What writer hasn't been plagued with "Why Bother?" A disheartening field full of No gets daunting. Why bother communicating when there are a thousand voices shouting? Because you're not shouting. What do people do to get away from a loud, boorish party? Look for a quiet spot. That's where you come in. Someone will come meet you on a quiet balcony away from the crowd and the two of you will look at the stars. And for that brief moment that's all you need.
There are times I wonder how my non-disciplined ass managed to write 4 books. Ambition certainly doesn’t drive me, otherwise you might have heard of said books by now. I’d much rather dig my toes in sand for 3 hours than drive market growth for 3 minutes. I’m Ernie. Giggly, mischievous, humorously Machiavellian Ernie. Which isn’t in itself a negative thing. Ernie is where the creativity resides.
But the work doesn’t happen without a little Bert.
Bert is discipline, even if only a whisper of it. Bert takes the idea and says do something with it. Shape it. Explore it. In an earlier post I touched on how some writers have a schedule: they sit after coffee, they load paper in the mental typewriter, and they have at it: they have clocked in and output is about to happen. Admittedly, I had a lot more Bert in me starting out than I do now. I was going to sell books, and buy houses for my family, and scowl across a coffee bar at Brett Easton Ellis, and never ever wake to anything but my body’s natural rhythms. My output had a clear and driven goal: escape from poverty. My Bert was a pragmatic guy, and I loved him. I did not, however, love the work.
I’ve published 4 books, but I’ve written 7 total. I won’t even get into how many short stories are entombed.
Bert was great at creating product; it was Ernie, though, who wanted to play. He wanted nothing more than to roll words like marbles, or egg Bert on to try something random and new, turn the workspace into a parade with himself as twirling marcher. The more Ernie crept in, the more fun I had. Ernie led me to do a collection of shorts featuring an experimental flash piece about barbarian Smurfs. His sardonic laughter brought about the gonzo urban satire Neon Lights, and you can be damn sure The Brothers Jetstream would still be locked away in my brainmeats if not for Ernie’s love of baths and rubber ducks.
So this brief post is about balance.
Striking it would seem to be a given, but look at the state of our world. It’s not, and we take conversations on it for granted. It’s like saying we need to breathe air. Duh. But you’d be surprised how many times you hold your breath per day without even realizing it. A lot of people see disciplined output as conveyor belt output. The opposing batch of folks say, “How’s that starving anonymity working out for ya?” The fallacy, though, is there’s no creativity in discipline and no discipline in creativity.
Bert liked to have just as much fun as Ernie, he just also wanted to be appreciated for knowing when it was time to get things done. When that switch flipped in me I realized the 4 books I’d written and liked, and thought I’d written as a creative dynamo… were collaborations. Bert had always been there. There is no either/or, Glorious Revolutionaries, life’s a blend. In advice pieces about writing we always hear “Do you outline, do you pants? 8 hours straight or 4 and 4? Word count! Did you hit it, did you score?” People on one side will say to that, “No, for I know that there is more,” and ride off to find sand and coffee. In writing, too many play the mental gymnastics of either/or, but the thing is this, in 3 parts:
1) You have to be disciplined;
2) You have to have fun;
Know the value of fine sand or a hot soak in a tub to both sides of your brain.
There’s no reason to look down on aspects of your creativity, and nothing dictates that what you do must be a “success.” The only thing is to do it and realize there’s a reason for doing it. That realization is the Bert in you. That’s the nugget of discipline I found. It fits inside me quite nicely. Yours may be larger, yours may be small, yours may be much more misshapen than mine. But it’s yours. Work with it, not against it.
Nobody else is going to do what you do. It’s not possible. They’re not you.
Nobody but you can watch over you, prod you, encourage you, beguile you, infuriate you, and smile with you while you move yourself through your creative days.
Nobody. So you need your Bert and Ernie. Discipline just means doing what needs to be done so you can do something else. Embrace the inner Bert.
