Hold breath. Release.
Relax. It’s okay.
Sure. Yes. It’ll be okay.
So it went on Monday. My wife and I left on a car-cation. Just a road trip to Yachats. I wanted to write, of course, but I knew she was jealous of that. She wanted to break out of our regular structure of existence, hence the trip to the coast.
So, with reluctance, I agreed without speaking to her unspoken concern. It’s the kind of thing that works after being married through a few ice ages.
I worried, though, oh, I worried that I’d forgotten what I’d written, where I was in the ms., and what I was about to write or change. It helped that I was on draft number seven of April Showers 1921. It’s probably ninety percent written, with changes being made to sculpt the story, structure the plot, polish the prose, and exercise the pace. Still, I worried that the muses might decide to teach me a lesson because I’d ignored them for four days.
A more rational aspect of me reassured me that all would be well. That piece of me proved correct. I sat down with my computer and cuppa coffee today, opened the doc, and said, “Oh, that’s right. This part is wordy and awkward and needs some lovin’.”
Then I was off. Good day of writing — and editing — like crazy. Good to be back. Time to go on to other things.
Butt’s asleep, ya’ know? Yeah, writer’s butt; it’s the worse. They never warned you about writer’s butt when you told them you wanted to be a writer, did they?
My writing streams rushed together. The words and ideas became turbulent, muddied and entangled, becoming too much, too much.
What had happened?
It’s always in me to be analytical and introspective, to explain and try to understand myself, in hopes that I can reach productive and lasting peace with myself. So I asked, what happened to the writing process. I was writing. The flows of words and ideas were strong and potent. I was almost keeping up. Then, overnight, it unraveled.
In the stillness of my pre-walking walks, insights arrived.
- The flows were too intense. I’d been keeping up. Now, I’d failed. I wanted to write everything at once. Chaos resulted from impatience.
- I’d seen the movie Black Panther. I enjoyed it, but it was a catalyst for new ideas. Just like I sometimes – hell, most of the time – read a book and enjoy it, I wanted to incorporate new thoughts and directions, because I liked how them in the movie. A purge of that was required.
- Doubts; I was suffering doubts about whether I was up to understanding the story, and keeping up as a writer sufficiently to present the story.
Thinking and walking it out helped walk me back from the metaphorical ledge of despair on which I found myself. Well, I’m off the ledge but I remain a little unsettled. Write through it, I tell myself, and hope to hell that works. Oddly, while walking, I thought about a dream I had, and that helped a great deal to come to a palatable understanding about my inner dynamics and anxieties.
Time to write like crazy, at least one more time.
I dreamed about a Porsche again last night.
I dream about them often, and post about them sometimes. (The last one that I remember posting about was an Arctic blue Porsche cabrio, an older model, and I won the right to drive it thanks to my friend, Kevin.)
Porsche – I’m talking about the car manufacturer – represents success and style to me. I fell for Porsches during my first decade, when I discovered cars and then racing. I became a fan of the E-type Jaguar and the Chevrolet Corvette Stingray.
From them, I found Aston Martin and Ferrari, and then Indy, Le Mans, Can-Am racing, and Formula One. The Ford GT became dominant at Le Mans in the late sixties, but the Porsches were there, too. Then the mighty Porsche 917 came on the scene, and my neighbor, a Volkswagen sales person, brought home a Porsche 911S and took me for a high-revving ride.
In last night’s dream, I was part of some process. I was with many others that I knew. We were outside. Our role was to receive incoming people. While I understood who the incoming were, that knowledge seeped away once I woke up. I don’t know if they were students or refugees, but both of them paw at me as plausible.
My role was to organize and hand out information packages when the newcomers arrived. The task was in my wheelhouse. I did it quickly and easily. That left me with a lot of free time, so I purchased a Porsche.
Silver, it was a new 911 Turbo Cabriolet, a sweet ride. After I ordered it, it arrived. I walked around, admiring it with my wife. Others came and gawked, asking the usual questions about the expensive high-performance car. That’s your car? You bought it? People were amazed that I had the resources.
That statement became key to understanding the dream.
Meanwhile, between my work, I explored the car. First, I got into it with my wife. The foot wells were shockingly small. Oh no, we didn’t fit.
Then, miraculously, we did. The Porsche changed to accommodate us…or did we change? It wasn’t clear in the dream world.
