There are days when I can’t hear the breakers — when the sound of the gulls is a distant memory. This is when the writing no longer flows the way I want or the head monkeys are chattering so loudly that I can’t hear the breakers — I can no longer find the vast ocean of story.
When I am so lost in the jungles of stress and overwhelming and conflicting priorities I have to make the time to climb to the canopy and see if I can find the general direction of the sea.
At time I frequently go back to Ray Bradbury’s Zen and the Art of Writing. The introduction to that volume is the best treatise on why writers write that I’ve ever read. This helps me get my head above the shadows and into the light of the blazing sun.
But there are days when it’s not enough. There are days and even weeks where the thought of putting down another word, another syllable crushes me.
Of course, I have to make sure I’m getting enough sleep, adequate exercise, and decent food intake. I make sure I’m reading new things and catching movies and some decent television shows (like Downton Abbey) to keep the creative juices flowing and remember what other people mean by character and story.
But even with all that, the support of my family and even giving Bradbury a second read I have to resort to the drastic measures. I go into my office, turn on the fan, put on some Pink Floyd, dim the lights and sit in the rocking chair my family made for me last Father’s day. It’s the coolest thing, all wood burned with names and images from my first book, Black Blade Blues (There were other chairs, other rooms. This is just the latest incarnation.)
Then I rock and think, think and rock. I think back to that five year old kid who read his first book solo all the way up to the emails I get from fans. I think of my first novel written at fourteen and how my best friend took it with him when he moved away (before computers — typewritten and the only copy).
Then I think about all the things I love about story, the joy and peace I get from reading a really wonderful book.
And I look into myself and fish around until I find that silver line that runs from my heart to deepest part of the ocean and I follow it through the undergrowth searching for story. I fire up my latest piece of work on my laptop and type in words until I feel I can hear the raging surf.
It doesn’t work every time, but it always works. Right now, as I type this small essay I’ve tried for three nights in a row to no avail. But I find the thread each night. I find my way back to the keyboard. And I hear the words on the edge of my mind.
The monkeys are getting quieter as the jungle thins and the need to push this novel forward once again is nearly cresting the surface of my mind. It’s not writers block in the sense that I can’t find the words. It’s more a setback in the sense that I can’t feel the story.
For me it’s an emotional thing. Until I unkink the line between my psyche and the story I need to finish, there is no free flow of thought. No ideal tidal pull of emotion.
But I can hear the waves and I can smell the salt. I have to be close. I can taste it in the air. Tomorrow, maybe? I’m that close.