“It’s Time to Watch ‘Forrest Gump'” (Or, The Art of Not Forcing the Issue)

We’ve all been there.  You’re working on something–a story, perhaps, or a song, a poem.  A painting.  Something creative, something you believe in and aim to finish.  You’ve managed to juggle your schedule today, delegate chores and to-dos, plan ahead.  It’s the first time all week you have a chance to dig in and proceed with your masterpiece.  You have a glass of water or tea at the ready, maybe even a snack.  You plan on being here for a while.

 

“Let’s go,” you say, psyching yourself up.  “Let’s get this party started.”

And then . . . nothing happens.

The words don’t come.  The characters don’t cooperate.  The brushstrokes feel heavy and blunt, messy, as if you’re trying to paint underwater. The image you’re creating, the story you’re weaving, the art you’re making is stuck, dead on the page.  Your tea gets cold, the snacks sit there, uneaten.  And your cursor blinks at you, in and out, in and out, like a silent, mocking accusation.

 

But you aren’t ready to admit defeat.  You’re not sure when the next block of hours will present itself.  You’ve arranged your entire day around this!  Why are the words playing hard to get?

 

Certainly, I have experienced this phenomenon more times than I care to remember.  While writing The Singularity Wheel, there were days when it felt as though my head was in a blender, the words and phrases and paragraphs jumbled into a miasma of incoherence.  And since time was at a premium, and I was already so far behind my publication schedule for the book, I would resist, push back against the reluctant and ever-capricious muse.

 

The odd thing was–I might be struggling like this after a successful literary sojourn the last time I sat down to write.  In The Singularity Wheel, for example, Chapter 10 went smoothly–I sat down and wrote that chapter in two hours flat, and it required only minimal revisions.  But Chapter 11 was a brier patch, a wasteland of pitfalls and quicksand and hidden, poisonous vipers lying in wait to strike.  The first run-through took multiple sessions, and even then, the chapter later went through various revisions.  I even started thinking of it as “the nightmare chapter,” or, when I was feeling especially dramatic, “the chapter where my novel goes to die.”

 

Out of frustration, when I encounter a rupture in the creative process, a session where I just can’t produce, I too often try to force it.  I’ll write a sentence, then another, and another, and after several minutes, they may bleed to two or three paragraphs.  It is like attempting to find water in an abandoned and dry well.  Every word is an effort, every sentence a marathon.  What’s worse, nothing sounds right.  After a half hour or an hour of this, I will pause and read what I’ve got.  Almost without fail, what I’ve got is junk.

 

But the streak of stubbornness dies hard.  During one particularly unproductive session, I pulled my chair away from the desk, stood up, did a dozen push-ups, two dozen sit-ups, jogged in place, took a walk around the house, upstairs, downstairs, in the basement, and then back again.  I just need to get the old juices flowing, I told myself.  Work out the kinks.  When I returned to the manuscript, however, the kinks were still there, binding me with their inflexible, industrial-strength straps.

 

It’s times like this when I truly appreciate the flip side–those sessions when the words flow like lava, pouring out, my fingers barely able to keep up with my thoughts, swept away in a creative tsunami.  It is a high like no other.  But it cannot be forced.  It comes when it comes, as mercurial as the weather in the hill country of central Vermont.

 

Ultimately, this is a truth we have to accept.  Even the best-laid plans of writers and artists must sometimes be altered to fit the mood of the muse.  We fight against a barren spell.  We might rant and rave and swear, and try to will the words to come.  But that rarely works–at least not for me.

 

Once I know I’ve given it all I have, once I’ve stared at the screen long enough with no results to show for my efforts, however well intentioned; once I’ve taken a long walk along the country road where I live and still cannot produce even a single decent sentence, I grudgingly acknowledge the truth.  Today just isn’t my day.

 

Temporarily defeated (but only temporarily, I remind myself!), I endeavor to get away from the work and the frustration and perhaps watch a favorite movie or TV show.  Who knows?  If I’m lucky, something in whatever I decide to watch may serve as an artistic catalyst of sorts and get me out of my funk.

 

But which movie?  Which TV show?  I sort through my collection of old-school DVDs.  (What, me download?)  I settle on Forrest Gump.

It’s better than banging my head against the creative wall.

We’ll get ’em next time.

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

********************

P.S.  Speaking of old school, the paperback copy of The Singularity Wheel is now available on Amazon!

44 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. chris jensen
    Feb 08, 2018 @ 17:59:54

    The church must die!

