May 22, 2009

emotion and quality

This morning I stumbled upon some things I'd written four years ago--personal notes, journal entries written when I was going through a difficult emotional period. Suffice to say it was one of those times when one problem seeps over into every aspect of your life and distracts you in a constant and very uncomfortable way, not unlike sandpaper underwear.

What surprised me about these notes was how darned good the writing was. I was shocked at the raw emotion, the provocative descriptions, the rich yet tight prose. And I wished I could write like that now. Such freedom and power. I've never shown those notes to anyone, and I don't expect to.

Today, I have no serious issues in my life. Day Job, family, and yard work consume my time, and when I try to write I find my creative energy spent. No everpresent pain or angst drives me. Instead of bleeding onto a blank page, I find myself clearing my head with a crossword puzzle or some other mental bubblegum. Instead of thinking about my writing while at work, I'm thinking about work while trying to write.

How can I get back to that place of inspiration? I don't think recreating the circumstances of four years ago is a good idea. And I don't much care for the idea of sandpaper boxers. Is that deep emotion required for true art?


Stacy said...

I don't think it's that you lack emotion. I've often read with writers I admire that they go back over their work and they can't tell the difference between the writing that was inspired emotionally and the writing that felt tedious. You just have to write and let that first draft be what it is.

I actually write better when I'm not in a bad way emotionally. It's when I'm feeling that way that I don't write.

writtenwyrdd said...

Emotional misery certainly does provide impetus, but you really do not have to be miserable to be artistic. Although it can sometimes feel that way when we let our daily lives and issues get in the way of writing (like I've been doing the past few months.)

I would recommend meditation for first five minutes a day, then as you get into the habit do a little bit more or do it twice a day. It can be as simple as "foursquare breathing" (where you breathe in for four, hold it for four, breathe out for four, and pause for four before you begin the cycle again) or as complicated as going to the zendo and sitting lotus and chanting! The point being that you will likely find your creativity more accessible as you quiet the chattering in your head, lol. (This helps me, if I bother to do it!)

Aniket Thakkar said...

The "No guts, no glory... no pain, no story" saying is somewhat true. But certainly is not absolute.

It becomes something special and close to heart when raw emotions flow through writing. But am sure you'll be writing equally good if not better pieces again. They might be more lighter and happier coz times are better for you now. and am sure you wouldn't complain.

All the best finding your groove again. :D

jjdebenedictis said...

I want to say no, because I'm in a pretty happy place right now and don't want to believe it could get in the way of my writing, but...that's what I want to be true. Doesn't mean it is true.

Your ability to write a tight, evocative sentence doesn't go away if you're happy. Your talent for picking the right word doesn't diminish. Your skill at plotting probably increases.

But does your ability to grab the reader's emotions decrease if you haven't got any angst to tap into? I don't know.

Anonymous said...

We should Vulcan mind meld or something. I have more emotion and angst than I know what to do with. Well, maybe not angst, anymore.

I find stuff I wrote in college and think - "damn, I am brilliant." I find stuff I wrote in grad school and think - "damn, I am brilliant." I read the stuff I'm writing for WIP and I think - "who the hell wrote this?"

I'm not evangelizing, but there have been times when I try to pick up books to help with prompts and exercises and thing and one of the best resources I've found is Julia Cameron's Artist's Way. Now, she presents this whole process, sytem-y thingy, but I pick and choose what I like, and I find some of what she says ridiculously liberating.

Also, it's trite, but keep reading. I finished a book last night that was one of those novels that's so well written, I simply had to pick up a pen and hit it, even though I was exhausted and my mother-in-law is coming today (angst, anyone?).

The last thing I'll say is that I think the emotion is there, but that the technical parts - editing, revising, taking criticism, etc - are the hardest parts of writing. You're either and artist or you're not (and you obviously are) but even if you are an artist, you may not have the discipline to learn how to wield your art effectively.

Wait, that was the penultimate thing. This is the last thing: J.M. Barrie once said something like, "It's great you can write a book but the really important question is can you waggle your ears?"

bluesugarpoet said...

i don't have anything to say about this. I'm to busy being angsty and writing about it in my head because it's unpublishable. lol

bluesugarpoet said...

(but if I were to say something, I would say that emotion is very much a part of art. Art is the visual representation of emotion - written, spoken, painted, drawn, or whatever. do you have to be in an angsty state to create? no. but allowing yourself to *feel* is important, and once you do, that never leaves you. tap into it when needed. revisit, but you don't have to stay there. let your character wear it. walk around in it. does that make sense?)

JaneyV said...

I don't know the answer to this either but I'd say there's great advice for writing here. For me I think the kind of writing you do - by that I mean genre/type - is probably reflective of your general wellbeing. I would not even consider writing angst-ridden angry prose because I have no wish to revisit those emotions (I wore some 'sandpaper-lined panties' of my own back in the day), no matter how good they are to read. I've slayed my demons thanks - I have no wish to breathe new life into them. I find writing for children is artistically satisfying and leaves me feeling good about things.

Sandpaper undies are so yesterday.

Chris Eldin said...

I agree with everyone here that you absolutely don't have to be miserable or suffering to write beautifully! It's clear from what you write on your blog that you're a very talented writer.
I think sometimes it's difficult to get back into a routine once we've been absent from one for a while. So this could be a matter of simply getting back into the swing of things.
Also, reading a good book, one which really pulls *you* in, could start you thinking about how to craft in a writerly way again.
I may facing the same issue in a week or so when I try to return to writing after a lengthy hiatus.

