By Ian Blake Newhem (Palpable Obscure)
Maybe it’s apocryphal, as I’ve been arguing in the previous two posts, but experts claim it started in the messy inkpots of Mesopotamia, and now it appears that it’s finally reached the gilded McMansions of Eight Mile, which really fucks things up for me (as a devotee of hip-hop)—not to mention our youth readership. Yeah, it seems from the themes of the latest hit that gentleman named Royce da 5’9” that even the inexhaustible Eminem must fight the N*gga Writer’s Block: “Sometimes I feel like it’s so hard / For me to come up with shit to say (Ayyyyy!) / I’m at a loss for words ’cause y’all already said it all.” Preach, Brother Man. So, let’s say now that my beloved Eminem’s a victim, I’m starting to come around. Let’s say I’m feeling guilty that I bashed the shit out of you for pussyfooting around the writing we both know you’ve got to do, but somehow can’t. Let me make it up to you. Let me give you and Marshall four last FI suggestions for your arsenal, to trounce the evil WB lest it smother the firstlings of your heart and/or stop the bitches from gripping your dick, depending on your literary predilections:
Mr. Fix-It. When you can’t think of anything more to write, edit what you’ve already written. I start off nearly every writing session rereading the last things I’ve written, and making them better. Reviewing past pages helps me get back in the flow of my piece, the style, tone, and especially the rhythm. It ramps me up with a kinetic or momentous energy like the proverbial snowball gathering power. It reminds me of salient story details. And it ensures my writing continually improves, because I rewrite it or at least polish it scores and often hundreds of times before I publish a piece in “final” form. I agree with James Michener, who got the Pulitzer Prize in no small part because of this self-assessment: “I’m not a very good writer, but I’m an excellent rewriter.” More on the self-editing process – especially a style I call “Writing from the Inside, Out” – in a future blog.
ABW, Dammit. Always be Writing. When you’re not at your computer literally writing the pieces you want to write, be writing within the synapses of your conscious brain, choosing cool words, forming lovely sentences, vertically linking plot lines, etc. “The best time for planning a book is when you’re doing the dishes,” writes Agatha Christie. Going to the bathroom, brushing your teeth, driving at night (and “eating cereal out of the box” at four in the morning, according to prolific humor writer, Paul Rudnick): These are opportunities for Zen-like meditation and simultaneous idea/cereal-mastication, even though your fingers never need touch the QWERTY. When the conscious mind ain’t writing, make sure the subconscious is. How do you do this? Train your brain that it must produce every Monday through Thursday morning from 6 to 7:30, and it will start to get to work the night before. If you’re feeling “blocked” on your primary piece, open up your “Bismarck” piece, another piece (perhaps even in a different genre), and begin to work on that. If you can’t get into that piece, write a letter instead. Write a journal entry. Write about not being able to write. Freewrite. When all else fails, blog. If you’re stir-crazy or frozen or bored, go write somewhere else. Write in the park. Write in your favorite hidey-hole of the Anthropology building. When you’re out there, listen to the people around you, the cadences of their speech, their hopes and fears. Copy what they say and how they act. And during those rare times when you’re not writing at all, read. Spank those pages whenever you can. Read dialectically (more on that in a future blog), and read the way a writer reads—hating the brilliance of the greats and mocking the inanity of the rest, and ever-searching for ideas to steal.
The Wrath of “Chron.” Write an ongoing, chronological journal about the process of writing your piece. The genesis of your ideas. The sources for the allusions. The challenges you overcame and those you’ve yet to conquer. That which you’re reading as you write, and possible influences there. No matter what, you (and perhaps millions of followers, eventually) will come to appreciate the recorded chronology of your output and its development. But in the meantime, it will keep you writing, first of all; it will serve to guide your hand and stimulate your productivity like a matchstick in a dog’s rectum; it will remind you that what you do matters; it will provide a dynamic vehicle for solving the kind of intellectual and creative “problems” that immature writers chalk up to “Writer’s Block.” Charles Dickens writes, “An idea, like a ghost, must be spoken to a little before it will explain itself.” Let the “chron” haunt as the ghost of your poem or story or novel—and feed both the body and spirit simultaneously.
Coffee is For Closers. You’ll know you’re a real writer when writing is its own reward. In the meantime – as well as when you’re in need of an extra boost – reward yourself in other ways for reaching writing benchmarks. My writer friends have been clever here: A cookie for every page. A leisurely wank for “The End” of a story. A trip to the Canaries after the first novel’s done. After studying Skinner, motivational coaches have taught fearful salesmen this tactic, to good effect; say, allowing themselves two sips of hot coffee for every cold-call completed. Conditioning, as one might use for horses or toddlers. And you know what I think? I think it should work the other way around, as well. The operant way. I think you should punish yourself for every un-kept promise to yourself and your art. I agree with the Viennese witch-doctor that this will cause you all kinds of neuroses later, but you deserve it: I think you should feel very naughty indeed when you tell your mommy you’re “blocked” and you can’t poop.
Oh, now I’ve done it. I started off all Fresh Prince, and I got scary Ice-T gangsta. So, mad props to Royce for keepin‘ it real on the strength, no diggity. I’m ’bout to go pull some hoes, get my mack on. As for you, boys and girls—go write! Don’t come back until you write.