Yeah, so I’m bombing big time on my new year’s resolution to do some fiction writing everyday for at least thirty minutes. I think the last time I touched the journal (the wonderful MacJournal) where I’m keeping my story bits was last Tuesday.
As usual, little demons of self-doubt are to blame (that and a chronic lack of discipline, aka laziness) which is a shame because for a while, I was really getting back into the groove, coming up with some interesting seed material. But you know, in a backwards kind of way, a successful writing session where I get out some surprising, promising bits of prose can be a detriment because I want to keep working in that rich, fertile space and when I can’t find it, I start to think that all I am is a monkey pounding away at the keyboard who occasionally strikes a bit of gold, but only by accident.
Here’s what I mean. In that last writing session I mentioned above (the one on Tuesday), I got out some really fun, nice bits of prose. I was pleasantly surprised while rereading it on Wednesday morning. Thrilled, in fact. So that night, I sit down, ready to write and I’m stuck, not so much because I don’t have anything to write about but because I want to equal what I had written the night before and when I couldn’t, I just didn’t write at all.
My band seems to be in a bit of the same predicament. We just finished recording a new song (it’s called “With You” and you can hear it on our MySpace site). We’re all really excited about this song because it’s one of the few where each and every member of the band is one hundred percent behind the sound. See, the musical tastes of the band members vary widely – you’ll find very little overlap in our CD collections (everything from Pantera to Iris Dement to British Sea Power). Because of this, there are some songs that appeal to certain members while others are ambivalent about them and there are other songs where the shoes are switched around. “With You” is one of those rare few where everyone is happy with the sound.
Well now we’re trying to keep going with songwriting, but some are finding it difficult and I can’t help but wonder if maybe we’re expecting too much of ourselves too soon – that we want every song to feel as good as “With You” and when we’re not getting juiced about new songs that are still in the stew, we get discouraged and frustrated. Maybe we want every song to be as strong as “With You” but the truth of the matter is that for every artist, the only way to get from zero to hit song is to wade through the swamp of mediocrity.
Anne Lamott has a great book on writing called Bird by Bird. Lamott has published six novels but is best known for her spiritual memoirs (she just published a new one called Grace Eventually). Obviously, she knows a little something about writing. Well one of the first chapters in Bird by Bird is called “Shitty First Drafts.” Basically what she says is that the road to finished piece of prose runs straight through the wasteland of the shitty first draft and the only way through is to write your way through, no shortcuts, no exceptions.
I suspect that what’s hindering me from writing (and perhaps my band as well, though I can only speak for my own writing) is writing something that seems to bypass the shitty first draft stage and then wanting every writing session thereafter to be just as profound and sublime. I don’t like the shitty first draft and so when I have a writing session that seems to leapfrog over the shitty bit, I want every writing session to do the same.
What I need to remember is that those juicy writing sessions are the exception, not the norm. I need to remember that the only way to have more of those transcendent moments is to slog through the mediocre, the banal, the trite, and the cliched. I need to be especially on guard and disciplined after a particularly fruitful writing session. I need to remember that the muse is a fickle maiden and the only way to lure her out is to head out to the well everyday and pull that bucket up even when it keeps coming back more mud than water. And when I land a clean, clear bucket-full, I need to remember that more likely than not, the next day’s draw will likely be back to miry muck. And even then I need to remember that sometimes there’s a bit of gold hidden therein.