The Porsche’s dash was covered by a black plastic panel to protect it during shipping and delivering. I carefully pried it away, revealing a dash that sparkled like jewels.
I wanted to drive it, but the car intimidated me. I knew it was powerful, and I love mashing the throttle when I’m driving. I knew that with this power, the car could bite me in the ass with that behavior. It reminded me that I’d had a powerful sports car in real life. One person told me that they’d owned one, but traded it in after a few months, because the car’s power scared them. Others told me that they’d test-drove the car, but decided against buying it primarily because of its power, speed, and acceleration. Those were the things I loved about it.
I remembered that car and how I drove it while I dreamed. Those memories reassured my dream-self that I could handle the Porsche. I fired it up and then took it for a short drive, feeling it out, but not opening it up.
I returned to the dealer to do some paperwork. They’d been looking for the car because they hadn’t released it. I was worried that I’d done something wrong, and they laughed, waving it off. “No problem.”
A sales rep took me over to gain full and legal possession of the car. At the counter, I was asked to tell them what car I had. I hesitated. Then I said, “Porsche.”
I hesitated. As I was about to say, “911 Turbo,” the man with me said, “Top of the line, a Turbo, fully loaded.”
“Wow,” people said. Blushing and self-conscious, I said, “Yes, I have a Turbo.”
It was a strangely reassuring dream about my writing as I walked and thought about my writing turbidity. Relax, and don’t fear the process, I told myself. I’m in a Turbo.
Time to open it up and take it for a ride.
Sometimes when I’m writing, I think about taking a break from the process.
I’m thinking about that now, thinking, when I finish the first draft of this quadrilogy, I might take a break.
Yes, I’m almost at the end, and I’m tired of writing it, so it’s natural to think, I want a break. Focusing on the moving parts and the characters’ activities is intense and takes intellectual energy that straps my other energies.
Then, I realize, yes, I’m tired of writing that series, a series I’ve been working on since July of 2016. Not long, you say? Yes, but this is the first draft, and there’s work to be done on other projects. I deliberately choose not to work on other writing projects to focus on the complexity. I want to write them.
Then there’s the madness.
The madness is the standard writer’s angst about what has been done and what remains against the filter of, does this fucking work? Will others read it and think, “This guy is an idiot.” Worse, they’ll say, “He’s a talentless, pathetic hack.”
These words, coming through me from imaginary others, are wearying. I combat them by assuring myself that I don’t know if that’s how others will react, and reflect on why they might think that way – what makes me worry that they might think that way.
It’s complicated, this writing business, done alone in shadows. Sometimes the shadows grab us, and tear us down.
But then, in saner, stiller moments, I read what I’ve written, and find myself engrossed by it, and pleased. Then I encourage myself, “There’s probably other nuts out there who like the kind of fiction you write because they share your taste in fiction.”
I hope to hell that’s true, I answer myself, but I don’t really sound convinced. I sound more like a person who left a job interview and answers, “How did it go?” with, “I think it went pretty good.”
Others will say, “Wow, you wrote a book. You wrote four books in that time, four books as part of one series? That’s amazing. Congratulate yourself.”
Well, yeah, that’s all nice, thanks. But that’s like getting to the Olympics and not winning a medal. See, a goal has been set. It’s not enough to write a draft, but to get it edited, published, and out there, and then have others read it, and enjoy it.
That’s the Olympic gold.
Yes, I can settle for less, but why limit myself? I’m putting time and energy into writing these novels. Yes, I’m afraid that others will not like many aspects of it, but there’s no reason for me not believe that I can’t take home the gold. Dare to dream, right? Put that dream out there in front of you, and try.
Others will say, “Hey, that’s beyond your control. You’re putting needless pressure on yourself.”
Yes, I tend to be my worst critic, that I know. (Maybe others are staying politely quiet.) I know my flaws, shortcomings, failures, and mistakes, and can rip them off without a breath to think. Plus, you know, I’m a little down with health issues affecting friends and family. That is another variable in the equation.
I’d been writing like crazy for seventy-five minutes before taking this break to gain some distance, perspective and sanity. I’m hungry, and I’m thinking about sandwiches, and pie. I’ve only drunk about twenty percent of my cup of coffee, having put my head down and fingers to the keyboard. Stop, or go on? I ponder, decreasing the amount of remaining coffee by another twenty percent.
