Thursday, April 23, 2009

Writing Life: The Mental Slog

Bob Dylan, around 1965 perhaps

I rearranged my desk to make it more inspirational for writing. There's a postcard of Rembrandt, some of my art books, some of my favorite non-fiction and fiction books, my own sketchbook open and displayed, a picture of me and a statute of a gryphon at Kew Gardens, and pictures of Bob. After careful searching I made the above picture my tiled wallpaper.

I love seeing this picture when I boot up my computer. I don't know what Bob's writing but I like to think he's working on one of his songs. He both hand wrote and typed his music. This picture makes me want to sit down and write too.

Lately I've been thinking of giving up fiction writing even though I've joined a writing group, bought an online writing course, and have been making great progress on my novel. I keep wondering what would happen if I just stopped but stopping doesn't feel right. On the other hand I feel like I cling to writing like a swimmer clings to a rock surrounded by the incoming tide.

I don't know what I would do with the left over void if I stopped. So much of my life has been set up to support it. Maybe that's my problem. I've put too much into it and let it take over my life.

These thoughts come out of the inevitable slog that writing is. It takes a very long time to write a novel, progress is slow, and there are no guarantees you or anybody else will like the finished product. Lately, I've been noticing how much writing wears me down mentally. So much of what I like to do is mentally oriented: writing and learning new subjects are at the top of the list. My brain seems to go on overload lately. It rebels. It wants to ditch writing for something else. "I need rest," my poor brain says.

Tom Robbins, author of "Even Cowgirls Get The Blues," said that a writer needs to do the following things everyday: 1) get at least 30 minutes of exercise to counteract the mental overload, 2) stare up at the sky (day or night, doesn't matter) for 30 minutes a day, 3) read poetry everyday, and 4) do something to keep your sexual energy up and channel that into your writing. He famously said, "Get yourself into that extreme state next to madness. You should always write with an erection. Even if you're a woman." Frankly, all of that sounds even more exhausting to me.

Last Monday I showed up at my writer's group, but no one else was there because of a scheduling mishap. I wrote for an hour anyway but before I did I reread last week's entry from my previous writer's group. I hadn't really thought about it but what I read was lovely! It wasn't perfect, needed more fleshing out and polishing but I loved the way the characters were interacting. It was subtle and poignant. To think I hadn't really thought about it until I reread it was a complete surprise.

Between being on mental overload and having experiences like the one in the previous paragraph makes me feel like I'm in the middle of a major tug-of-war. How on earth do I keep going when it's clear I have to keep moving forward? I'm just so tired, but then I look at the picture above on my tiled wallpaper and I just want to sit down and write some more.

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