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Friday, August 24, 2007

The Five Writers Who Ruined My Life

Five writers ruined my life.

I am a writer. I write to communicate, to inspire, and to satisfy my own ego. I want to write great literature. Heck, I want to write the best literature. And I want you to read it. But I have a problem.

My Problem
Yesterday, I developed a case of writer's block, which is unusual for me. I had just finished reading The Midnight Disease, by Alice Flaherty, in which she discusses writer's block and its causes. Later, when I sat down to my computer, I found that I could no longer write. I had writer's block.

I immediately realized that my problem was caused by five people.

The Five Writers

Alice Flaherty
She made me aware of the problem. In her book, The Midnight Disease, she examines the brain for the neurological reasons behind creativity, the drive to write, and writer's block. She also looks at external factors for creative blocks, and notes that reading something great, such as an author that you admire, can be a source of block. This revelation planted the seed in my head for my own block.

J. R. R. Tolkien
He drew me into the world of literature. As a child, the forbidding, ominous black book, graven with the red ring and eye of Sauron, sat on the big kids' shelf just out of reach. I got it anyway, and like the One Ring remade Frodo, that book remade me into a fantasy reader, and eventually a writer. He built an amazing world, and that's something I envy. If my worlds could only share the life and music of his, then maybe I could write on a level with him. However, compared to his worlds, mine seem mundane and derivative.

Gene Wolfe
Wolfe is the worst of them. As I walk by my bookshelf, I notice his books most, for he is the pinnacle of art and style I can never reach. His writing is layered, meaningful, full of wonderful ideas, and infused with marvelous style. My plots feel flat and uninteresting in comparison. When I try to mimic him, they become obscure and awkward. His talent is that of a wizard, and I have yet to fully understand his magic.

Frederick Douglass
He is a pinnacle of personal development, of true heroism, and a great writer to boot. The nonfiction I have written pales in comparison to The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. It all seems so trite and easy compared to his life. He faced such immense challenges, and rose so high. And his depiction of his life was so brilliant. I look at his powerful, beautiful book, and how it affected me, and I am awed.

I am ultimately to blame for not being a better writer. I am lazy, I am unfocused, I procrastinate. If I cannot write, how can I satisfy my drive to communicate, and to move others? I can claim writer's block, and complain about the others, but I share the blame.

I Need to Fix This
The desire to write is strong, but apathy is insidious. Life provides convenient escapes. I can avoid writing by cleaning house, or trolling my favorite internet news sites. And right when I want to write, right when inspiration hits, that is when I'm in the car, at work, buying groceries, or about to fall asleep. And the inspiration isn't enough. I get it, and I take it back to my computer, and it says to me, "Okay this is a good idea. Now execute." And then I think, "Will this be half as good as what's out there, or even a tenth as good as what Wolfe or Douglass or Tolkien would have written?" I need to kill the inevitable, "No" in my brain, stab it, cut it out. But how?

I Must Move Forward
Write, even if I raise an abomination from my words. Ignore the "No." Push. Throw it to the dogs so they can read it, and then lament later, after they have all died from the poison in my words. Their criticisms may bite, but without the risk, what is there? I can't just give up....

Flaws in My Vision
Looking back, I am too pessimistic. Reading those writers first inspired me. If I step back, I see that they still inspire me. I should revere them, and I do.... But that doesn't break the block.

Conclusion is a Wrecking Ball
The wrecking ball is the answer - I remember it from The Midnight Disease.... I will tear down Tolkien, Wolfe, and Douglass, and demolish their works. With a literary iron fist, I will punch through their fragile, flawed walls of plot, crushing archetypical bricks and word-mortar. I will sift through the rubble of their chapters, vivisect their characters, and tear their sentences with my teeth. Then, I will see that they are not perfect, that they are not the be-all-end-alls that I thought they were, and that there is reason still to write. And then I can stop saying that they ruined my life.

Even if that vision is just a delusion, its salve is worth being delusional. Even if I invent flaws in their work that don't actually exist, I can still smash one barrier to my writing. And when I do, I will ride that wrecking ball to freedom.

Then I will thank Alice for telling me how to cure my writer's block.

Then I will thank John for inspiring me to read and write.

Then I will thank Gene for convincing me to aspire to his amazing skill.

Then I will thank Fred for showing me that it's not just your story, but how you write about it that makes it great.

And then I will thank myself for finally doing it, for finally finishing something that someone else will read.


chrisd said...

Thanks for coming by and I have already linked you and will visit regularly.

That Fight'n Words book is available as an e-book or through LuLu-he self published. It's really quite good. There's good exercises in it. There's also a lot about Eastern/Ninja type fighting. Personally, not that interested, but who knows?

I loved your post about writer's block. Am really fighting it myself. Am reading The Courage to Write by Ralph Keyes. It's very good.

Billy Goat said...

I'm glad you liked the post! Thank you for the kind words! It was somewhat difficult for me to put it up, but I did it anyway.

Good luck with your block! I hope you find a strategy that works for you!

Jane said...

Hi there. I was just searching for some recommendations on good books to read. Everything I have on my shelves seems so heavy just now. Ayn Rand, Dumas, Stone, etc. . . I was looking for humor and I came across your blog. Coincidentally I am a writer who needed to read your post. I have all but given up on writing for many of the same reasons you so eloquently stated. Thanks, perhaps instead of searching for something humorous to read, I'll write something humorous meself!! (I love Tolkien too but he sure is hard to top).

Billy Goat said...

Jane, I'm happy that my post helped you, and that you read it!

It sounds like your reading list has some heavy stuff in it, although I thought The Count of Monte Cristo was pretty fast and light (if I remember right). I'd like it if Mister Troll and I had more humorous books in our recommended list, but we haven't gotten around to adding any yet. We'll have to work on that. :)

Also, I hope that you are able to start writing again.