I just finding excuses not to write?
Why is writing my favorite and least favorite thing to do in the world? How can light be a particle and a wave at the same time?
Whatever’s going on in my head, it’s all good for the book, I tell myself. And then I think that the book has been outlined and I’m forty-thousand words in. I know the book I’m writing and there is no place for catostrophic abstract nonsense.
But is it really abstract, when the tilt of the earth’s axis adjusts a degree every ten thousand years and the resulting Ice Age could destroy us before we’ve gained a foothold on planets capable of sustaining human life? WHY IS THAT FISH STILL STARING AT ME?
I think it’s a stalling tactic. I don’t want to dive into my writing each day for fear that the best I can do might not be good enough. It’s a common trap. The fear of failure. When I was working a full-time job I had the excuse that there simply wasn’t enough time to produce good work. Therefore, if my work was lacking in any way I could simply point to the fact that I had been rushed.
I’m not rushed now. I’ve been working on this book for a very long time. I don’t know exactly how long, and I’m not going to run the numbers.
When I’ve talked about this before people have sent emails saying they hope I get past my writer’s block. But I’m not blocked. I know the story, I’ve written my outline, I’m ready for action. What slows me is that I want every paragraph to represent my very best work. And why shouldn’t it? I’ve done all this background stuff so that I can concentrate on writing a “finished” scene. And that’s where I stop. That’s when I get the fear. With all the time in the world, with the outline, with the research books by my side…will my best be good enough?
It’s so much easier to do ANYTHING else. I could clean the apartment, because I know the apartment CAN be cleaned. I can write a blog, because I know I can finish my blog. I could do some terrible, menial day job, five days a week, hating it every step of the way, and I could do it well because I know I can do it well.
Most things I do don’t require that I do my absolute very best. The problem is that I expect that from my writing.
And that’s scary.
Fortunately, this week, a beautiful woman whispered in my ear. “I’ve got some words for you,” she said. “Would you like to dance?”
The muse, when she want to dance, you dance.
I’ve had three good days so far. My knees were a little weak at first, and I’d forgotten how to lead, but she’s helped me along.
The best piece of advice she’s given me is this…”Don’t think. Write.”
And look…the fish are staring at someone else for once. Maybe now I can get a little work done.