Scribbler’s Saga #85 – First Interruption

Posted: July 5, 2019 in Uncategorized

© 2019 G.N. Jacobs

Writer’s block, a hotly contested topic. 1) Does it exist? 2) Is it just an excuse for laziness? 3) What causes it? 4) What do I do about it? Those are usually the questions on the subject.

In my experience…1) Yes, some of the time. 2) Yes, the rest of the time. 3a) If you answered Yes to question One then the answer will usually be some sort of unhealed mental trauma. 3b) If you answered Yes to Question Two, bad habits, sloth and/or an apparent lack of ideas. 4) Your choice of therapy or “just write something and see where it takes you.” This post largely covers a small part of the second answer to Question 4 and an even smaller part of 3B.

Writers hear and say the Write Anything suggestion all the time. Ray Bradbury reinforced it telling people how when he could afford it he had six typewriters in his house in order to always work on something. Paul Savage, the head writer of Gunsmoke after the post-1963 shakeup told me at my dad’s seventieth birthday party to – “write every day.” Since I do write nearly every day both before my huge writer’s block episode ten years ago and after, I can attest the advice largely works.

Next, we have the single most heard excuse for not getting started – “I don’t have any ideas.” A writer with reason to feel empathy towards writer’s block when it’s real will still roll their eyes hearing this one. We assert Write Anything as the cure all precisely because of a phenomenon that describes a writer with the opposite problem, too many ideas shouting between the ears fighting for the next slot on paper.

A writer trying to get the vampire western onto the page doesn’t actually want to hear from the protagonist of the vampire pirate story (unless they’re really the same story, a topic for the advanced class). But, while scribbling out the big scene of the vampire standing under the full China Moon ten feet away away from the in-story equivalent of Jonathan Harker hands twitching near those classic wheel guns – *record scratch* – and…

Suddenly, a pirate Dream Team, Blackbeard, Bartholomew Roberts, Jean Lafitte, Anne Bonney, Mary Read, okay, let’s throw in Captain Hook and Jack Sparrow for good measure, are now swinging on halyards across to the bloodsucker’s bloody grimy quarterdeck. The writer hearing the Ennio Morricone Good, Bad and Ugly theme in his/her head suddenly shifted to the Korngold last heard on Captain Blood. And now most writers are either pounding head to the desk, pouring a whiskey or quitting to watch TV.

All three of these responses are wrong because what is not happening is a furtherance of the vampire western and this indecision could be how we become J.D. Salinger, a one hit wonder. Experienced writers hearing this complaint typically tell their students and mentees to take a minute to groove on the new idea, write it down in their notebook and get immediately back to the project that originally did the spawning. Other experienced writers (yo, I’m your Huckleberry) will modify that to say pick a small handful of projects with one as primary and the rest are secondaries; switch around as needed on these small few projects and write down all other ideas and brain farts as suggested above. A blocked primary project can cause full writer’s block if there aren’t a few other outlets.

So back to the scared writer afraid of getting started and probably annoyed that the Been Theres just rolled their eyes for the fiftieth time. Also claiming to have no ideas. This person is likely to ask – “is this phenomenon of getting all these good ideas while trying to write other things real?”

Yes, Ducky. Before leaving Facebook, the I Have Too Many Ideas While Writing Other Things thread surfaced about every two weeks. A lot of writers I know and I can all show you our list of ideas on our Notes and Lists apps at the drop of a hat, or will open up our paper notebooks. Lined part of the page for the current work; unlined top margin for new ideas and brain farts.

As one example, the morning of this writing I’m doing a pen draft for a post about exploring the Word of the Day where suddenly I comment that the phrase in English sounds like a horror movie title. BING! Write down the idea before it’s gone and keep going. I simply attest this happens to me literally all the time.

It then occurs to me that if the solution to too many ideas is take a minute to groove, write it down and move on, then some genius should figure out how to use the same advice flipped on its head to solve the too few ideas problem. Specifically, the new writer afraid of not having the right idea could, in theory, start writing from some goofy prompt (see bottom of post). Hopefully, something you’d never want under your name.

The idea is to trick yourself into creating ideas you like. First, write the thing from the prompt. You hate it. It’s not good enough. And…and… – *record scratch* – an idea.

Write this next idea down in your brand spankin’ new notebook or notes app. Go back to the prompt driven project. Yes, I know the title of this post is First Interruption, but hear me out, you need more than one homegrown idea to begin your list like sourdough starter. So repeat the suggestions from one paragraph above until you have four record scratches, just to be safe.

Now you have four ideas likely to be brilliant…after a draft, four edits, one shithead editor, two more edits and…(see the advanced class). You also have an unfinished craptacular prompt driven project that you hate because ultimately Not Invented Here is a thing everywhere, Ducky. So now you have a decision…

Maybe you come to love the prompt driven thing. If so keep going. Keep expanding your project list with each record scratch. Rejoice in the primary’s eventual completion.

But, likely you still hate it. So now you pull out the first interrupting idea and get started. Eventually, you rejoice in this completion, too.

Will this suggestion work? Don’t actually know. It feels like it should because once you’re in the consistently writing part of the club, you will get all kinds of good ideas. And make a list you’ll never complete barring a Faustian deal.

The prompt – “Suffering from incessant hallucinations, a fallen angel, accidentally runs over Lucifer’s favorite Hellhound (slightly edited, natch).”

The secondary dice prompt – Angry Ghost, Cow, Evil Puppet/Ventriloquist Doll, Science Experiment, First Aid Kit, Cough, Music, Gilded Cage, Pirates, Gemstone Necklace, Child with Glasses, Superhero Shooting Fireballs.

Extra points and the accolade “you’re a better writer than I, Gunga Din” for the writer that figures out if the two prompts might be the same prompt. Shall we begin?

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