Around the Writer’s Block
It doesn’t happen often, and usually it’s with non-fiction, but still. I’m not immune.
Holy mother of almighty fuck, I’ve got an article due!
And I don’t know what to write.
I hit up my friends—who all have good suggestions, but none of them are quite right.
Setting as character! Says Damon. How to have a good book signing!
I need to dwell on the first one, and I don’t know anything about the second one—but hey, at least I know what to write next month, and I’m grateful.
How to destroy a website in less than two seconds without even trying!
Well, Rhys Ford as a right to be bitter as she cleaned up my mess last night, but I swear if I even knew what I did I would be all over telling people how not to do that!
World building! Texts Mary. Convention survival!
I’ve done them both!
Yeah, but you’re good at them!
And that’s what it is to have a friend who loves you unconditionally. Speaking of…
Friendship and how you incorporate them in your stories! Say all my FB people.
Okay. True story. Until I came to life as Amy Lane, I had some spectacularly failed friendships under my belt. I don’t even want to talk about it. Suffice it to say, one of the ways I write really awesome friends is to write people who do the exact opposite of what I have done in the past. So, a good suggestion, but painful. And, uhm, no.
And it’s not until I’m driving down the street to pick up the kids at the end of a particularly frustrating work day doing pretty much nothing that I know what to write about.
I’m going to write about writer’s block. Because there’s a reason I don’t get writer’s block much—at least on the fiction front—and I thought maybe folks might like to know why that is.
Everybody remember Alice In Wonderland or The Matrix or a host of other sci-fi/fantasy shows in which someone touches a mirror and is suddenly sucked into a world of boundless possibilities?
See, I’ve always been a little nearsighted. Always. And the idea of cleaning windows is foreign to me because seriously, isn’t the world outside of my own brain that fuzzy always?
So driving down the road, a molten coat of golden drought dust layering my windshield, the light of the October sun so slanted the world’s colors seem almost distorted, I realize that to me, with my fuzzy grasp of reality and vision, my entire world is one of those mirrors.
All I have to do is reach out, touch that elusive barrier at my fingertips, and suddenly I’m through that looking glass and walking around an alternative world as somebody else.
Somebody’s son is riding his bicycle. Who is he? He’s taunting his sister, who is crying on a raggedy patch of lawn on a part of the street that’s not famous for long term residents. Who is this kid? Who is this girl? What is their future?
There is a plethora of young men—angry men—out today, walking by themselves. Almost to a one they have their shirts pulled around their necks in deference to the nearly 100 degree heat, and they wear their brutal tattoos or their square brimmed hats or their savagely hollowed cheeks as they pull on a cancer stick like some sort of badge: I’m bitter, my future is limited, and I am walking in the heat down this distorted suburban landscape to a place that is as indifferent to me as I am to hope. What does it take to get out of that place? Which ones will make it to see truly blue sky?
A month ago I had to slow down as I was driving down this street because a mama duck was leading her goslings to safety. I look around anxiously, hoping she doesn’t decide to relocate, and I see bright green poster board, hopefully drawn on in Sharpie: DUCK X-ING. Who made those signs? A boy like mine, whose prickly oddness is defined by a singular tenderness to creatures? A girl like mine, whose whole proactive little person would simply assume that those signs would stand as guardians over the vulnerable? Was there an indulgent parent, hoping not to spy any fractured little bodies every day of the school commute? Or does somebody just like ducks?
Drought, drought, everywhere, my state is about to explode into red-gold dust. What if we never see water again? Will we cut a hole in the bottom of our shower and try to grow a garden from a few measly drops of rain? Will we be forced to abandon electricity and will I become the sole support of the family, using my knitting and quilting supplies to provide something concrete and useful for seeds in order to survive? What kind of world would emerge from the slowly strangling ecological disaster of prolonged drought? Would I be able to send my children to dangerous places of storms, that did not miss the sweet release of water?
Wow. Look at those people at the bus stop. The homeless man in the several layers of overalls, the nurse still in scrubs, the woman in cammies, smoking in boredom, the receptionist with heels in her pocket, dyed red hair going gray, the young hipsters with more hair than a yeti on hormones… holy fuckin’ jebus where in the flaming sphincter of hades is that bus going?
Could I go on?
Oh Goddess, yes. I could go on.
So you ask, what is the point? Great—Amy’s brain is on speed, we are not surprised how in the hell does that help us?
See—here’s the thing.
I’ve always been imaginative and I’ve always been good with words—to the extent that the rest of the world outside my nearsighted brain is not always quite… real. And I might have stayed just that way—imaginative but unmoved by the outside world, except a couple of things happened.
One, was that when Mate and I moved out of the house, we moved into the shittiest apartment known to man. In one year, our ceiling collapsed twice and filled our bathtub with sewage, our toilet fountained shit, two litters of dying kittens were dropped on our doorstep because we were the only suckers who’d care for them, we watched a large frightening woman shatter all the windows of the apartment her boyfriend was keeping with his mistress, we heard the prostitute in the room above us keep regular appointments, our cars got broken into, our laundry got stolen, and we had to walk through knife fights in the parking lots to get to our cars.
Amy had to pull her head out of her ass right quick and make other people and their less than savory motivations real in her own mind, or she and Mate weren’t going to survive.
Another thing was that Amy got her teaching credential in a time when teachers were expected to make peace, not war. The administration would not back us in the advent of student misbehavior unless we had detailed evidence that we’d tried non-authoritarian measures to modify behavior first.
And Amy worked in a shitty part of town. Even student teaching, Amy worked in a shitty part of town.
This meant that Amy needed to gauge the psyche of thirty-five kids at a time, and try to find a way to stave off violence at the drop of a hat. I once had two brothers throw down in my freshman English class, because one of them had dropped out of the gang and the other was still dedicated. I got called in front of the principal and had to say, “Man, I do not know what happened!” and that was not good enough. Suddenly that imagination that Amy had used to invent happy fairies and happy families had to go a little deeper into the more complex and painful motivations of people who didn’t have a lot to lose. And Amy had to find a way to give them something to win. It was that simple.
The third thing that happened was that Amy’s son was born.
His speech wasn’t comprehensible until he was nearly seven.
And getting into the head of someone who wasn’t so great with words, and had no verbal recourse became second nature.
What did all of this mean?
Well, I still have an active brain. I still have a more than active imagination. But these three areas of life experience gave me a bridge. Suddenly I could reach beyond my own arm’s length into the world and the minds of people who were once decidedly outside my sphere.
And I never stopped.
So what is my advice to people with writer’s block?
Walk around your neighborhood and start asking questions. Start stepping through the looking glass into places you’ve never thought of. Stop drawing lines in your mind of things you won’t write because that’s not who you are, and start looking into the hearts of the people you aren’t.
There are worlds to write about in every person you pass on the street. There are novels in every tree, every ragged patch of lawn, every DUCK X-ING sing, every wandering dog, every jogger sweating it out in 102 degrees in October.
Walk around the block and through the looking glass. You’ll be surprised at what awaits.