The perks of being a blocked writer

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Okay, in my last post, I alluded to being stuck between two places writing-wise, and I didn’t get into that.  So, now I will.  But of course, I’ll go off on another tangent first.

I saw the movie The Perks of Being a Wallflower this weekend, mostly because I heard Cloud Atlas was a disaster.  I wasn’t entirely sure I would like the movie, partly because I thought it was completely out of my demographic, and partly because I’ve read the book at least twice and don’t remember a damn thing about it.  But I went, and I actually liked the movie a lot.  I liked it so much, I came home at ten at night, picked up the book, and plowed through the whole thing before I went to bed.  And then, as I went to bed and after I got up in the morning, I felt… I don’t know.  Maybe a mix of depression, nostalgia, enthusiasm, and dread, the emotional equivalent to when you get a fountain beverage and randomly fill it with a mix of every flavor, a Pepsi-Mountain Dew-rootbeer-orange-Sierra Mist-tea.  And it’s hard to describe it, because there were a few different things going on, and I’d have to explain every one of them to cover this.

First off, Perks had the typical high school coming-of-age tropes in it, opposites-attract, she’s-out-of-my-league, grass-is-greener, self-medication with drugs, rock-will-save-us-all, early-90s-are-the-new-80s, and about 17 more.  It’s all weaved together well, and maybe I feel bad for liking such commercial dreck.  It did contain enough emotional context that linked to my own teen experience, though, that it made me really enjoy and envy it.  The envy part is the big problem.  The reason I avoid reading these kinds of books now is that when they’re good, I want to write them.  And I’ve proven to myself that I can’t, and I shouldn’t.  But should I?

My last three books have all been a sort of mix of lowercase-b bizarro and absurdist humor.  I think they’re pretty damn close to my voice, and I think any of you who have read these books and have known me in person would agree.  Throw Rumored at the front end of that trio, and you’ve plotted a glide slope that pretty much defines who I am or who I will be as a writer.  It’s a solid 750 pages or so of work that very much describes what’s going on in my mind and sets the pace for what my next books should be.  After I finished Sleep Has No Master a few months ago, the plan was to write a Rumored 2 of sorts, maybe a different structure or gimmick, but a full-sized, nonlinear hunk of absurdity that did what Rumored did ten years ago.  I’ve even got a publisher that’s basically waiting for me to write the next book, so they can put it out.

But then, I sort of locked up.  Part of that is the reception of the last book, which has been piss-poor at best.  I think it’s a damn good book, but it’s been sort of lost in the mix.  Maybe the title and cover make no sense, or it’s the fact that it just doesn’t easily plug into a genre.  But it hasn’t sold, and it’s always hard to get working on something new when the last thing didn’t entirely work out.  There’s also the fact that I essentially put together three books in a period of just over a year, and the well is kinda dry.  I really wanted to push and get another book done by the end of the year, but I’m finding myself stumbling on ideas.

The other issue is that I don’t entirely know where I fit in.  I said lowercase-b bizarro because the more I read from the Bizarro movement, the more I think I don’t slot into it very well.  Most Bizarro is this sort of Troma film horror-comedy stuff, and I don’t really do that.  But I also don’t fit into the experimental or absurdist worlds, either, which seem to be the PhD-dominated academic community.  And forget the mainstream scifi community.  I probably spend too much time thinking about community and where I fit in and all of that shit, and I guess I’ve always worried about that, even before I was a writer.  But I can’t shut it off, and I don’t have easy answers, and it can become enough of a distraction to block me.

And… sorry, another tangent… okay, I read this biography of David Foster Wallace, and it talks about how he thought Mark Leyner was the antichrist because his satiric writing wasn’t sincere, or something like that.  And when I read that, it sort of pissed me off, because I love Leyner’s writing, and it made DFW sound like a blowhard.  But with all of this stuff in my head, it started to make sense.  I love writing the stuff that I have written in the last couple of years, but if I had to capture and dump the emotions I felt during this film and book, I think it would be completely out of scope of this absurdist humor thing.  I mean, I could start to throw down a coming-of-age tale, but it would be about a kid who goes to high school to learn how to anally insert DMT into zoo animals from his teacher, Lyndon LaRouche.  (Wait, gotta write that down in the idea book…)

I’ve tried this kind of sincere, modernist, realist writing.  I’ve had some success at it in short stories; if you’ve read my story “Burial Ground,” I think that’s pretty spot-on of what I can do.  And some of you (okay, three of you) may have read Summer Rain.   I have two other books up on blocks in the yard like the trailer park Trans Am with no motor or wheels, one about high school, and another about college.  Summer Rain was the best of the three; the other two, there’s about 150,000 words of nothing.  Every now and again, I think about going back and trying to duct tape enough crap onto either of those manuscripts to get them out there, but Summer Rain itself isn’t selling.  I think I’ve learned a lot more about plot and character since I tried writing these other two books, and when I see them, I do see what’s wrong with them, and think about how I could restructure or rewrite them so they would fit.  But part of me thinks this would be a huge step backwards.  And it’s a tough wall to beat against.  It’s also depressing to think that even if I did manage to turn out a stellar coming-of-age book about growing up in the 80s in Indiana, I would have a tough road ahead of me in the marketing and sale of the thing.

So, caught between two worlds.  And this is why practicing bass instead of writing has been very helpful lately.  I have 40,000 some words written of this Rumored 2 project, and it makes absolutely no sense right now.  I know I will have to eventually knock back into it and come up with a structure and get the thing done, but it’s tough.  Playing major scales against a metronome until my fingertips look like ground hamburger is much easier.

 

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One thought on “The perks of being a blocked writer

  1. I'd be be delighted to write zany absurdist stuff but instead what comes out is straight-up realism. There's no justice. But: I think if you get obsessed with music or some other practice for a while, your unconscious may be reaching for some kind of metaphor or understanding that can dissolve the dichotomy. Which is probably a good sign.

    If the two sides can figure out how to veer toward each other and work something out, you'll be able to do anything. I think it's like vocal registers: they exist and transitions can be a problem, but once you develop strong support they can engage simultaneously through your entire range, and the distinctions won't matter any more: it's just your voice doing what it does.

    And I know you know this, but what is or isn't selling is about the least informative metric imaginable.

    Actually I have about a million thoughts on all of these topics. Would be good to talk live sometime.

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