Monday, July 31, 2006

Writer's Block Be Gone

After a nine year hiatus from writing, I'm a year-plus into my third novel, the first two of which went unpublished. Over the course of the last year-and-a-half, I've written 80,000+ words and am nearing a first draft I'll feel comfortable sending out into the world.

My life now, as opposed to my earlier writing days, is overrun with workaday pressures, allowing no extended writing time. The opportunities to write are few and short. From the first days I spent working on this book, I figured out that my old habits--which sadly included occasional frustrating writer's block--wouldn't get me through. And very soon after that, I figured out that, for me at least, writer's block has a simple cure.

Allow myself to write utter garbage.

It's a technique I can't recommend highly enough. So here I go, recommending it as highly as I can--but not highly enough...

Allow yourself to write utter garbage.

In fact, at least occasionally, force yourself to write utter garbage. What I mean, really, is not that the output will necessarily suck--it probably will-- but that the anal retentive editor in you should be bound, gagged and locked in the basement closet, silenced completely for an hour or three. Promise him he'll have his day, but don't let it be today.

It took me way too long to figure out that over-reaching perfectionism gaurantees I won't write as often or as much as I should. It's also a near-guarantee that I won't enjoy the process.

The freedom to suck, however, makes me more productive, makes me enjoy the work more, and, ultimately, makes the writing better. If the editor in me--a restrictive, tight-assed malcontent--asserts his will up front, the writing will be both sparse and constrained.

The choice is a clear one. If you find yourself struggling at all with writer's block, give it a try.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Giving Stephen King a Second Chance

Let me start by saying that, historically, I've been a huge Stephen King fan. The Shining was the first adult novel I bought in life (technically, I also bought Peter Benchley's The Island at the same time, but the terror of The Shining so completely overwhelmed that book that it hardly counts).

I was in junior high at the time and a victim of a horrid algebra teacher who humiliated me at every opportunity and bored me the rest of the time. One of the students seated near me, a kid named Joel, had bought both of the above books and took to reading them during class. I envied his escape desperately and, after a few days, decided I had to follow him to wherever it was that he had gone.

After school, I rode my bike to Sprouse Reitz, a low-brow variety store selling everything from cheap toys to bug spray to yarn. It was the only place within easy riding distance that had a decent paperback book rack, and, luckily, both of the books I'd seen Joel reading were there for the taking.

As I hinted above, The Shining utterly terrified me. Like a days-long rollercoaster, it kept my heart racing. And when it was finished, I knew that I wanted to make people feel like that.

Over the intervening years, I read many more of King's novels and several books of novellas and short stories, learning along the way that he was much more than a talented horror writer, that he had a breadth boasted by very few writers.

All of this is a very long-winded way of saying that I am, by instinct, a Stephen King fan and that, in light of this, I was eagerly looking forward to his writing book.

I first read that book--On Writing--several years ago and was, sadly, underwhelmed. I thought it was too much about biography and too little about writing. And, at least as important, it seemed to lack energy (a problem I attributed to King's ongoing recovery from being flattened by an errant van on a backwoods Maine road). I didn't hate the book, but I was disappointed.

Recently, for reasons I can't explain, I pulled the book off the shelf again and began reading somewhere in the back half, the writing half. And my opinion is beginning to change. While I can't begin to put this book in the same class as John Gardner's wonderful On Becoming a Novelist and The Art of Fiction, I can certainly recommend it. King writes practically and without a hint of the mysticism that ruins so much art-related teaching. As a plain-spoken, capable craftsman, he has a voice that matters. And his phenomenal fiction career give his words a legitimacy that many teachers whose writing careers have shone less brightly--or not at all--can't match.