Thursday, December 13, 2007

Musings on Writer's Block vol. 2

Here I am, come upon another freewrite. Struggling to write. It’s 8:58am, been up all night. I’ve written two short stories in the last 16 hours, that total about 9 pages between the two of them. I like the both of them. They both say very specific things about my experiences in Iraq. Unfortunately, that’s the problem. They’re both about Iraq. Neither is really fictional. Something more akin to embellished, refined, narrative-ized non-fiction…The problem is that this is a fiction class. I’m already worried about having to do some major rewriting to fictionalize them for my prof. But I’ve also written five Iraq stories total for this class. Only one is truly fictional. I used my emotions and put myself into a Dear John type situation and it turned out really well. Very cinematic. It’ll make a good short film whenever I’m able to cull enough resources for it…But that’s not helping me now.

I have one…last…story to write…before I can move on to working on a story for a different class!

I started writing a variation on the Thorn story that was beaten into a pulp in my Story & Animation class by two months of reiterations. This time I removed all of the magical elements and stripped it down to just the abstract visuals, replacing the magical thorn with shards of a broken mirror…and I couldn’t stomach it. Not the violence itself, but rather that there was no discovery in it. It felt like I was going through the motions. I knew exactly where the violence was going to end up, and what made me sick of it was that it was so senseless. I suppose that was part of the original point, but after having my nose rubbed in the filth of my own design for two months straight, I just didn’t have the heart to follow it through. That’s the thing. If I’d had the heart, if I’d felt like what I was writing was saying something worthwhile, or allowing a new discovery, rather than just depravity, I could have followed it through to its very bitter end. But not this time. I’m finished with that story. I’m ready to move on to illustrations and evocations of greater emotional complexity than a visceral, gut-wrenching reaction. I kept thinking about early Cronenberg and Lynch, and their films work on levels beyond the purely visceral. The visceral is reserved for shock horror, and that’s about it.

So. Do I continue to strip-mine my Iraq experiences? Or do I progress onto something more complex? More original?

On second thought, I may have found a way to get the fragmented story to work. If I make it a piece about heroism as deformative performance art. I think I can see it now. That was the problem. I couldn’t see it. Or what I saw wasn’t clicking. Now I see it. And it could be beautiful.

Ever see Perfume? Beautiful movie. My kind of movie.

Musings on Writer's Block

I’m afraid it’s a little self-indulgent, writing about not being able to write. But I suppose it’s a clever enough way of writing something. Someone, was it you?, once said that if you’re writing is blocked, then write about that write, just write. That is the key.

I feel like every idea I come up with is either ham-handedly personal—i.e. has to do yet again with Iraq—or it’s ham-handedly impersonal. Narratives that go nowhere. Conversations that exist simply to exist or to highlight some pompous philosophical issue.

For example:
3 priests. They all three have discovered their Bibles are literally empty. This prompts a crisis of faith in each. And each reacts differently. The first thinks that it doesn’t matter whether its phony or not, the fact is his congregation believes it and, moreover, they believe because they believe he believes. And he doesn’t feel he has any right to take that away, even if he wanted to, which he doesn’t of course. The second believes that even if the “Word of God” is nothing but empty phrases, they still matter as long as we choose to live by them. In his case, he feels he cannot lie about their being phony, but questions what phony really means. His quest is to make the “Laws of God” into the Laws of Man, by reconciling the phoniness of their supernatural nature with our need to continue to abide by them. He also seeks to reconcile the difference between the spiritual and the supernatural, that we no longer to justify the spiritual by falling back on the supernatural. The third priest agrees with both, but seeks something beyond the physical constraints of our imagination, something that needs no supernatural nor humanly explanation or justification. He seeks nirvana for himself, so that he may bring it to others.

Now, the ideas that I wish to address couldn’t be more topical or relevant, but it is the story that I’m attempting to hang them on that continues to crumble under the weight of a heavy hand. I mean really, three priests having a spiritual crisis? No shit. Why not make a story about three clowns having a humor crisis while we’re at it. I suppose I could transplant the thematic ideas onto three ordinary peoples’ lives, but then there is no story, only a dialectic.

Example 2:
Three guys are arguing about the importance of having a MacGuffin that determines the political future of their country. In this case, the MacGuffin really is nothing, and they discuss the relative importance of the non-object now that they know the truth. The conversation covers the same broad-strokes existentialism as the three priests’ conversation, just in dealing with politics instead of religion.

Example 3:
A character is told he is a character in a movie and where he can find the camera. The story ends with the character acknowledging that everything he says or does is merely a facsimile of some almighty author. His dramatic realization is that when the movie ends, so does he. This is really an expansion of a story I wrote for a short film I made recently. The object would be the camera, which the two characters’ conversation kind of beats around the bush about, without ever really specifying what exactly they’re discussing. The shortcomings of the film is that it never directly addresses the issue of being a character in a film. And the fact that the camera he finds is a security camera, only confuses things. It turns the story of the film into one about discovering a security camera, and not one about discovering you’re a character in a movie.

The real problem I have with all of these stories is that they exist to serve only two functions: I’m looking to create a conversation between characters; and I want a soapbox to preach from. Iraq is always a goldmine of vignettes, but I don’t think that’s the only thing I can do. The problem is that everything else I write is pretty worthless.

I feel like I need to be more creative and stop writing about shit that’s so personal. But everybody writes shit that’s personal, right? Isn’t that why shit’s good? I mean Cormac McCarthy saw a massive fire on a hillside above a motel he and his son were staying at in New Mexico and so he wrote a novel about a father trying to protect his son in a world on nuclear fire from the worst kind of predator, cannibals. That’s a really pretty simple, brilliant interpretation/extension of that inspirational event. I wish I could do the same.

I haven’t been experiencing anything lately, is part of the problem. I’ve been stuck in a ridiculous, extended grind of school and we all know that school isn’t really something dramatically captivating.

Maybe I’ll write about Iraq once more with feeling.