Monday, September 15, 2014

Writing About Writing

It’s very easy for me, especially on the days that I can’t immediately think of something to write about, to let my attention wander on the internet. Sometimes it’s a good thing, because I will occasionally get inspired by a news article, or an argument about something random, or by the contents of a webcomic. Other times I will spend several hours reading the webcomic’s archives and floating in a state of non-working bliss.
Usually it’s the guilty thought of “I HAVEN’T WRITTEN ANYTHING TODAY” that pulls me back to doing what I actually should be doing, but occasionally I come across things like this.
Image property of The Oatmeal.
Earlier today I thought several witty things and amused myself, and found myself thinking, “if only I could draw, I wouldn’t have to write everything down; it would be less work.” Then I read this comic and realized that when you can draw, not only do you have to do the drawing part, but you also have to do the writing part. So really, not being able to draw is a good thing (if I’m looking at the less/more work scale).
Sometimes the only thing you can do when you’re in a state of “I’ve got nothin’” is to write about writing. You might think that “writing about writing” is the same thing as “writing about nothing,” but it’s surprising how stepping back to take a look at what you do will produce a wonderful piece. This comic, like most by The Oatmeal, is endearingly rude and half full of swears, but makes amazing and inspiring points.
As a writer, I get to make my own schedule. For me, this means that once I write something sufficiently amusing, I can do whatever I want for the rest of the day. Play video games, ignore housework, nap, whatever. Once I click that ‘publish’ button, my day is my own.
Every job has its faults, and even though this is my dream job, I still feel like complaining about it sometimes… just not to my wonderful husband who actually has real reasons to complain about his job. “I couldn’t think of anything to write” is such a lame thing to whine about in the face of his actual hardships that I’d rather write something I wasn’t happy with than admit that aloud to him. My husband is awesome.
I love the freedom of being able to write whatever I want. I remember being in school and chafing at ridiculous assignments that I had no interesting creative ideas for, and then feeling like I was set free to romp in a field whenever the assignment happened to be “write whatever you want.” Today it seems like it’s almost opposite. A day full of hours of promise, glistening with the freedom of writing whatever I want seems like oppression, but an interesting phrase, a few words, or an inspiring image can give me the structure I need to creatively produce something amazing.
Sometimes I wish there was an idea generator for the days I when can’t think of anything, a machine without feelings capable of being hurt that I could just push a button as many times as I needed to find something that inspired me. It would be better than playing the writing equivalent of “what do you want for dinner” with my friends. “What should I write about?” “Um, how about…?” “No, that sounds boring.” I suspect that when I inflict that sort of thing on myself and others that deep down I really just want to tell someone else that “your ideas are bad and you should feel bad.” Maybe it somehow makes me feel better? After all, when that situation comes up, I can’t think of anything good, so I suppose it comforts me to know that no one else can either.
An inspiration isn’t something you can control. When I get inspired (usually by a writing prompt of some kind), I can’t turn it off or walk away from it. If I sleep on an idea (or a story), it’s really hard to get that inspiration back. Several times I have ended up working late into the night on something because I knew that if I stopped, I would never be able to come back to it. “What? You want dinner? Well, I started thawing some chicken a couple of hours ago and the recipe I was going to use is sitting on the kitchen counter. Good luck with that; hope the kids like it.”
Cultivating seeds of ideas is sometimes difficult for me. Something funny will happen, or I’ll start pondering a situation and see the interesting or amusing things about it. The smart thing to do, you’d think, would be to write these ideas down somewhere so that later I can come back and use them when I needed to. And I’ve got one of those ‘somewhere’s, a google doc named “stuff to blog about” or some such. But I’ve found that sometimes, writing down that idea before it’s ready can kill it (or make me lose interest in it), just like planting a seedling in the ground ground outside too early. If it’s really a great idea, it will tumble around in my brain for long enough that eventually it will make its way out.
“Make a new friend,” The Oatmeal encourages near the end. “Learn to chainsaw juggle. Read a book. Go hang gliding in your underpants. If you have done all these things and you still don’t have anything to write about, then you shouldn’t be a writer. ...if you don’t have anything to say, then you shouldn’t be talking. And if you don’t have anything to write about, don’t write.”
It’s not like I don’t have things to write about. It’s just one of those moods you get in sometimes, like when you’re eleven and sitting in the middle of your room, surrounded by toys, and whining at your mom: “I’m bored.” I’ve got stuff to write about. I just started reading that cool Rothfuss series (Name of the Wind); there’s a rad spider who’s been living on our front porch for a week or so (I’ve been thinking about ways to start charging him rent, but I’m not sure how I’d monetize slightly digested insect carcasses); and my kids constantly pretend to be dinosaurs. There’s a wealth of stuff going on around here.
It’s hard to get rid of that mood, when you feel uninspired and that there’s nothing interesting enough going on in your life to share with your readers. So when in doubt, write about writing. You may discover that you’ve got quite a bit to write about after all.

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