“Never write when you can’t set your gaze beyond your navel.”
I’ve probably written and typed those words thousands of times over the years, but not lately. It’s a throwback from when I would spend countless hours reading essays, short stories, and the occasional poem (only when forced) from the slush piles of literary journal submissions. But, I am not a hypocrite, so lately I haven’t been writing.
While I personally abhor reading or writing navel-gazing prose, I know that there is a huge market for introspection on the page. Tempting as it may be for me to get into the pros and cons of “writing to the market” in this particular genre, I will merely point out someone who knew at least a little bit about drawing readers into stories with well-written plots.
There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.
Ironically enough, the man who said that rarely (if ever) sat down at a typewriter, since he was known to work standing up. Ernest Hemingway knew a thing or two about writing, but while his writings were primarily about his exploits, they were not introspective screes. I would tell this to students who interpreted that quote to mean that they should be like cutters, ripping their skin open to bleed the words from within their souls onto the page.
Hemingway probably didn’t mean anything that personal, and was referring to the concept of forcing oneself to write – badly more often than not. It is a good habit to have and keep, but it can be harmful, too.
Practice can make perfect, but it can also make permanent.
Bleeding one’s pain onto the page can be therapeutic or cathartic, but for a writer, it can cause a creative rut. Some have disagreed with me on this, but it is a road I’ve traveled before – one which lead to long spates of only editing because of paralyzing writer’s block. I’m just pushing myself off that road again now.
Now, I’ve been toying with a few literary devices so far here, without mentioning the “wave” at all. It’s a description that stuck with me from one of the many vodka soaked evenings I’d spend with some friends and fellow writers.
You know the iconoclastic surfer and pothead from Bali? He said what every writer should hear and understand. “Writing is like riding the wave. The rush is great, and even the worst run teaches you something.”
I don’t remember which of my fellow travelers told us that in the wee hours of the morning, and honestly suspect that the surfer exists only as a character. But, we can still learn from fiction. I’ve known that rush more than I wanted to admit, and I still know how to let my mind surrender to that ebb and flow which leads to thousands of words on the page in a day. Personally, I don’t let myself do that when my mind is centered on negative things, because it’s not practice with the goal of perfection. It is the road to permanence – the rut.
Now, I know that I am guilty of a fair amount of introspection here, but there is a universal point. Writers are constantly told to “just write” – “write every day, no matter what.” As a general rule, I agree. However, if writing every day is not leading to better writing, stop. Take the time to figure out why, and if you find that it’s because you are in a negative state of mind, do something else.
Get yourself out of your personal rut, so that you can then get your writing out of it, too. Wait until you’re ready to ride the wave.