Monday, December 04, 2006

The Pool Where We All Go To Drink

The reason this blog is called “Stop The Block” is that for the last couple of years I’ve had a horrible case of writer’s block. I long to write, but it seems impossible sometimes. I have dozens of unfinished stories, of ideas I have yet to write about, but when I sit down to do it something cripples me and the page is blank. I wanted to blog about it so I could figure out what the hell was wrong with me. I’ve written about writing in the past, but usually I just write about funny conversations, my kid, and cockroaches. Which is fine, because I’m writing something, but I want more.

I want to take a dive into “the pool where we all go to drink” and find my story. I’ve been obsessing over this ever since I recently finished Stephen King’s new novel Lisey's Story.

From the Nora Roberts guest review on Amazon:

Lisey's Story is, at its core, a love story--heart-wrenching, passionate, terrifying and tender. It is the multi-layered and expertly crafted tale of a twenty-five year marriage, and a widow's journey through grief, through discovery and--this is King, after all--through a nightmare scape of the ordinary and extraordinary. Through Lisey's mind and heart, the reader is pulled into the intimacies of her marriage to bestselling novelist Scott Landon, and through her we come to know this complicated, troubled and heroic man.”

This was such a beautiful and lovely book. I love books about relationships, and books about writers, and books that are bittersweet, and this was all of those. Something that was especially interesting was that the character Scott Landon referred to the place he got his ideas as “the pool where we all go to drink.” Of course, in the story, people assumed this was a metaphor for a collective consciousness of some type. Really, the character could actually transplant himself into another world, where there exists a large pool with healing waters, so he actually meant he got his ideas from this pool. The character also claimed that he never knew where the story he was writing was going to go; that writing was like finding a piece of string in the grass and following it and seeing where it took you. Sometimes the string broke, but if you were lucky, it took you to something really amazing. I’ve read interviews with Stephen King where he claims, like his character, that he doesn’t know how his stories are going to end either. He just writes, and it goes wherever it goes. Almost like connecting to something that already exists, finding the string, following it, diving into the pool where we all go to drink, and discovering a story, not actually making it up.

I thought about this the other night as my husband was working in the garage. He’s an artist, and the latest medium he’s exploring is glass blowing. He makes lots of cool beads and pendants and I make them into jewelry. I was taking out the trash, and I realized he had the music turned up so loud in the garage that you could clearly hear what he was listening to from the yard. I thought about how in Lisey’s Story, Scott had a habit of turning up his music so loud while writing that Lisey could sometimes hear it from the house even though his study was out in the barn with soundproofed walls.

So when he finished working, I asked my husband about the music. He said listening to loud music helps him remove himself from his thoughts and just focus on the glass. That it takes something so loud to get him out of himself enough to be able to connect with something different; the energy of the glass, or some new age-y sounding thing. The pool where we all go to drink.

So I’ve been musing over this ever since, and wondering if I’ve been going about getting rid of my writer’s block the wrong way. I’ve been trying to manage and micro-manage any ideas I have by outlining and planning. This is a habit I picked up in high school when we were discussing some dead writer in an English class. The teacher mentioned that his last book was unfinished at the time of his death, so his son or someone finished it based on his outlines. This made me think that “real” writers outlined their stories from beginning to end, and had all the details planned out. How else could things fit together just right if they weren’t organized that way from day one? So that’s the approach to writing I’ve taken ever since. Never mind that was not the way I did it growing up. I’ve written for as long as I can remember, and it was always so easy up until that point. I’d get an idea, or maybe an image, a little piece of something, and then I’d sit down and write about it for hours, expanding on it, making it something different, all without planning or organizing or worrying how it would turn out. I left a lot of things unfinished, but that was usually because I was onto the next idea. I did finish some things though. I probably finished more things as an adolescent than I have ever since. It’s when I start being critical of myself, when I think, this idea is too good to be written about so poorly, when I think, I need to figure out what’s going to happen so I don’t waste my time on something that’s going nowhere, that’s when I lose it. The inspiration, the drive, the story.

So here’s my question to artists of all kinds and especially writers: How do you get to “the pool where we all go to drink?” Do you plan things out from the start or do you get on it like a ride and let the story take you somewhere? How do you get back on track when you find yourself being too critical or thinking too much about your story-how do you reconnect with the “pool?”


At 4:04 PM, Blogger Jenni said...

I'm a fellow life-long writer, and have the same problems (I have a ton of unfinished work, and am bad about starting new stuff instead of finishing). I did outline for a while. I think I was fed that method in middle school (that and those idea clouds). It worked when it had to, but I haven't used them much since. In college I did a ton of creative writing and workshopping, and I determined that I work best when following the string. I may have a glimpse into the future and jot down an idea for what may come later, but for the most part, I just follow the string. Like you, I get an image, or maybe an environment or a personality, and start developing it.

When I can't find my way to the pool, I sometimes read poetry. Sounds lame, but something about the way a good poem flows gets my cogs turning sometimes. King's "On Writing," really got the ink flowing for me once. I also have talked about my ideas with a fellow writer, which sometimes works better for me than anything. Something about talking turkey with someone who gets it.

These things still don't work all the time - only when I utilize them, which is depressingly less and less often.

At 5:57 PM, Anonymous Jenny said...

I can so relate to this. Personally I write drivel. Then I come back to it and tweak. Then I tweak more. Then i'm sometimes hit with inspiration and realize what it needs and totally rewrite the whole thing. And sometimes (often) I give up and just let it sit.

Gotta wait for the muse sometimes, right?

At 9:04 AM, Anonymous cry it out! said...

I always, always write the end first -- no matter what I'm working on. Essay. Story. Whatever. Then I go back to the beginning, address whatever I'm writing to a friend and start going and going and going. Yes, I'll literally write "Dear Ryan" or "Dear Joanne" at the top -- write the story to the end, and then go back and erase the dear part. I found it takes the pressure off to write to a friend instead of, you know, the whole fucking world! Anyway, that's just one idea of how one guy does it. I hope it's helpful -- and I hope you keep up the blogging! It helps, too


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