My stomach wins. It always does.
It always gets the gold.
I’ve been thinking about the writing process once again, specifically my writing process.
Catching a piece of ‘Mike & Molly’ triggered the thinking. Molly, as a teacher, decides to write, and quickly and seemingly easily writes a book, finds a publisher, gets it published and so on. Although I know from other glimpses of the show that she struggled at times, the sitcom’s presentation of writing effort and success is the sort of sequence that makes me growl and pour a fresh glass of wine to guzzle my irritation. This is the sort of story-telling that makes people say, “I’ve always wanted to write a novel,” the sort of avenue of writing that makes other people ask, “Are you published yet?” Because it is just that fucking easy.
Everyone can present their own movies about writers and why they like them. I liked these movies because of their focus on writers and their processes, and the struggles they encounter while trying to write. These movies present the sense of battle that I feel I endure on frequent days, a sense of battle imposed by the tensions of living, struggling to write, coping with low self-esteem and pursuing a prize in isolation, all somehow with the sense and understanding that no matter what I write or achieve, I’ll probably never be happy with it.
‘Adaptation’. Number one, I’m a Charlie Kaufman fan. He wrote this screenplay. Number two, I’m a Spike Jonz fan, and he directed the film.
This movie has a good cast: Nicholas Cage as a writer, Charlie Kaufman, struggling to adapt ‘The Orchid Thief’, but then we have Tilda Swinton and Meryl Streep, Brian Cox and Chris Cooper, and Judy Greer and Maggie Gyllenhaal. Kaufman is going nuts trying to write the screenplay. In an interview given in 2002, Kaufman says, “The emotions that Charlie is going through are real and they reflect what I was goin’ through when I was trying to write the script.”
Then there is the question of Charlie Kaufman’s twin brother, who helps him write the movie. I often refer to my writing side as another person who happens to live in my shell, and that’s how I interpreted Donald Kaufman’s existence, since Donald is fictional.
‘Stranger than Fiction’. I’m not a huge Will Farrell fan. I like Emma Thompson but I was quite ready to not like this movie (because I am not a huge Will Farrell fan), so I was surprised that I enjoyed it. I particularly enjoyed Emma T as Karen struggling with writer’s block and pensively thinking through what she wants to write, rejecting different approaches and hating herself and the world in the process…but also coming to grips with it all.
That, also, is part of the writing life.
‘Wonder Boys’. I’m once again influenced by the cast and inspiration here, as much as anything, considering myself a fan of Michaels Chabon and Douglas, Tobey Maguire, Francis McDormand, Alan Tudyk and Robert Downy, Jr.
This movie is about several writers as played by Douglas and Maguire. One is the aging, struggling novelist trying to publish another novel, whose novel is now over twenty-five hundred pages; the other is a brilliant young talent (Maguire) on the verge of his career.
‘Barfly’. Kind of based on Charles Bukowski’s life, this is a gritty portrayal of the complications that haunt humans, including writers. Our writer in this movie is Henry. As so many are, Henry is self-aware and intelligent but victimizes himself and his supporters by his inability to deal with his flaws. And so, he begins and ends the movie changed but the same, fighting with the bartender in back of the bar.
Charles Bukowski wrote the screenplay. Mickey Rourke played the fictionalized version of Bukowski, Henry.
‘Death at A Funeral’. I’ve never seen the American version of this film, just the original British, which represents a great example of British black humor.
The Brit version’s cast includes Peter Dinklage, Alan Tudyk, Keely Hawes, Jane Asher, Matthew Macfadyen and Rupert Graves. Macfadyen and Graves play brothers who are writers. Graves is successful, living it up in New York and fawned upon by everyone as the famous writer while Macfadyen has remained at home, coping with his parents and his marriage and struggling to write a novel. This is carried through into the writing of the eulogy; Macfadyen’s character, Daniel, is writing it, and everyone is disappointed that his brother, Robert (played by Graves), isn’t writing it.
That’s the basic premise of their relationship. I don’t want to spoil the movie by revealing more.
I’m not an expert on these matters, or a pro critic or anything. Please, offer your take on any movies that attract your interest because of their portrayal of writers.
I always want more.