I am not referring to Michelangelo here, but the impulse that drives – and destroys – anyone who voluntarily puts pen to paper or fingers to keys and creates worlds out of letters. I’m talking about the fundamental need a writer (or screenwriter or author or storyteller or bard or whatever you are, you freaking nitpickers) has to write. To tell a story. I get these quite often and, quiet frankly, they are the best and worst thing I’ve ever felt. Except for watching Real Housewives.
My moments of pure, unbridled I MUST WRITE OR I WILL DIE usually come when I’m walking out the door or in the shower or anywhere besides right next to my computer. This is a phenomenon all writers know and love/hate, because it reminds of who we are and what we do, but also the terrible pain behind that urge. If I can’t write the exact paragraph that’s marching through my head at this exact moment, I feel like jumping out of my skin. I’ve jumped out of the shower, shampoo in my hair, to jot down a sentence or a phrase, or left a party to go home and write. I’ve even attempted to narrate to some recording app while navigating standstill traffic. The latter I only did once because I was too embarrassed by the sound of my own voice (I mean, isn’t everyone?) to listen to the recording.
But that need is nothing compared to when you actually sit down, crack your knuckles, open up that word processor and suddenly find that all those stories and sentences and oh-so-smart turns of phrase are gone. You are dried up and you haven’t even begun. The blank page taunts you. And you deserve it, right? You’re a damn writer, you can bang your face against a keyboard and get a coherent sentence out of it! But despite all the button mashing, all the furious playlist creating (because a new playlist WILL help you and no it’s not a distraction) all you end up with is the blank page and a lot of frustration. You go to bed pissed, wondering where all that drive went. And, for me, that’s exactly when it comes back.
When I was writing THE RED QUEEN, I kept a legal pad behind a pillow so I could jot stuff down. Usually I woke up to incoherent scrawling and pen on my face, but it at least gave the illusion of help. I went back to my computer knowing the drive was somewhere, I just had to find it. So I pushed and typed slowly and fought myself. And that’s where the third pain comes in, the one that might be worse than all the others.
I don’t know how it is for anyone else, but for me, when I’m really going, I mean when I know every damn letter that’s coming for the next twenty pages, I go into a weird little trance. My headphones go in, ambient Nine Inch Nails comes on, and I am a zombie. It doesn’t happen often, at least back when I was writing screenplays it didn’t, but the last 2 weeks of writing TRQ resulted in two full weeks of blank space. I remember waking up, eating a bagel, and then realizing it was sunset and two chapters were done. The only memory of the moments in between that stays with me is the thought I always have when writing: I am bleeding.
Because that’s what writing is to me. I bleed. The connect between my brain and my fingers goes away and the words just happen. I open a vein and somehow pour it all out into a Macbook. This doesn’t mean what I write is devastatingly serious or tragic or beautifully intelligent. Quite the opposite, I write to entertain, because that’s what I see as my primary goal. Theme and moral and message come later, or else you’re just writing a sermon or, at best, an episode of Seventh Heaven. I’m even crazy enough to feel this way when I’m writing something cliche or juvenile or just plain fun. (By fun I mean the zombie vs. cowboys melee that was the third act of my first screenplay). And because it’s my blood on the page, it hurts that much more. Where is this going? Is it good? Am I good? All those questions that we all know way too well come haunting, a shadow behind every single letter.
No one answers back, not for a long time, until the draft is done and you’re ready to put that black blood out in the world. I was lucky enough to study screenwriting in college, and get four years of workshop classes under my belt to help me develop a hopefully thicker skin. But I still feel the sting (oh man do I feel it), and I’m sure you do too.
I was never good at conclusion in those five paragraph essay things they made you write in school (or introductions or theses either, come to think of it), and I’m a rambling writer. Again, I’m bleeding out a jumble of words. There isn’t much advice in here, if any, but hopefully this post is more of an outstretched hand to remind us that other people understand the agony and the ecstasy. Other people, other writers, know exactly how you feel and how hard it is to do what you do every single day. Writers are, by nature, insular creatures and so we, above all others, need to be reminded that we are not alone.