Getting punched in the neck by writer’s block

by Alexandre Leclerc

Where yours truly gets stuck in a rut midway through NaNoWriMo, questions everything, and rants about it

F*ck this is useless. I’m writing complete drivel.

This is not art. It’s barely a story. And a shoddy one, like a rusty bucket with holes punched in it that can’t even do its job right. You had one job, damn it! One job! And you messed it up. All you had to do was to come up with a story. An interesting story. The story you want to read. The kind of story you enjoy, that sticks in your head, the kind of story you want to tell others about, that you want to share with family and friends and strangers.

But this. This is lame. This is lamer than a feetless duck.

The dialogues are everywhere, and insipid. They fall flat and drag on forever. The characters show the emotional range of a newt. Flatlining doesn’t even begin to describe it. It’s the great Canadian plains where you can send your dog running for the horizon and still spot him with a good pair of binoculars three days later. Well, of course by that time the dog will be dying of thirst and exhaustion and exposure.

I don’t even know where I’m going with this.

I read and heard tales of the wall of writing block that hits the writer midway through NaNoWriMo. But this here, this is ridiculous. I had a story to tell, but now it all seems so pointless and is becoming such a drag. Where is my fire?

I had a silly idea and ran with it. It was fun for a while. Maybe I’m starting to take myself too seriously. Aren’t I the one who keeps repeating that art, whatever the medium, is the most poignant when it’s not serious? When it does not take itself seriously? Think for a second of the artists you admire. Neil Gaiman. Terry Pratchett. Douglas Adams. Black Keys. Jack White. François Pérusse. San Antonio. Fred Pellerin. Dédé Fortin (oh man, just think of Belzébuth!). All the artists, all their art that has moved me and made me laugh, the beauty and humanity through it, those works of staggering genius.

Of course these works were the culmination of years of hard labor and sweat and blood and tears. And before getting there, these artists first had to produce a lot of garbage. I mean, a lot of garbage, piles and piles of worthless paperweights and more ugly and useless and misshapen things. And then, finally, after a lifelong of learning and mistakes and exploration, lots of hard work went into those masterpieces.

But they all stemmed, I am sure of it, from playfulness.

A masterpiece is born when someone plays with their material, be it words or canvas or clay. When an apprentice (because we are all apprentices, all the time) explores what he is working with, great things are bound to happen.

Playfulness and exploration are the cornerstones of creativity and great art.

There is no better way to make serendipitous discoveries (or to have a stroke of genius) than by not thinking too much about what you are doing. Let the mind and the subconscious make links that you would usually inhibit yourself to do. Playfulness and exploration and curiosity and fun allow the artist to get out of his own way. That is where and when the magic happens.

Is this what’s bugging me? The fact that I’m not exploring, that I don’t feel like I am being playful in my project? It started playful enough. The ideas were funny. They actually made me laugh. I had to share them with friends, with my wife, if just to see her face of “What-the-hell-are-you-talking-about-this-is-crazy-you’re-nuts”, and then see her indulgent smile.

That might be it.

I’m sticking too much to the “I-have-to-write-enough-words-to-win-this-thing” mindset, of word-churning, and not enough on the playful exploration of the situation my characters are in. Not enough on the playful exploration of my characters. I should just write them into impossible situations and watch what happens and what they do as I write it. Let them surprise me in playful ways.

See, I write all this, and it sounds great. Yeah, good pep talk, you could even share it with fellow Wrimos to give them a little boost in the wordcount.

But here is the thing.

I’m not feeling it.

Not tonight anyway. I feel like a dried up well that gave its last drop of good stuff long ago. Well, like yesterday. Too much stress? Not enough sleep? Not enough physical activity? Not enough socialization? All of the above. Definitely.

It reminds me of the time I was depressed, actually. Not times when I was “under the weather” or a little down. I mean full blown depression. Getting up from bed was a feat. Taking care of myself was a drag and an inconvenience and a burden. Going through the motions every day was like letting myself be dragged by the current of a river, and it was all I could do to keep my head above water.

Writing this, all of this, even these very words, feels exactly like that right now, like trying to swim in jello or pudding or thick mud. It is slow going, it is messy, it is not pretty, it is far from elegant and as gracious as a boulder in a tutu.

Why am I feeling like this?

I have lost sight of my goal.

Which is: to tell a story.

I know I am a good storyteller. I know it. I have discovered it when I was a camp counselor improvising stories for the kids sitting around the campfire. And when inventing bedtime stories for my boys. They listen enraptured when I’m nailing it. When I’m not nailing it, they keep interrupting with their own tidbits and tossing “and then” left and right and center.

I have to be doing more than hitting a wordcount. Speed writing works fine IF I have something worthwhile to write. Otherwise, it’s just wasted whitespace and lost time.

Maybe, just maybe this isn’t just a gigantic pile of crap.

Well, it probably is.

But on today’s manure will grow tomorrow’s grass.