Thursday, June 19, 2008

Writing Without Writing

Much like a few other nights, this night in front of the computer brings about one realization: "I'd like to write a blog post, but I can't think of anything to write about."

No, I'm not undergoing writer's block or anything like that; I've just been busy at work lately. As every writer who's held down a day job probably knows, this situation usually results in the "pseudo-block" phenomenon: Your mind is so full of office concerns and responsibilities during the day that you can't fit any nice story ideas in there for the meantime.

Despite how it may sound, this is nothing to worry about. All we need is some idle time, an hour or two with a good book, maybe a piƱa colada or two, and then we'll eventually find ourselves in front of the keyboard wondering where the heck the story came from. But I'm digressing here.

Normally I have four options whenever I can't think of anything to write:

1. White Heat. In short, I write about the first idea that comes to mind. In essence, this could be anything; I've written about weird dreams, for instance, as well as the relationship between cockroaches and tupperware. I've written about the many things that can be found in a safety-deposit box, and I've written a short story about a naked woman writer. The beauty of this approach is that it practically comes with its own creativity tag -- no one's certainly going to accuse you of being uncreative if you decide to write about, say, the relationship between Harley-Davidson and Kawasaki motorcycles... or why is it that you like yellow bananas.

The catch here is that it only works if your mind is relatively empty. I find that a mind that is empty of concerns tends to flit about from thought to thought, so you usually end up accessing some weird things that way. But if you've picked up something somewhere that you're already thinking about, then it could ruin the white heat completely. In this case, I have Banzai Cat's sword-and-sorcery discussion floating around in my head, so this kind of post was out of the question for tonight.

2. Leech. A second approach involves me going through a few of the blogs that I read, and picking up an interesting topic that I'd like to discuss from my own point of view. Lots of bloggers seem to do this -- I figure that it's one reason why we see so many memes floating around -- and the resulting post tends to bolster the discussion as well as offer your own arguments on the topic. Plus, well, you get to write something.

Those who are familiar with my ethics can probably see the issue here. I'm usually not comfortable with working on other peoples' topics -- it doesn't feel "original" to me if I don't write something purely from my own volition. I write along the lines of other peoples' discussions, yes indeed, but whenever I do so, it's usually because I feel that my own opinions should be heard. Rare is the post that I put up because I want to emulate somebody else's thoughts.

3. Short Fic. Sometimes I just pick up a half-finished, disposable plot thread from the depths of my head and start typing. Other times I grab an unfinished draft from months or years back, and finally see where it leads. Whatever it is, I end up writing a tiny piece of short fiction, and every now then then I please myself with the results.

Of course, this would require that I have an invisible plot thread or an unfinished symphony hanging around somewhere, but this is less of a problem than people might think. I have a ton of odd story ideas from any number of sources, and the sheer number of drafts that I write for my "official" fiction entries gives me plenty of reference to work with. What's more a bother is the length of some of my pieces -- sometimes I work with so many words that it's impossible for me to complete a story in one sitting. And sometimes the amount of effort needed just turns me off; after ten or more hours in the office, investing a couple more for the sake of an experimental story is suddenly a huge deal. That doesn't even count the risk of grammatical errors or strange directions, the possibilities of which go up whenever I'm half-asleep at the keyboard.

4. Cop Out. Yes, I just write about not being able to think of anything to write. It's quick, it's obvious, and -- more than anything else -- it gives me an excuse to spend five hundred words discussing absolutely nothing at all.

Does it actually work? Well, let me put it this way: Think about what you're reading at this very moment.

I assume that there's a catch to this, namely the fact that one can only write so much about not being able to write. What's more, this kind of post is an active paradox -- how could you bewail the fact that you can't think of any writing ideas when you're clearly putting them down to (virtual) paper at the moment? While I figure that I still have a few tricks up my sleeve in order to face the former consideration, I personally try not to think too hard about the latter.

And now I must sleep. Looking back, it seems that I've turned a silk purse out of a sow's ear again -- I've somehow managed to turn a lack of ideas into the five-hundred-odd words you just read. It's not exactly the best way to write a blog post, but it did work to some extent tonight.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'll have to work on an idea for the next blog post.

Maybe something about yellow bananas...


Dominique said...

...and this is me NOT commenting....

banzai cat said...

... and this is me not reading your post and comment...

... and not working either. ;-)

Dave Duggins said...

Great post ... all good ideas. The object is to keep writing, not necessarily to begin the Great American Short Story. There's too much pressure on that.

If you're putting pen to paper, you're a success. Writers improve with practice, and every word you write is practice. Even if you write "I can't think of anything to write," you're writing. Eventually, you'll get tired of writing that and think of something better.

Natalie Goldberg says it's a good idea. I'm not going to argue with her.

Thanks for sharing!

Sean said...

Dominique, Banzai Cat: Har har. Yes, I get it already. :)

Dave: I must confess that most of us have a difficult enough time writing the Great Philippine Short Story. :) But yes, this sort of thing happens, and I do try to make the best of it.