One of the strangest and most disheartening experiences you can have as a creator is when you have in mind what seems like a workable idea, one populated with all the right pieces, but which obstinately refuses to click.
No prizes for guessing I'm talking about my next project.
Writers often descend into what sounds like metaphysics when talking about inspiration, about how it comes out of the blue, etc. I think this is less because it has any actual metaphysical component, and more because our way of talking about it has been more inspired by religion or spiritual disciplines than, say, engineering or even design. It also puts the creator at a disadvantage: because the whole discussion is couched in terms that are less about logic than they are about faith and hope, it becomes hard to apply critical thinking to the process.
Right now, the idea I have is well-populated -- there's tons of individual moving parts, plenty of characters to choose from. But none of it feels alive, or so I tell myself. It had no spirit. And when I not only put it in those terms, but took a close look at the terms themselves, the problem seemed all the clearer. I had to stop taking it as an article of faith that I could only expect an answer for all this to come to me unbidden.
What did it mean to say there was no life or spirit in what was going on? As best I could tell, it meant I had little to no personal investment in the story. I had a lot of Neat Stuff in there, but was better to think of it as Stuff I Think Other People Will Find Neat. Second-guessing. Not that I shouldn't put a story together that others are meant to be excited by, only that I hadn't yet found the things I found interesting in such things. In other words, personal connection to the material.
Time and again I come back to how the things that fascinate me the most are not interesting to most people, and vice versa. A glum insight, because it means I have that much more work ahead of me whenever I try to connect with readers. I like the idea of writing things that are enjoyed by many -- who doesn't? -- but I don't want the end result to be something that requires no particular part of me to have created, something that in the end even I wouldn't have bothered to read.
I put everything I had on the shelf for a while, took it back down, gave it another going-over. I then spent part of Sunday trying to drill into each element in the new story -- what was in there that I could plug into on some personal level?
Nothing's really come together yet, and part of that is the way the current book continues to monopolize my attention. But at least I'm getting the gears unstuck.
New York City
Other Lives Of The Mind