By Stan Ridgley
I’ve read with interest the most recent essays by my colleagues, particularly the powerful message sent by Rick Steinberg on being true to one’s inner voice and vision rather than seeking external “inspiration” and validation.
Another colleague cut against the conventional grain in sharing that he does not write every day. Of course, I don’t write every day either, but I believe that I should. And so I admit that I violate this dictum.
And given my overly cultivated conscience, I carry guilt upon my shoulders rather than assuage that guilt by simply penning a few lines here and there each day.
What do these two previous essays mean to me? Why do I connect them? They offer nuggets that resonate with me and remind me of verities that I learned . . . and sometimes must relearn from time-to-time.
Here is what I mean.
A decade ago, my own attempts at novels were technical masterpieces (in my own mind) and emotional wastelands. Well-researched, but barren. Think of an incredibly written technical manual posing as a novel. In self-pity, I even took on the sobriquet the Titan of Technocratic Prose, although as is the case with self-pity, only one person on this earth would indulge me by addressing me with this monstrosity.
Rick’s essay brought to mind my own odyssey of attempting to write what might sell or what might interest a particular audience next year. A forlorn exercise that results in a hollow story and unsure characters who strut stiffly rather than amble confidently.
And so I began the difficult task of investing myself in my fiction. That may sound peculiar and obvious. “Of course you invest yourself in your fiction!”
There is no “of course” to it. It requires a degree of honesty with ourselves that some of us achieve more readily than others. I suspect that it is a difficult task, not just for me, but for many folks.
And so I now write with far more abandon than before. Not picking and choosing words carefully, but lashing them onto the page with what I believe to be honesty and sincerity, pouring them out in anger or in love or in puzzlement or in joy or in hurt.
And then I go back – “of course” – to edit. But not to strip the heart and feeling from my sentences.
Which brings me to the second point mentioned by a colleague, namely that of the writing habit (and its first cousin, the bane of “writer’s block).
I do believe in the writing habit, although it is, sadly, a habit that I’ve had no trouble breaking. But I do not believe in “writer’s block.”
The two phenomena are connected in this way: The daily writing ritual, whether a commitment to write for time or for word count (for 1 hour or for 1,000 words), is the finest antidote to the myth of writer’s block that I’ve encountered.
You see, I used to believe in writer’s block. But that changed when I sat down for the first time to fulfill my commitment, but had nothing to say.
But it was either write or sit idle.
And so I began writing something.
One sentence after another. Paragraph to strained paragraph. I used my characters’ names. I created new settings. I delighted in pulling scenarios out of–- . . . well, I pulled them from wherever scenarios reside when we scribes aren’t using them.
And I discovered – 1,000, 3,000, 5,000 words later – that I had created some of my best stuff. Sure, I had to throw out five or six hundred or even a thousand words of chaff.
But a core of great material remained. Certainly, it was great stuff by my measure, perhaps not yours. But it satisfied me, and it dispelled for me once and for all the myth of writer’s block – I understand it now as a mere psychological construct that can easily be beaten rather than succumbed to.
And so these two nuggets that I write about today are, indeed, linked: 1) Investing my work with what is uniquely me, without external stimulus contrived of attempts to outguess the market, and 2) Writing daily and doggedly.
They work for me, and, at bottom, that is what counts.
Adopting a method that yields results and then making it one’s own.