Just read on Hal Duncan’s blog possibly the most accurate and entertaining description of muse-wrangling and dealing with so-called writer’s block Every Committed To The Page**, and it delighted me almost as much as the awesome news that he’s finally finished TESTAMENT.
There is SO much truth in what Hal says. It is *most* true for HIM of course – and everyone’s relationship with their muse works differently – but I think all writers can identify with difficulties of engagement and focus on The Thing They’ve Promised To Do Right Now. I’m certainly familiar with some of the strategies that Hal mentions.
Most of my creative life has been spent switching from one project or discipline to another. And having two disciplines – music and writing – makes the switch even more pronounced, taking the pressure of obligation off one mode while having fun with the other. This is why I usually have multiple projects on the go at the same time. It works well in advancing all of those efforts along slowly. It works a lot less well when deadlines become involved. Give me a deadline and I’ll push through to the end, although there is often the feeling that the final result is not exactly as brilliant as it could’ve been if I’d just had another week, another month, another chance to walk away and build up my enthusiasm for it again, to return with fresh eyes and a sharp scalpel and finally fix what’s wrong with it. When Hal says: “mediocrity is not a fucking option”, what I think he’s talking about is “compromise”. But sometimes it has to be. Because that’s the nature of the business, sometimes you don’t have the luxury of wandering off to write a few songs or work on a different story or toy with the script of your musical. Sometimes you just have to get it done.
Maybe it’s having worked in the business world for 20 years, but deadlines and compromise are part of my language. Maybe that means my MonkeyBrat is too well trained. Grumpy yes, stubborn certainly, but it usually does what it’s told, eventually. And I wonder if perhaps that in turn has led to my general discomfort with thinking of myself as An Artist. The scope of my ideas has always tended towards what is modestly achievable. It’s a song, a book, a story; it’s not a work of genius. My MonkeyBrat might not be geared towards feats of pyrotechnic inspiration or rigorously worked complexity, he may not have grand visions or game-changing subversions in mind, but he suits my own personality and approach to creativity. We’re a team in exactly the same way that Hal and his own lovable MonkeyBrat are. Actually, I picture them like that, as a team – very much in fact like Burt Lancaster and Nick Cravat in The Crimson Pirate – swashbuilding and wordbuckling in joyous orchestration. Me and my MonkeyBrat, we have “progress meetings”. He even wears bifocals and carries a somewhat battered briefcase. True, sometimes we have our differences, sometimes we let meetings slide off the calendar, but mostly we get along fine. We get the job done.
The other thing Hal mentioned was defeating the distraction of the internet. I love the idea of Freedom, and if I were a full-time, work-from-home writer, I’d definitely be using it, but I’m a part-time, work-in-the-corners-of-the-day writer and that has its own natural advantages on the scope of freedom from distraction. Since my weekly writing schedule involves being in in coffee shops at breakfast time and lunchtime, I’ve got into the habit of choosing ones that do not offer free wifi or ones, like Woodlands Road’s lovely Bibliocafe, that won’t tell you the password unless you beg for it. And I’m still too proud a writer to beg. Thing is, my writing time is limited, so I pretty have to make use of it. That’s enough of a focuser for me. And this is why you’ll never*** see me tweeting #amwriting.
And of course, it also helps that most branches of Costa and Nero don’t have a piano.
In fact the only thing that’s distracting me from getting on with the current WiP is this newly minted, newly FINISHED, so new you can still smell the ink, manuscript by a certain, currently justifiably self-congratulatory writer of This Parish. And the reason it’s distracting is that it’s VERY GOOD INDEED.
**Hey, I feel hyperbolic today. Sue me.
***For values of “never”=”okay, maybe once or twice in the past, but it’s really, really uncommon, honest”