For me, one of the finest moments of writing comes when crashing through the wall.
Or cracking open a Faberge egg to find what’s inside is far more valuable than what is glittery and sweet on the outside.
Or . . . after a long spell of grappling with nothingness, of putting down laborious word after laborious phrase . . . finally bursting into the open with passage after passage of stuff that we think is grand and sweeping and mind-changing. Like a dam breaking, if only for a spell. Like the allies breaking out of hedgerow country.
Okay, no one is breaking Faberge eggs . . . just notional eggs. The point being, of course, that writer’s block is not real. It is a conscious decision not to write what we think is good stuff. I love that feeling of hitting that gusher, that well of black gold that bubbles up and froths, when you can’t get the words down fast enough. But . . .
. . .there are those other times, far more frequent times. Those times when pulling the words out is excruciating. But to carry one of these horrid little metaphors forward, if I do not hit a gusher, then I certainly do not a hit dry well. There’s always something down there.
Type a quote. It doesn’t have to be an enduring quote, a quotable quote. Something you heard on the street.
“It was so loud, it made my ears itch.”
“All those people up in New York on the streets . . . like maggots. I couldn’t stand it.”
And go from there.
One of my favorite quotes is this one that follows. I use it in speeches and I cite the author often, although he is not its originator.
“Conan, what is best in life?”
“To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of the women.”
I love that snippet of dialogue. Now I know that it wasn’t the author Robert E. Howard who came up with it, nor was it Oliver Stone and John Milius, two outstanding screenwriters. It was Ghengis Khan . . . or according to some unknown chronicler, it was.
But what description, attitude, power.
And what a vehicle for launching into a speech, providing a metaphor for . . . well, for most anything. It’s an attention-grabber, and it serves to introduce people to Robert E. Howard. I can vouch that people sit up for it, whether the topic is human resource management or stamp-collecting.
Of all the quotes I might have reached for, that one always circles back around to me for some reason. Its barbarism, tinged with fantasy, has tickled my fancy for more than two decades since big Arnold played the Sumerian. His best role, in my opinion. He was born to it.
Now, I admit that the quote itself does not give rise to anything in the mind, perhaps, other than a visceral negative reaction, a sneered quip: “anti-intellectualism of the worst sort.” For me, it gains what power it might have from the mental remembrance of that evening long ago when I finally saw the barbarian sitting stolid and cross-legged – simple in his thinking, eager for bloodlust, a killing machine, and a showman for the masses.
The smell of sour sweat, well-worn leather from animals unmentionable, a gourd filled with viscous foul-smelling liquid, obscene “trophies” from conquered opponents, feathers and bones and rotting flesh. Shiny oiled bodies. Steel glinting in firelight.
Tales of conquest.
Words to quicken the blood of even the most staid of human resource managers.
Perhaps not the most uplifting of words and phrases, but words to lead the mind and fire the imagination. Words leading to better words . . . and still better words. And so I type a quote, and I think of that quote, and I ponder the source and the circumstance. And I let the words flow. And soon, the dam breaks, and I have something of worth if not worthy.
Hmm, perhaps not today. But usually.
Try it, and let me know how it works for you. Here’s one:
“And in the morning, I’ll be sober.”