Creative Person, you’re the one.
"I'm rightly tired of the pain I hear and feel, boss. I'm tired of bein on the road, lonely as a robin in the rain. Not never havin no buddy to go on with or tell me where we's comin from or goin to or why. I'm tired of people bein ugly to each other. It feels like pieces of glass in my head. I'm tired of all the times I've wanted to help and couldn't. I'm tired of bein in the dark. Mostly it's the pain. There's too much. If I could end it, I would. But I can't.”
― Stephen King, The Green Mile
I didn't wake up feeling that. It took a whole 3 minutes of consciousness for it to hit. I looked out my upstairs window and saw that the security door of the house being repaired next to mine had been stolen. Yeah.
We constantly prey on each other. Sharks forever looking for meals. That's a terrible thought, terrible feeling, from the petty like stealing a door to sell for scrap, to the grotesque like, for instance, 99.9% of what we're daily fed.
It gets tiring, but you gotta call that shit out. You gotta write it, paint it, draw it, sing it, dance it, sculpt it, act it, journal it out of the cold, damp places that incubate it and into the circulating air. Calling it out gets tiring. It can even make you sick. It can trigger, upset, unnerve, or plain and simple frighten you into ennui. I wrote something years ago that, to this day, punches me straight in the gut when I revisit it. Its premise: what if the Inquisition had convinced people its agents could read minds? They'd get in there and make everything wrong in your life your fault, everything they termed sin, everything they termed weakness, every depravity they visited upon the world. A rape of the mind and spirit. Which would lead to a rape of the body. And accepting it.
Two truths to the world: (1) fear is not our natural diet; (2) we are not always hungry.
This isn't a post about fear, this is a post about action. What do we do when the world shatters glass inside our brains? I try to be precise with any suffering I write about. You'll never see death as window dressing, violence as pure entertainment, or brutalization as character builder. There are enough ringmasters of that. There are even certain things I can't write again. The empathic submersion needed for the Inquisition story took something oily and smoky out of me, drew it straight from hell like thread piercing heart and bone, and I don't need to see that particular ghoul any more, not when humans daily birth about a million more. The house next to mine is a rental property. It caught fire recently. The guy who owns it has been coming by evenings and nights after work putting his own sweat equity into cleaning it, fixing it, and keeping it from becoming an eyesore. Loads of time. Now he's got to add repairing a door frame and replacing a door. I suppose this post is about him and you and me and us being tired as hell of way too many things.
Has he thought of giving up and walking away from the property a hundred times? Yes. He's told me so. But he likes me. He said he wouldn't do that to me.
So we keep plodding on. I write stuff on Sunday mornings after seeing his door's gone. He fixes stuff and promises to keep our block as beautiful as his part of it can be. When you've no fear of the dark but of what people do in it, it's best to live your life like a giant flashlight. Blast the night away. Or deeper still, take a cue from trees. Trees see everything we do like god's unblinking eye.
Go outside one night and pay attention to what they're doing. They're wise and ancient. Even the young ones. They're not simply growing upward. They're pointing.
Been hearing a lot lately about Impostor Syndrome. Here's the thing: The only way you can be an impostor in writing is if you can't write but are given a huge wad of cash anyway. Which happens. Do you have a huge wad of cash? Can you write a good story? Congratulations! You're not an impostor! The fact that you're going to feel like you suck a lot does not an impostor make. Makes you human. Teachers think they suck. Counselors think they suck. Electricians think they suck. Politicians suck but rarely think it. The human race has a built-in 'I Suck' gene that operates on a whisper-touch hair trigger.
My friends, it is cool. I see you. You the writer. You. Painter. You. Essayist. Filmmaker. Comic artist. Even me when I look in a mirror. Even me.
Put the work in. Clock in. Be the thing. Be cool.
Life, the universe, and everything creative
Towel Photo credit: EvelynGiggles via Foter.com / CC BY