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On the Dance Floor | 2010 | Swing Vote

01.22.10 9:08 a.m.

Who is more to be pitied, a writer bound and gagged by policemen or one living in perfect freedom who has nothing more to say?  

-Kurt Vonnegut


The Struggle to Write

Writer's Block is like a shark on the head

I have been struggling to write (and the irony is not lost on me that I am writing about difficulties writing). It is not because I have Melanie for my houseguest this week, as it extends weeks prior to her presence, since I finished my final revision of We Shadows. In fact, our affection tends to begin to shake loose my inspiration, but even these divine nudges aren't enough to return my literary fluidity.

Last night, I dreamt of three of my characters, something that has never happened before. They weren't close to my favorite characters (Ash, Seth, and Dryden), nor was my dream of them helpful in fleshing out their book once I woke. But the message was plain to me: they want their book finished or they will be invading my subconsious again. And they know how close I am to abandoning them because I cannot bring myself to make them real enough.

A problem for me, though far from the only one, is that I don't like other writers to consult with them. A substitute teacher sits next to me in the teachers' lounge and uses the fact that I am reading to crowbar in that he has a book coming out and he needs to sell fifteen thousand to get any royalties. I don't care to reciprocate with my resume because other writers (at least those whom I do not otherwise like as people) arouse my reptilian brain. This is my territory, the lizard tissue yells, back off or I will be forced to express blood from my eye socket/flash my neck crest. Writers, to my way of thinking, fall into one of two categories: better than me (which generally, but far from always, means they are published on paper for money) or much worse. No one is as good as me, mostly because I am aware that I am writing for entertainment and my own need, not because I think what I do is especially artful. It is just better than most tedious sci-fi, drippy romance, or fluffy fantasy at which people throw their money. (I also know from what little this interrupter has told me that his publishing arrangement is almost certainly a scam. From the number of books he boasts he will have to sell, I even have a good idea of who will be ripping him off.) I only willingly read those who I suspect are better than I am, because I can learn best from their missteps. Reading those conspicuously worse (which includes most previous iterations of me) makes me cringe in a very physical way, as though the words each stung and reeked of bile. I have had people send me their stories and I actually like these people less for how bad their writing is.

I am only competing against myself, then. I think most critics and other writers would be hard-pressed to be more vicious about my writing than I am (Melanie excepted). I compete against my own limits to grow. Editing anyone else's writing is just a chance to demonstrate what I have learned, generally while openly wincing.

Part of my inspiration comes from acknowledgement, which I tend not to get unless I annoy someone enough with my description of the truth that they feel the need to threaten to void our friendship. This is not the sort of attention I want, however reliable it seems.

While watching Almost Famous with Melanie, she says that she wants to be a rockstar. Scientists don't tend to have screaming groupies. (Some, like Henry Cavendish, would run in the opposite direction when confronted with admirers.) Likewise, I have taken a subtler path of writing. I do not expect to be hit with a pair of panties for reciting a short story. There, too, people tend to note only what they dislike. For those critics out there, how much more fervor do you put into decrying Stephanie "Sparkly Stalker" Meyer than in applauding those you love?

It is selfish and ego-sating, but it is also the truth. If you don't acknowledge something you love, it withers. I need external validation, even if it is only one other person with a smile on his or her face asking me about something I wrote. I don't need money from my efforts, though that is a concrete display of appreciation, but I am not going to be taken seriously unless money is given. Unless Harcourt-Brace decides to publish Naked Pictures of My Family (a working title which I grant is pretentious), unless Penguin takes up my series begun by We Shadows, you can't possibly acknowledge that I write anything worthwhile since some conglomeration hasn't advertised their approval. I am just as guilty, as evidenced by my cringing at other writers. Overcoming this prejudice may be the first step to obliterating this block.

Soon in Xenology: Maybe a job, swinging, Jinx and Kestrel.

last watched: Arrested Development
reading: Franny and Zooey
listening: Mark & James

On the Dance Floor | 2010 | Swing Vote

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

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