A Laser or a Searchlight?

Sometimes it flows out effortlessly, on and on and on, a wondrous river of sentences, a current of words, and sometimes – well, sometimes it just doesn’t. You know what I mean. Getting started on a new project of whatever length can either be the easiest and most instinctive thing in the world or it can be the worst exercise in pulling teeth. There doesn’t seem to be much middle ground, and moreover whichever path it takes doesn’t seem at all related to one’s feelings, plans, organization, or motivation. Even the muse’s smiling or frowning doesn’t appear particularly related. Fingers race across the keyboard or they sit there like petulant cats, giving you the evil eye and making it clear to all and sundry that they’ll do what they please and nothing else, thank you very much. Discipline: we know we need it, but even when we have it that is no guarantee for the process clicking. What to do? Stick it out? Move on to something else with an idea to come back later? Both? Neither?

There’s a lot to be said for focus, for concentration, for stubbornly keeping at it no matter what, for taking a work by the horns and not letting go. With any long-term and major project surely this is a good idea, but life – to paraphrase John Lennon – very often has other plans. And when it does? A bit of dabbling might be in order, a bit of winding down those little miscellaneous thises and thats which somehow seem to pile up and cry out for attention now and then, regardless of whether or not they’ve actually been forgotten. Personally I find a widespread approach to writing like this inevitable. There are far too many demands in far too many areas to be able to really sit down and just “give it” to one’s favored work in progress, especially when a day job is involved. Still, there is certainly a sense in which I would like to do just that as few things in writing are as satisfying as getting a good chunk done towards completing a really major, meaty, juicy slice of text. Racing to that “The End”, rockets strapped on; as an author that’s when you really feel alive, that’s when you really feel like you’re doing what comes best, what comes most naturally. “Naturally” at the best of times, anyway.

But are those really the best of times? Exclusivity – if possible – can just as easily lead to stagnation as it can to precision, clarity, and beauty. The mind needs stimuli, the creative mind more than most, and if the surrounding environment isn’t providing much there might not be any other option than to delve within, and in that internal spelunking to find and haul out what was missing. The way to do that, of course, is to turn off the laser and switch on the searchlight. Whip out a short story, jot down a poem, reel off an argumentative essay, whatever comes first and best is probably what the doctor is ordering, and then, medicine taken, the piece you’d prefer to be penning might just be able to actually progress.

Is this a cure for writer’s block? I don’t think so, and that’s certainly not what I’m trying to suggest with all of these heavily mixed metaphors. Rather I think that writing, perhaps most like music, is one of those arts that both rewards and punishes single-minded dedication. When is such called for and when isn’t it? When will it help your main work and when will it hinder it? Inserting blemishes, frustrations, and ever more painful edits down the road? Who’s to know, and how? Therein lies the mystery of creation, with all questions unanswerable. What to do? Do, I suppose, simply let go, stay open, see what happens. At least with writing the paint will never completely dry.


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