Monday, June 18, 2007

The Slow Down

Once again the lesson comes home. A few days off from writing means an inevitable slow down in production once I return. Since coming back from Howard Days I still haven't gotten back fully into the flow of the project I'm working on. Where before I was doing 6 to 10 pages a day, now it's 2 or 3. I'm making progress. I console myself with that. But I'm ready for the dam to burst.

I wonder what causes this effect. When I'm honest with myself I think it's two things. First, even over a few days some inevitable forgetting occurs. I mean that when I'm working five to six hours a day every day there are a lot of little details that hang around in my mind. Much of it swirls in my unconscious but it's ready when I reach for a metaphor, a connection, or a phrase. That stuff disappears when I'm away from the computer and in a completely different mindset. Unfortunately, there's not much I can do about this, except avoid vacations. And I do like a break now and then.

The second reason, though, is more personal and more troubling. Since coming back I've allowed myself to take it easier. I haven't put in the same number of hours, and it's because the work is harder without the flow, and because I'm simply feeling lazy. I've allowed myself to play too much of my video games, to watch too much TV (mostly Star Trek reruns), and just to fool around. Even though I know what I'm doing, it's still not easy to fight it. Even though I know the flow will only return when I put in the hours, still it's so easy to find something else to do.

Damn this writing. Why is it so tough when I want it to be all fun and games? I want to "have" written. I want to relax and bask in the glory of a completed project. But I know there's only one way through it. I've got to put the words on the page, on page after page. I've got to hammer the keys and keep on hammering until I beat something into a plowshare.

Maybe today it'll come together. Maybe.

15 comments:

Sidney said...

I guess that's the danger of being your own boss as a writer. If you're a nice guy, you ease off on yourself and then what happens? Your employee turns into a slacker.

Can't turn your back on yourself for a minute.

miller580 said...

There is something to be said about the mindset. A week ago, I was deep in a concept...sketching ideas, noting where research would be necessary, nailing down plot lines. Then I packed a bag jumped on a plane and took a few days off. I opened my notebook today and can barely make heads or tales of my notes. I feel lost in a swamp.

Keep plugging along...you get it back.

Steve Malley said...

Those hard days come. Near as I can tell, there's nothing for it but to take your lumps and keep slugging.

I tried to take up guitar a few years ago, never got far. I just couldn't be bothered when the going got rough.

They don't call them *labors* of love for nothing. As long as you've got the love, the labor's worth it.

Otherwise, well, my dusty old guitar can tell you that story...

Shauna Roberts said...

Sometimes this happens to me after a break from writing. Other times, I'm refreshed and have renewed enthusiasm.

Although I've heard of a few writers who write every day and never take breaks, most writers seem to need at least some time off (for example, weekends for those who write Monday through Friday).

When I have to write all day, every day, because I've taken on a big project with a too-short deadline, writing turns into a burdensome chore.

You shouldn't be so hard on yourself, Charles. I think it's natural for energy and creativity to ebb and flow. I also think creativity, like sour dough starter, needs to be fed regularly or it looses its oomph. One might end up like Mr. Spock's brain in the "Spock's Brain" episode (did you see that one in your Star Trek marathon?)—all output and no input. Your trip to Robert Howard land was like adding water and flour for your creative yeast to feed on.

Erik Donald France said...

Charles, I go with Shauna's comments here. No need to tie yourself to the whipping post. Reminds me of Norman Mailer's writing memoir, The Spooky Art. It is a spooky art, isn't it? Almost like going back into combat after a furlough. Fight the good fight, man, even if it's brutal at times.

Rachel said...

I third what Shauna said. Sometimes you need the break. And I also think this is why I have more than one project going at a time. If I get bogged down in one, I can work on another for a while. Or sometimes I just open my notebook to the middle and vomit out a poem or pull out my daily journal and complain about all the nasty people on the bus. SOMETHING that's been written get's put down. I may not be towards getting a specific story done, but it has helped to open up the creative sluice gates.

Either that or I have a full on Space Opera marathon of Star Trek, SG-1 and Andromeda and put it on hold for a few days.

Susan Miller said...

And here's another vote for Shauna's comment. The whole time I was reading your post I thought, "Man, he's being hard on himself."

Another part of me understands a bit 'cause I took some time off last week. This week I began beating myself up for what was not flowing as easily. So at lunch yesterday I reminded myself not to take it so seriously, grabbed my latest Faulkner read and settled in a booth at my favorite diner. Then this incredible character walked in, sat down at her own table and started talking to me from across the room. It was one of the most interesting conversations, and I began to write dialogue all over the edges of the page in that book. It was incredible and made me smile as if someone, somewhere knew how desperate I was to really feel the writing again.

So today my wish for you is that you can't stop writing...in the sand, on a wall, in the palm of your hand...that it just won't let you go.

Sidney said...

Hey, I tagged you for an eight questions about yourself game for which I got tagged. You're it now. Visit my blog for the rules.

Danny Tagalog said...

Keep away from the video games - they are slowing you down! I am beginning to really dislike them living in Tokyo...

Danny Tagalog said...

Keep away from the video games - they are slowing you down! I am beginning to really dislike them living in Tokyo...

Bernita said...

Fifth or sixth on Shauna's comments.

Michelle's Spell said...

Hey Charles,

It's so true -- the whole thing is like exercise, a few days off and you're huffing and puffing when you get back to it, cursing yourself for not being in the gym all the time. I have a friend who says that after not writing for a while, writing feels slightly more difficult than performing brain surgery. But that said, I think breaks are good and you'll get your mojo back very soon. Love the observation about wanting to "have written." Story of my life.

Sheila said...

Being your own boss would be awesome!! Although, I'm sure I would have some slackster problems... having them right now actually.... supposed to be cleaning my room. I avoided it yesterday by cleaning my car and doing errands.....

Charles Gramlich said...

Thanks everyone. I appreciate the support. Sometimes when people tell me I'm being too hard on myself I say, somewhat tongue in cheek, "well someone has to be cause I'm a lazy SOB. I know the flow will come back, and that on occassion time off is a necessity. I find that more true of fiction than nonfiction, I think, but still I know that breaks are necessary.

And yes, I did watch "Spock's Brain." I love Bones' final line. "I knew I never should have reconnected his mouth."

the walking man said...

who wins when you look at the blank page ...you or the cursor?