And she trips over a fallen tree while running through the forest in order to escape her muses … Can you still hear the clacking of her keyboard?
And so, I find myself sitting here in front of my computer, full of the desire to feel the keys of my keyboard bucking and jumping beneath my fingers, but sadly bereft of any original ideas. Even entertaining words with which I could express my unoriginal ideas would be all right. It’s not the ideal, mind you, but it is something. Something is a whole lot better than “nothing”. Unfortunately, I’m not sure I can summon up the words for my unoriginal ideas, either. Which sucks.
In contrast to a few days ago, when I found myself nearly giddy with the prospect and promise of a “perfect” day, I fear I have ended up in the doldrums of life today. I am grumpy and unsettled — restless … and annoyed, too — although I can’t say exactly WHY I feel this way. And, in spite of my excitement and happiness over the coming of a new school year, I am finding slipping back into the normal “routine” of life much more difficult than I expected. I want to do so many things. I have so many ideas. But I feel unmotivated and exhausted.
It’s okay. The doldrums happen, right? They happen to all of us, and they will pass. Doesn’t make it fun to be stuck there for any length of time, but it won’t last forever. At least … that’s what I keep telling myself. At the moment, I’m not sure I believe it. I rather relish the idea of finding my “positive self” and socking her in the nose or something. Perhaps that’s too harsh. Maybe I would just put glue in her her hair or call her names behind her back.
This evening, I’ve been thinking about that old adage that I’m sure all of us have heard about a million times: “Write what you know.” Specifically, I was remembering a time when I shyly confessed to someone close to me my ambitions to be a writer. I told them I was working on a book, even. I had never, ever confessed this to anyone else in my whole, entire life. Never. Ever. Ever. This person seemed interested, and they asked me to tell them about my story. I excitedly told them all about how it was a fantasy novel, with a world-hopping protagonist and his Viking-inspired bodyguard / friend, and how they worked for this entity they couldn’t quite trust but also couldn’t quite escape. I went into great detail, as this was back when my story was still new, and I was still excited about the whole thing. At the end of it all, my relative frowned at me and grunted in derision, saying, “Why do you write crap like that? You should write something you know.”
And you know what? Here I am, years later, still struggling to bring that idea — the very one my dear relative slammed — into being. I have a first draft, but there’s just so much MORE to the story. It has morphed and changed over time. My characters have changed, too. They’ve grown and matured, just as I have grown and matured. But … I don’t know. I believe in this story. I really, really do. I think it has legs … and teeth. It darn sure won’t let me go. At the same time, I have to be honest and say doubt has crept in to sully the whole process.
What do I know? What am I doing trying to write a story like this, instead of something more familiar? What if I’m wasting my time and effort? What if I’m wrong about this story and about these characters? What if I can never finish this stupid story, so that I’m stuck with these characters rattling around in my brain, talking to me and demanding free pie, for the rest of my life — until I slowly go (even more) insane?
I know. It sounds ridiculous. Laughable, even. But doubts are like that. They are insidious and, even if you can laugh them off as goofy when they first occur, they tend to hang in there. Until, finally, you’ve had enough, and they start to look like Truth.
Here’s the thing: Behind all those doubts, there is a sliver of true fear. And it is this: What if I don’t know anything? Sometimes, I wonder if my life and past have to be tortured and difficult in order to make me a good, relatable, or moving writer. And I tell myself that, if this is the case, I’m out of luck. Because my life hasn’t been hard. Or painful. Or difficult. Or any of those things. I’ve never been tortured.
And yet … truth is a funny thing. When you think about it objectively, you get the idea that it’s only one thing. It’s “The Truth”, and that’s that. I don’t think life is like that. And I don’t think truth is like that, either. It’s like an onion. You painfully pull back the layers of your thoughts and your memories and your life, crying the whole time and wishing this wasn’t something you had to do in order to get things cooking.
My life has been painful. And difficult. Growing up wasn’t easy, and I’ve done many, many things I wish I hadn’t. I’ve given up bits and pieces of myself in order to make others happy, only to find, in the end, that this was something beyond my power. I’ve towed the line my whole, entire life, trying my best to be “perfect” and “good” … to do things exactly as the people around me wanted … only to realize I would never, ever be good enough. I’ve lost things and people who mattered to me. I’ve been kicked around and hated and vilified by people I thought I loved. I’ve had to face up to being a disappointment and a failure in my own eyes.
These are the things I know: Love hurts — a lot. You can never live your life in a way so that it counts for two people. You can love someone and not like them all that much. It hurts when you don’t belong. Most of the time, it’s best to keep your thoughts and feelings to yourself — until the depression sets in and you can’t do that any more. There are things in life that are beyond understanding. And, once time has done a thing, it’s not possible to go back and undo it. You don’t get a “do over”. Sometimes, the truth hurts, too — enough so that it’s better and kinder to live a lie.
But I can’t write about these things. They are still too painful and too close. And I’m afraid of hurting people I love, because they wouldn’t understand. At the same time, truths need to come out before healing can happen. So I couch the tale in fantasy terms, with a hero who is flawed but trying his best, a demanding outside influence he can never please, and a family that will desert him, in the end.
If a writer has nothing to say, and no words with which to say it … And she trips over a fallen tree while running through the forest in order to escape her muses … Can you still hear the clacking of her keyboard? Can you still hear her scream?