"When I hear about writer's block, this one and that one, f**k off! Stop writing, for Christ's sake; plenty more where you came from."
~ GORE VIDAL
Much like Mr. Vidal, I've never put much stock in writer's block, because I never got it. See, I plan in such great detail that I'm generally considered some sort of outlying freak by other planners. Sure, the muse decides to sleep in once in a while, but as far as the dreaded Block goes, all I've ever had to do was lay my hyper-detailed outline beside the keyboard and flesh out the scene. It may not have been my best writing, but it was always going to be a first draft, subject to revision anyway, and I had the scene on the page and was ready to move on; what is this "Block" you speak of, kemo sabe?
So you might be able to imagine the turmoil I've been going through since last August, which was, with the exception of two days, the last time I was able to produce anything remotely readable. In my last post, Back on the Horse, I talked about how I was going to haul the muse out of the sack and beat on him until he produced some usable copy. That was a week ago. I did that, and he came across with a scene for The Secret Society, a steampunk spy story I've had in the works for a while. Following that success, I scheduled last Monday on the calendar to write again. I figured that gave me three days to prepare, to psyche myself up, to do some research on the history of the location it was set in. I did those things. Monday came, I sat down to write, and... nothing happened. Turned out this much-vaunted horse I thought I was riding turned out to be a worn out old mule who sat down in the road with me on his back, and dared me to make him stand up again.
As I said, I don't have much experience with writer's block, so I don't know precisely whether that is what I'm experiencing. At the age of 69, what I do have experience with is a wide array of hobbies. From the sedate, detail-intensive construction of plastic models to the adrenaline-donor excitement of extreme off-roading; from the campaign planning of tabletop wargaming to exploring the mountains and deserts of the back country on foot, I've experienced a lot of widely varied pursuits. As you might guess, I've also experienced the demise of a good number of those hobbies. Take plastic modeling as an example. You have all this paraphernalia, a thousand shades of paint, a dozen different kinds of glues and cements, all the tools for applying all the various forms of camouflage that the world's military forces have used on their weapons throughout history. You've done this for decades, and know through long experience that you love it. You visit a hobby shop and see a kit that just blows you away. You must have it, so you risk not being able to pay a bill, and bring it home. You examine the parts, decide which variant you're going to make, set up your work table with all the tools, paints, and associated equipment that you're going to need, and start spreading out parts... At which time you realize that this is about the dumbest, most uninteresting thing you've ever encountered, and it almost makes you physically ill to look at it.
That happened to me, and it was actually that sudden. I was making an S-3 Viking, an anti-submarine aircraft used by the navy, for my office. I worked at a naval air station where several dozen S-3s were based, and thought that would make an excellent display piece for a space on a shelf in there. It was about 80% completed when I sat down at the table on my day off, and found that I couldn't stand to look at it. I did eventually force it to completion, displayed it in my office, and it did get a lot of nice comments, but I've never made another one, and that was on the order of twenty years ago. I got a model of Jules Verne's Nautilus for Christmas three years ago. I'm looking at the box of parts from where I'm sitting, waiting in their packaging for the magic touch that will bring them to life. I'd love to have that completed and on display, but not enough to actually build it, at least not yet.
Wargaming faded away a bit more slowly, and I still fantasize about those good old days. I have a few of the games left deep in my closet, and I still get one out now and then and look it over, but there's no thought of playing one. Understand, if you're uninitiated, this isn't Risk I'm talking about here. These are games like Rise and Decline of the Third Reich, Breakout Normandy, and Pax Britannica. The rule books are thicker than many mainstream magazines, and maybe that's part of what drove me away. Regardless of that, the sudden and profound loss of interest is familiar and chilling as I look at the prospect of writing now.
All of which brings me to last Monday. I tried all day to write. I had material to type. I had free time to type it. There was no reason for not doing it, other than that I couldn't generate the slightest interest in the notion of actually spending two or three hours at the keyboard. My daughter, the youngest child, finally took the time to put it all into perspective for me, and she was able to do it without Mr. Vidal's resort to foul language. I'm going to paraphrase the conversation here; obviously I wasn't recording at the time, but this is pretty close to what was said:
ME: "Boo hoo hoo! I can't write any more. It's the end of the world!"
DAUGHTER: "Why? Do something else."
ME: "You don't understand. I need to write! I put it on the calendar and planned for a day of writing, but now I can't get any work done."
DAUGHTER: "You don't need to get any work done. You worked your ass off for fifty years providing a safe and loving home for half a dozen people. This is your time. You don't need a schedule, and you don't need a production tracker. All you need to do is enjoy the time that's left to you. If writing doesn't bring you pleasure, don't write."
ME: "But my friends all know me as a writer."
DAUGHTER: "Friends who like you for who you are will always like you. The hangers-on who just want to be able to say they know a writer weren't your friends anyway. If it brings you pleasure to explore Skyrim for the rest of your life, then that's what you should be doing."
All this time, my wife is sitting in her recliner, smiling and nodding. Has anyone ever had two better friends? A better daughter? I challenge you to show me one!
And that's where things stand with the ol' Blimprider at this moment in time. I will continue to put Writing on the calendar every four days, and I will continue to prep for it. If it comes, it comes, and I'll be pleased to tell you a story, but if it doesn't come, I will no longer stress over it. I've made my point with three books and a story in an anthology. I have nothing left to prove to anyone. Would I like to continue writing? Of course I would. Am I going to lose any sleep if that isn't what's in the cards? Not any more. I have a wonderful family to enjoy. That ought to keep me busy enough for one man! As for you, dear friends, play nice, take care of one another, and I'll see you around the Web.
All the best,
~ Jack "Blimprider" Tyler