Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Writer's Block? Nah.

I haven’t written a fictional word since March. Even then I was putting the finishing edits on the work in progress, so I guess one could argue I have not written an original word of fiction this year. (I realize there are those who might posit I have never written an original word of fiction. Bite me.)

It’s not writer’s block. I’m not stuck. I just don’t feel like it. The two books I already have finished are due out next year so there’s no way I’ll have anything else that needs to be published until at least 2020, so there’s no sense of urgency. I have other things on my mind and they’re sucking up much of my energy.

Joe Clifford made one of his more insightful comments at last year’s Toronto Bouchercon when he said teen angst is what happens when a young person develops sources of information other than his parents and realizes Mom and Dad have been lying to him. “Lying” may be too strong a term, but the kid realizes that what his parents have been telling him about the world isn’t true and now he has no idea who or what to trust.

I’ve been going through the adult version for several years now, the process exacerbated by the 2016 presidential campaign, the election, and subsequent events. Not to be political, but there are things on my mind demanding attention. Fiction seems trivial. I have words, but need a better place to use them for the time being.

I’ve been more abrupt than usual in some discussions. (Diversity in conferences, how to address enbies, a few others.) I know these matters are of great importance to some, and it’s a sign of my white male privilege that I’m not directly affected, but compared to babies being taken from their parents and people losing health care and long and mutually beneficial international alliances being torn asunder, they’re not at the top of my list of concerns. The garden where I grow my fucks has been overfarmed. I need a little crop rotation so I can move forward again.

I took last week off, not just from work but from life in general. Very little time reading the news or Facebook. It was a pleasure, so much so I actually found the urge to write returning. I have a short story for an anthology due by the end of the month, and a good idea for that. The outline for the next Penns River book is taking shape and the germ of an idea for a new Nick Forte novel has come to mind. (Writers among you are snickering. We all know the distance from “germ of an idea” to “something I’m willing to spend a year writing.” On the bright side, there is no “something I’m willing to spend a year writing” without there first being the germ of an idea.) I spent several of my vacation evenings watching familiar Westerns and the long-postponed Western novel now has a few more things fleshed out, at least in my mind.

It’s easy for those of us who live so much in our own heads to talk about how hard writing is. How I can’t write something about what’s really bothering me, not only because it will no longer be topical by the time the book comes out, but because things one is too close to are almost impossible to write well. What’s getting me past that is reminders that, no matter how much I may shy away from writing something ripped from the headlines, I’m not the person who had his children taken away because I asked for something I have a right to do, nor have I lost my health insurance because someone who makes more money in a day than I make in three months would rather people lose their homes—or die—because they can’t afford proper medical care than pay an extra few percent in taxes. I have a good life—better than I have any right to expect or deserve—and to have to imagine misfortune in order to write about it is a blessing I cannot in good conscience ignore.

That doesn’t mean I have to wallow in it. I don’t need another story about how the government can’t find some of these kids or their parents; what I want to know is what’s being done about it. So I’m trimming my interactions in Facebook to either those I’ll learn from and enjoy, or those I hope to learn from even though I might not enjoy it. There’s no longer any time to read folks bitching about yet another example of the same old thing without suggesting a viable remedy. I don’t care what Donald Trump tweeted this morning. He’ll tweet something even more offensive tomorrow. The time I spend being outraged could be more profitably spent interacting with those who are actually willing and able to do something about it. Elected representatives. The ACLU. The Southern Poverty Law Center. The Beloved Spouse and I went to the immigration rally last week and I plan to counter-protest the White Civil Rights rally next month. Energy breeds energy, and I’m tired of letting bad news flow over me like the overflow from a backed-up sewer. It’s time I pushed back in some way.

Then I’ll be ready to write.

(Afterword: I have begun a short story since the first draft of this post was written. So, progress.)

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