    Baby magick…………

    Reply

  2. Patrice
    Feb 08, 2018 @ 18:01:11

    OH! I can so relate!!
    Thanks for addressing and showing me that I’m not alone out there in what seems at times, a deep abyss

    Reply

  3. magarisa
    Feb 08, 2018 @ 20:05:59

    I can definitely relate to this.

    Reply

  4. Lyn
    Feb 08, 2018 @ 22:15:35

    LOL so…was Chapter 11 as bad to finalise as Chapter 16 and 18, Mike 😀

    Reply

  5. ellie894
    Feb 08, 2018 @ 23:35:26

    Great post Mike, sometimes I fight myself and the words. Some days they just aren’t there. But oh, when they are…😊

    Reply

  6. jjspina
    Feb 09, 2018 @ 02:13:45

    I find some days are better than others. Just go with the flow! Nice post, Mike! 😆

    Reply

  7. ritaroberts
    Feb 10, 2018 @ 08:33:59

    They say when you can’t concentrate, ” WALK AWAY “and come back ” ANOTHER DAY.”

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Feb 10, 2018 @ 22:46:52

      Hi Rita! And that is good advice.:)

      Reply

      • carolineturriff
        Mar 31, 2018 @ 14:33:57

        I am such a goddam control freak – typical of someone with OCD – that I have to have a fully written out synopsis before I try to write anything. Then you know where you are going and you can just follow the synopsis but you can be spontaneous and change the synopsis when you want to. I wrote a 100,000 word novel in 5 weeks by following this plan. Of course it is very rough and I want to rewrite it now but I find it really helps and with the synopsis in place you can even write for 15 or 20 minutes on the metro or the bus or waiting in the doctors surgery. Maybe its not spontaneous enough for you though. Thanks for supporting my blog

      • The Eye-Dancers
        Apr 01, 2018 @ 17:10:11

        Well, I always say there is no one “right” way to go about the creative process. There are countless ways! And I still prefer your way to someone like, say, Stephen King. King might get a vague idea or image, and just from that alone, he will begin a novel. I couldn’t possibly approach a writing project like that. For me, it’s somewhere in the middle, between the two. But I will always say–a writer should approach projects in whatever way works best for them, even if it’s winging it like Stephen King.:) Always great hearing from you, Caroline!

  8. evelyneholingue
    Feb 10, 2018 @ 17:19:53

    You’re ahead of me, Mike since my manuscript is now with my editor. I need to visit Amazon, though 🙂
    Your remarks on writing echo mine. Sometimes it’s okay to let go of a project when it doesn’t work. I found out that often it is because I let it simmer for too long that I loose the story. Elizabeth Gilbert wrote about that in her great book Big Magic. She believes that story ideas float in the air, eager to meet someone ready to write them. If we aren’t ready to embrace them fully they will fly away until they meet someone who is. She tells of a personal example, when a specific idea of hers turns away to land on another writer’s lap. This writer being a recent friend of hers. It’s strange, but it happened to me too. So I just think that when we get an idea and it sticks to us we should go full speed before we cannot write. Chance is the idea will leave us if we don’t give us our entire attention.
    In any case, bravo again to you!

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Feb 10, 2018 @ 22:52:10

      Thanks so much, Evelyne! Your mention of needing to visit Amazon made my day, I have to say.:) And that was a wonderful illustration about Elizabeth Gilbert. Sometimes (often:) I jot ideas down on small slips of paper when they come to me so I don’t lose them. Even then, sometimes when I sit down to write about them and try to turn them into a story, it doesn’t work. But you should see my desk–so many tiny slips of mini-notepaper with ideas scribbled on them in my poor handwriting! Always great hearing from you, Evelyne!

      Reply

  9. Karina Pinella
    Feb 11, 2018 @ 22:27:29

    I turn to books when I procrastinate or run away from writing. I watch horror movies when I just don’t want to think too much, or remind myself I should be writing.

    Reply

  10. The Eye-Dancers
    Feb 11, 2018 @ 23:02:28

    Hi Karina! Yes–I have been known to veg along with horror movies from time to time myself.:)

    Reply

  11. Sherri Matthews
    Feb 13, 2018 @ 11:03:17

    Well Mike, you watched Forest Gump and like him, you didn’t give up and kept on running! How wonderful to to read that The Singularity Wheel is out in paperback! Huge congratulations my friend! Your description of your chapter 11 reminds me of how I’ve been feeling about every chapter of my memoir lately! I think, oh you live in such a beautiful part of the world – how I would love to walk down that country lane! – but as you’ve so eloquently proved, it doesn’t matter where we are, some days the words just don’t come and that’s that! There’s always tomorrow 🙂

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Feb 13, 2018 @ 14:32:12

      Hi Sherri! Yes, when I was struggling through sections of The Singularity Wheel, I literally had to talk to myself like Forrest–I’d even imitate his voice.:) I’d say things like, “Well. I’ve already written this far. Might as well keep right on writin’.” And, it worked.:) And of course, the “always tomorrow” mind-set (which is so often necessary!) makes me think of Scarlett O’hara!:) Always great hearing from you, Sherri!