Robin B. said...

I have a couple of pages of my own favorite writing saved on a doc - various paragraphs pulled from here and there - and they are gathered to get me in the mood to write - to remember I can do it.

I also agree with Chris - immersion in a good novel can work, too. I avoided most fiction while I was writing my novel - now that I'm reading again, I'm writing notes again.

There's also simply the process - the sitting down in a quiet place and doing your brain conjuring.

But I also think that sometimes you need a break from the whole thing - not a massive one - but two or three months - to start needing to write again. Maybe that's where you are - and the new position with added responsibility - that can also take a toll until you achieve equilibrium.

Anonymous said...

Sandpaper undies are so yesterday.Janey speaks from experience, I think. ;)

PJD said...

Wow, I write something like this, then go away for a couple of days and come back to a whole discussion! Thanks, guys!

freddie, good point. Sometimes I find it hard to write when I'm in a bad way, too. But more often I have to write at those times.

writtenwyrdd, meditation is a good idea, but it doesn't quiet the chattering. It quiets all the other stuff, making more room for the chattering!

aniket, thanks for the well wishes. Interesting idea that maybe my quality is similar but the material is lighter when I'm happier.

jjdebenedictis, that's what I'm talking about... the ability to grab the reader emotionally. Yeah, that's it right there.

Aerin, dang! You had to bring up the discipline thing. Darn you, always shining the Light of Truth. And yes, I can waggle my ears.

bluesugarpoet, you don't have to say anything. It's just nice that you're here. :-)
Oh, wait, you did say something. Resurrect those feelings when I need them, then re-bury them when I'm done. I worry that, like Frankenstein's monster, they will become uncontrollable once brought back to life. Hmm.

JaneyV, an interesting take... I agree about the breathing new life into those slain dragons. But then I think about what BSP and JJdeB say... I, too, like writing for children, but I also like writing for non-children. And I like the writing I did during that tough patch. Hrumph.

Chris, good point on inertia and momentum. And aren't you the sweetie, saying I have talent!

Robin, yes, I do blame Day Job for my drop in productivity and quality in my fiction, at least in part. The suggestion (echoed by others) to immerse myself in a good book is a very good one. I have noticed that inspiration more than once.

Stacy said...

I've also used Julia Cameron's book The Artist's Way, and have been for years. It can be time-consuming to do EVERYTHING she suggests, but I do find the page writing and scheduling a date with myself once a week to be really helpful.

I think you're just blocked, is all. All the daily stuff you do is getting in the way of your writing. What made your writing during emotional turmoil is that you were actually writing about something that was on your mind, I think. Maybe if you just spend a little time in the morning writing about all the crap you're thinking about, it will filter out onto the page, freeing you up to write the stories. Works for me, anyway.

Sarah Laurenson said...

I used to write poetry pretty much exclusively. And I needed to be in that extreme emotional state in order to feel moved to puke it all over the blank page. When I was happy, I had no impetus for that kind of writing.

It was years later that I decided to try my hand at writing novels. My first novel forced itself out in a week. I wrote everywhere - including the bathroom at work. The rewrite took years and it became my favorite trunk novel that I used to learn how to write and edit.

Since then, things have been hit or miss with me learning what it takes and what I need to be able to write.

Morning pages were great and cleared my head of all the crap that was stuck in there. Haven't done them in quite awhile though.

Reading has been very good for replenishing the well and researching how my favorite authors do whatever it is that they do.

But I think the most amount of learning about me and what I can write and under what circumstances happened during the NaNoWriMo. It was then I learned that I could write - and write fast - if I didn't try so hard to control the quality. And the quality wasn't as bad as I had feared either. (Warning - Burned me out on writing for 3 months). But I learned, too, what my peculiarities are - like shifting POVs and filling the book with oddball characters. It showed me my strength lies in humorous fantasy (when I'm not writing from an angsty place).

Doing McK's daily writing challenge also showed me that I can write daily if given the right bloody impetus, but that my best and most productive writing comes from having a longer block of time.

So, after all that, I'm suggesting trying a bunch of different things to find out what works for you.

Julaina Kleist-Corwin said...

Hey, Peter...Time is a factor and work is a distractor, but I agree that reading a good, a very good book, helps a lot. In fact it was Stephen King who said, "If you don't have the time to read, you don't have the time or the tools to write." Maybe this is your break from writing to do some reading. If it's a book with hooks, you'll make time to read it. Then, hopefully, you'll be inspired to pick up writing again.

Meeting with your writing groups might help too...hint, hint. We miss you.

Jodi Cleghorn said...

PJD - I was at a loss for WHERE to post this - given I dont have an actual email address for you and didn't want to just *shove* this somewhere in amongst your poetry.

I'm not sure if you remember me from when you were writing and posting links for Fiction Friday. Paul Anderson and I have a publishing project happening and we're looking for a final male writer to join our cohort.

The project involves 10 writers, writing 10 interconnected stories to form an anthology of kinds. I can send you more information if you'd like.

There is a temporary website up which doesn't say much more than I have. If you email me editor(AT)chinesewhisperings(DOT)com I can send you more information and the writer handbook.

Hope to hear from you soon ... have always been a big fan of your short fiction :)