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You have never felt more uninspired. You don't have the energy, you don't have the will, you don't have... it. The temptation to avoid the blank page is so powerful that anything -- watching reality TV, scraping poop out of parrot cages, even going to the gym -- seems a vastly more meaningful pursuit. Surely you can skip the hour or two you've set aside to write, just this once. You'll make up for it tomorrow. What could you possibly write, right now, that could be worth the effort? So you close the journal, shut down the laptop, step away from the desk.
Let me ask you this: Who is the muse most likely to visit? The writer who's always in her chair at the appointed hour, day after day, or the one who has to be chased down, who shows up when it's most convenient?
Or this: How does LeBron James score 44 points in a single game?
An interview with the illustrious producer/songwriter Nick Lowe (you may know him best for his work with Elvis Costello in the late Seventies) can be found in the current issue of The Believer. He had this to say about his process:
I'm going to go out on an extremely short limb and say that Mr. Lowe's Bloke only came round in the first place because Mr. Lowe had his guitar out and his amp on and a pick in his hand. In the interview, he marvels at his friend John Hiatt, who really does go to an office every day to write songs, and Nick Lowe professes to be unable to do such a thing. But given that he also talks about what it takes, in terms of time and energy, to write a single song, I wouldn't exactly call him a slacker:
For me, writing is like breathing. I'm always writing something... Writing is like training for an athlete or practice for a musician. If you stop entirely, it takes a long time to get your pace back.
Then there are writers who keep writing, rewriting far beyond the point where some sane people would pronounce a work finished. The method to this madness is actually quite simple:
Writing is like a sculpture where you remove, you eliminate in order to make the work visible. Even those pages you remove somehow remain. There is a difference between a book of two hundred pages from the very beginning, and a book of two hundred pages which is the result of an original eight hundred pages. The six hundred pages are there. Only you don't see them.
Which returns me to my original point. Until there is a draft, there is nothing. And a draft is written one page, one sentence, one word at a time. The only way out is through.
Sometimes, if things are going badly, I will force myself to write a page in half an hour. I find that can be done. I find that what I write when I force myself is generally just as good as what I write when I'm feeling inspired. It's mainly a matter of forcing yourself to write. There's a marvelous essay that Sinclair Lewis wrote on how to write. He said most writers don't understand that the process begins by actually sitting down.
You're going to die, along with the rest of us. Are you so fundamentally silly in spirit as to pretend that this fact can be ignored? So, then -- you who are blessed and cursed with the belief that you have something worthwhile to say -- what have you said today? What starting point have you given yourself that can be moved on from, tomorrow?
Fall seven times, stand up eight.
(photos: Catherine's Room by Bill Viola)