Writing is a convoluted and intensely psychological process. Even those who say it comes easy and/or don’t want to deal with all that mental ‘mumbo jumbo’ get caught in the same psychological traps as the rest of us.
Anything that originates from the heart, the gut, the inner recesses of the human mind by its very nature cannot be easily contained or controlled.
Oh, we can learn to work with that finicky muse. Even tame her, in some cases (the Strength card in the Tarot comes to mind). But control from where inspiration begins? You may as well grab onto a fist full of water and try to hold it.
For example, when writing a book (fiction or non), this is how the process usually goes (if you’re lucky in the first place): You get an inspiration (which means, literally, to be filled with the spirit—the breath—of the gods, the muses, your dead aunt Clara, wherever you find it) and begin to write. The characters or the theme of the setting grow so vivid in your mind that you canNOT not begin.
Words flow from your fingertips onto the computer screen. And they’re good. You can feel it, sense it, your heart is pouring onto the pages. The meanings emerge clearly through plot points and the chapters begin to file into line like clothespins.
You are brilliant. You were meant to do this. All those people who scoffed when you told them (IF you even ‘fessed up) can now eat your dust. Life is good!
And then, ever so slightly you begin to slow down.
At first it happens so subtly that you don’t notice. And then a week has gone by and the chapter isn’t written, when before you were churning one out every few days. You feel stuck in the deep mud of time. Is everything you have written been in actuality, terrible? Or (if you’re not of the beating-yourself-up ilk) can you just not really find the time to return to it (even though your schedule hasn’t changed any if at all)? If you could just get another scene done . . . maybe then you can get back on track.
Some folks don’t go into this slow decline; some hit a brick wall and reel from the smack in the face.
But usually, it happens inch by inch until you’re so bogged down, the way forward so obscure, that bewildered writers want to sit in the road and cry (or on the couch watching soap operas. Horrors!).
You have reached a swinging, precarious bridge on your journey, and as with any good myths (down which the writing path will surely send you), you must successfully navigate this element or stay forever on the ‘wannabe’ side of the river.
In essence, this is quite probably the most difficult crossing on the whole mythical map.
Because if you give up here—and I don’t mean quit writing; most folks simply quit THAT book and begin another—a demon will follow you on down the road. Which demon that is will depend upon your own psychology (whether it’s the one labeled ‘Not Worthy,’ or ‘Afraid of Success,’ or countless other hairy beasts), but rest assured, you have just given power to a slimy creature that while you don’t believe is actually inside you, in reality is grazing on your creative intestines as we speak.
It is vital at this point that you push through.
No matter how horrible you think the work you’re doing is, write.
I mean, how bad can it really be? If your writing was so wonderful in the beginning, what turned you into a hack in the middle? I ask those questions just to turn your thinking around a bit, because they’re really beside the point anyway. Right then, you are in no shape to evaluate your own words. The twin devils of “You’re Brilliant” and “You’re Awful” will talk to you throughout this process. Your only job at that juncture is to say, “Yes, I hear you. And we’ll talk later. Because right now, I have a paragraph, scene, chapter, etc., to write.”
Push through. Make the conscious decision (and yes, it takes a fair amount of courage to stare into that abyss, which is what this crossing comprises) that you’re going to continue, even if you’ve lost your way.
What’s the worst that could happen? You change or ax perhaps whole chapters in revision. Big deal. We do that anyway. As with any monster you keep in the dark, once you face this one, it turns into a silly rat and scooches away.
I’ve chunked entire sections of books. What can I say? I got off track. But by persevering, I finally found the right road again, and in revisions could go back and delete (yep, ax completely) the sections where I’d lost my way. And in the end, I found the pot of gold—right where it was supposed to be, if not where I left it!
“Oh, no!” you say. “I would lose so much work!”
Yep. But revision is truly the name of this game. And you learn by writing and writing more and writing again. As good friend and Western author Glenn Bavosett used to say before he died, “Nothing is ever wasted.”
Because once you do push through that god-awful slough of despond (my apologies to the Bard), the oddest thing happens: Your inspiration reappears, never really having left, and now merely rising from all the muck. You’ll be slogging along, and almost imperceptibly the mud becomes less dense. All of a sudden you’re churning out chapters again toward the finale. It begins to go so fast that before you take a breath, you’re typing, “The End.”
And wondering how by the luck of the leprechauns you got there!