brought to you by Robert W. Walker
filling in for P.J. Nunn
There’s never been a time when a good swift kick up the
yazoo would not benefit you. You
are sitting around on your thumbs.
You are lolly-gaggin’ and finding things to do that have nothing to do
with going to work on your story, novella, or novel – or that nonfiction work
you’ve always meant to start again—because you’ve started and stopped a hundred
times before, but you’ve never completed it. You grab for the easy excuse—“Hey, it’s writerly
blockage. Happens to everyone.”
There’s never been a time when a good swift kick up the yazoo would not benefit you. You are sitting around on your thumbs. You are lolly-gaggin’ and finding things to do that have nothing to do with going to work on your story, novella, or novel – or that nonfiction work you’ve always meant to start again—because you’ve started and stopped a hundred times before, but you’ve never completed it. You grab for the easy excuse—“Hey, it’s writerly blockage. Happens to everyone.”
It feels like a mountain of earth to move just thinking about it. You know what it is you want, but you want it to materialize effortlessly and joyfully and without pain—kind of like a naïve teen’s expectation of having a baby. But again you start in and again you fail to make it work. You can’t get past the awful-lizing about how badly it is going to come out! How painful is the coming scene going to be? How ugly will it turn out, and will the doctors and nurses and readers laugh at it? Hell, will its own creator cringe from it? Just how terrible is it to know you have given birth to the half-formed, twisted conglomeration of stuff that makes no sense when you re-read and editorialize?
Is there no cure for the Summertime Blues? Your left and right brain are fighting over every page, every nuance. Your self-effacing self-debasing ways are sabotaging you. Little wonder you are stymied, frozen, sitting atop writers’ block. Not writer’s block which would be your personal one-time only ever in life block, but writers’ block—a quite diffuse disease that cripples all of us at one time or another. There’s swine flu, bird flu, mad cow, and there’s writers’ block. The horror of it is that if you contract any of these flues, you’re not going to get much decent writing done. The same is true of financial difficulties, the failed health of a loved one, the chaos of demanding children, graduations, celebrations, picnics, and dreaded holidays.
Anything and everything can excuse you from writing, and most of all and typically, you are excusing yourself from the job at hand. And sometimes that is quite, quite the legitimate thing to do; sometimes life’s overwhelming problems are unbeatable, and you just have to let the writing go until after those extremely expensive ten visits to the shrink or marriage counselor or divorce lawyer or the IRS geek have resulted in a calm you never knew (Valium anyone?).
However, there are times when the excuses are inane and ingrained and trained on and unnecessary at best. Laundry can wait for a scene to be written. Groceries can wait for a chapter to be written. That TV program or film can be taped and put off. There are so often too many times that your excuse for not writing is lame and inexcusable. Times when you need a good, strong kick in the patootie. At such times those around you can be no help at all and often downright negative, and sometimes the very barrier to your successfully producing pages. But think of the reward of accomplishment and adrenaline when you finish a scene rather than do the grocery list or bake the cake? There is a major payoff when you don’t put off what you inwardly want to achieve.
If you treat your writing like a job and you make it clear to everyone around you that it is your job or second job, and that this is of extreme importance to you, they will back off and respect the stiff-arm you extend and the door you lock yourself behind in order to work. A schedule is absolutely necessary. Rewards and punishments are needed. This is Pavlov’s Dog Time. And you are not Pavlov.
When I was kicking around at the tender age of fifteen and sixteen, I went about telling everyone within earshot that I was going to sit down and write a book—a novel—the bleepin’ sequel to Huckleberry Finn in fact. I told my mother this, my father, my brothers, my sister. I got a great deal of nods and indulgent smiles. I told teachers, coaches, anyone I might have a casual conversation with including friends and girlfriends. More indulgent smiles and agreements—none of which were motivating me to actually sit down and go to work, to start the blood to the brain, the sweat to the pores, the tears to the lids. Then an upheaval came that sent me packing from one home to another, and I wound up living with my aunt and uncle in Screven, Georgia of all places—straight from Chicago to as rural a town as any on the map in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement.
There in Screven, I shared just about everything with my cousin, Dennis Hodges— including a bedroom. Dennis spoke “Georgian English” a form of rare dialect indeed that some might call BubbaBonics, which was a golden thing for me to hear every day as it greatly helped my ear for a Mark Twain-styled novel and character. Dennis became my model for Daniel in the book. But it wasn’t enough just picking up on Dennis and other folks with the thickest accent in the whole of the South. No it took a brow beating and a mental kick in the ass from someone I loved—Dennis.
My cuz was a year ahead of me in school, but we were the best of buds. We did everything together. Sports, fishing, hunting (I am a failed hunter), cruising, picking up girls, dating, getting drunk, puking, and facing my Aunt Sadie’s harsh punishment the next day. So we were thick as thieves. And I always felt comfortable enough around Dennis to lay out my plans for my first ever novel—a thing I had a title for and an idea in my head for but nothing else. The book would be called: Daniel Webster Jackson & The Wrongway Railway. Where Huck Finn helped one slave to freedom and actually in the end failed to get Negro Jim free, my Daniel was going to get an entire plantation population of slaves free via the Underground Railroad. Long story short, I spent day after day talking about this project. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner until one morning out of the blue, Dennis Hodges shouted at the top of his lungs, “G’dimmit Wayne Walker! Stop talkin’ ’bout it and do it if’n you’re-a-gonna. Udderwise, jus’ shut up ’bout it! I doughn’t wanna hear ‘nuther dim word on it!”
This was over morning oatmeal and coffee at Aunt Sadie’s table. Aunt Sadie, a huge woman with a powerful presence, came down hard on her son for raising his voice at the breakfast table. There were words back and forth, but it was cut short as we had to leave for school. For me, it was a slap in the face and a huge and welcomed kick in the arse—one I realized was both a wake up call and a challenge. A challenge like a gauntlet thrown at my feet. Now I had something to prove to someone I felt it mattered a great deal to! And God bless Cousin Dennis for his outburst. It was exactly what I needed. It also taught me something about myself that is still true—I love a challenge, and I’ve learned to kick myself in my own behind when necessary!
So I am here to challenge YOU! Stop talking about it, stop waking about it, stop mulling it over and under and through. Stop making excuses and either do it or SHUT UP about it or I am going to come to your house and kick you in the ass!
Got that? You know who you are, and I know where you live. Now it is time to LIVE inside your story. Trust me—any production of pages is better than the loose, unfettered pages blowing around in your head! Do not start with an outline. Write Chapter One, Two, and Three. Then think about outlining the rest of it. Then do that! But first of all allow those first three chapters or maybe thirty to sixty pages to blossom one from the other. Start your story at a moment of high anxiety or stress or excitement or as the knife comes down, and see where it leads you—have FUN with it. Think of your first chapter as an experiment that may fail but even in a failed experiment, you get some where, you learn some things about your story. Think about that first chapter as an exploratory one, one which may be lobed off or later becomes chapter two or preceded by a prologue. It’s a rough draft. A beginning cornerstone that may need replacing or resurfacing, a bit of spackle…but that’s okay.
But for God’s sake—and the sanity of those around you—stop talking about doing it and as Nike says, “DO IT.” Oh and a PS here: aside from a schedule, have a comfy place to work, soft music, candles, wine…or coffee and a snickers bar—whatever “rewards” a “dog” needs to jump through the hoops.
Dead On, July 09