      Reply

      • Sherri Matthews
        Feb 16, 2018 @ 15:25:54

        Haha…yes, and I wonder if you imitated Scarlett O’hara’s voice too! So glad it worked! Tomorrow is another day and thank goodness for that! Great to be in touch, Mike!

  12. Rilla Z
    Feb 14, 2018 @ 15:35:59

    Really appreciated the visual of the words flowing like lava instead of water. Never thought of it that way, and it’s so true! Kudos to you on The Singularity Wheel!

    Reply

  13. The Eye-Dancers
    Feb 14, 2018 @ 15:45:31

    Thanks so much, Rilla! And yes, lave beats water every time when it comes to the flow of words.:)

    Reply

  14. Ste J
    Feb 19, 2018 @ 03:31:30

    That is one heck of a nice cover. DVDs are great, something substantial to hold, the ones with trailers are always good as well, like going to the cinema but without the loud, annoying people.

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Feb 21, 2018 @ 23:39:56

      I am a big DVD fan! Not to mention they also have special features you don’t get with straight downloads . . . Nothing quite so entertaining as a lead actor droning on and on with a DVD commentary!

      Reply

      • Ste J
        Feb 21, 2018 @ 23:53:50

        The Twin Peaks season 3 boxset is great, loads of extras and some as bizarre as you would hope. That is one I do plan to get my hands on, although downloading has led to many DVD shops in The Philippines shutting down sadly.

  15. Trackback: Guest Post: Young Adult Author Michael Fedison~New Release | Author Mary J. McCoy-Dressel
  16. AlexisChateauPR
    Mar 01, 2018 @ 04:56:03

    Before working on my novel, I try to feed my mind with the influences it needs. I’m currently working on murder fiction set in 1800s England and France, so I’ve been watching Father Brown (priest who solves crimes), reading Sherlock Holmes, and practicing my French — all on almost daily basis.

    It makes it easier to get the words out, when it’s time to write. If they still won’t corporate, then I find editing instead of writing keeps me productive. It’s still progress on the novel, even if I’m not increasing my word-count.

    Thanks for sharing!

    — Alex

    Reply

  17. reocochran
    Mar 10, 2018 @ 23:17:32

    I’m late to your paperback release party, Mike! I brought the 🍰 cake, 🎈 🎈 balloons, fireworks 🎆 and my half sleepy brain! 😋
    I hope the paperbacks fly off the Amazon shelves! You’re an awesome author and thanks for being here for 5 years now!! I found a comment I made on your blog in 2013, yikes, time sure does fly by!
    I think my “go to” movie is, “Groundhog Day!” I refer to it in my head daily as I peruse the bachelors on eHarmony. “It is possible,” I matter as I push a “smile” button (it is how we show we like each other).
    Take care and sometimes “think outside the box” in your movie watching, dear Mike. 💙

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Mar 11, 2018 @ 17:07:18

      Hi Robin! Absolutely–thinking outside the box is important when it comes to movie watching, or anything else–however, um, er . . . do you know what I watched last night? Forrest Gump.:) It’s a comfort movie for me!

      Reply

  18. reocochran
    Mar 10, 2018 @ 23:18:32

    matter is supposed to be “mutter.” Oops, dumb spellcheck.

    Reply

  19. europasicewolf
    Mar 14, 2018 @ 20:49:28

    Oh I know this feeling so well! Even with my blog post brick wall of no words rose up before me, despite long break. Blog seemed to be, to coin your phrase, the place where my posts went to die! Worse when I did get it nicely together I discovered the content was copyrighted with serious consequences for infringing it…whip post back out…back to no post and no words…and a blog that had turned into a posting graveyard!! Same issue with courses…no words so no essays…There are 3 courses wanting and not getting words so far!! Oh joy!😉

    Reply

  20. The Eye-Dancers
    Mar 15, 2018 @ 00:11:59

    Thanks for sharing.:) I know the feeling! But–thankfully–the reverse is also true. There are times when the words just don’t want to come. But then there are other times when they rush forth–so hang in there.:) I’m sure you’ll be spilling words out onto the page (or into your Word file!) very soon!

    Reply

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