Writing

The Three “D’s” of Writers’ Hell

Gustave Dore "Inferno"

What Dante Warned Writers About

I’ve whined elsewhere and often on this blog about my struggles with the writing process. Hey, this blog is therapeutic, and it keeps me from working on that novel draft. And yes, yes, I know there are plenty of how-to books, magazines, and blogs out there written by fabulists who cheerfully expel abundant writing advice to would-be novelists like myself.

This well-balanced, wholesome, pleasant lot make writing look so cool, so easy to do in five easy paragraphs. They would never ruin my day by suggesting that maybe I should just go be a house painter instead of a writer of fiction, instead of bashing my head against my keyboard (or desk) every single freaking day. Some of them even tempt me with free paint-by-the-numbers ebooks and other downloads so that eventually I’ll buy the whole enchilada, meaning, their latest book. I can’t fault them for feeding themselves and their children, but frankly I find most of their advice useless. For me, the image that comes to mind here is learning how to swim using water wings.

In my experience, the fiction writing “process” involves a basic struggle to even sit down long enough to settle into my writing mind. It has as much to do with insane self-talk as it has to do with figuring out how the hell to do it. One hardly needs reminding about all the real estate the classic masters already occupy online and on bookshelves everywhere in the universe.  Of course, there are also the living writers who hammer out book after book like factories. This sort scoffs at the neuroses the rest of us suffer. I’m sorry, but they are of no help either. These raconteurs are too busy pumping out best-sellers and traveling to book-signing events. Their books already cram Amazon and other bookshelves near you and me everywhere.

I count myself among those who fall somewhere in Dante’s Ninth Circle of Hell. Not that I’m a traitor. No, I’m talking more about the fact that I read books and I write a blog, but I can never seem to get at the gristle and dramatic valence of emotional truth, get into the flow of bloodletting called writing fiction. In other words, I wasn’t a born storyteller. So what? So in some of my darker moments I wonder if  maybe my writer’s brain is somehow congenitally deformed (and by deformed I mean that incessant slow-burning panic about how time is speeding up and my chances of ever finishing a novel draft are diminishing). I lie awake nights thinking about this crippling mental deformity and its symptoms: distraction, disorganization and despair. Instead of “I” and “me,” I will use the royal “you” in my examples here because it’s more fun.

DISTRACTION

Your mind flits from one image to the next without landing on any of them, like one of those fat flies in the kitchen that you can’t swat, that maddening buzz around your head, that insect you hear more than see as you stand in the middle of the room like a dope with your swatter, furious with both the fly and yourself. Another word for distraction is unfocused. For one second you had this brilliant flash of insight, then all the contents in your mind ooze into a prehistoric glop.

DISORGANIZATION

Equally disturbing are the countless piles of journals and notebooks where you’ve stowed years of thought cargo and all those clever bits of plagiarized life, those scraps and notes and jokes and overheard flotsam and jetsam. But, because you never bothered to make some kind of TOC or index in those notebooks/journals, you might as well have never written anything in them.  You spend hours, days looking for that anecdote — the one your Uncle Sylvester told back in 2008 at the mud wrestling convention– instead of actually writing.

DESPAIR

All of which sooner or later brings on the urge in you to either vomit or escape. And if escape means cleaning the toilet or giving the cat a bath, great, you’ll do it. I’m talking about when just the thought of returning to the writing sends you into a full-blown panic attack. Despair either drives you from the desk altogether or to go online (if you haven’t spent most of your day there already). Like most people, you succumb to the path of least resistance rather than face your inner demons and dedicate them to a character who wants something desperately and must go through the nine circles of hell to get it. Easier to just disappear into digital nonentity.

If you recognize yourself in any of this, don’t blame me. I can’t give you any advice. All I can say is, cheers, I’m right there with you and I raise a glass to you and your freaking agony.

marie-pm

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3 thoughts on “The Three “D’s” of Writers’ Hell

  1. I’m with you there! I know exactly how you feel and great to hear there is someone else out there sharing the pain! You have to keep the dream alive though, picture your finished book and the trips to London and New York for your book signings and it will happen. Great blog, thanks for the Sunday morning inspiration.

  2. You are not the only person who struggles with sitting down and staying focused. If we were honest, I think many writers would admit to this. (I’ve found Anne Lamott’s book helpful reading at times like this–it reassures me that other writers are as neurotic as I am).

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