Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Writing is Hard: The Idea Dam

Otis Frampton has an excellent post about the myth of Writer's Block. I totally agree with him and I encourage any aspiring writer to go and read it. I especially love the part where he says, "If you need prompting to write, you may not be a writer. If you need someone to tell you what to draw, you may not be an artist." Hard words to hear maybe, but I support him in declaring that they're true.

That's all preaching to the choir as far as I'm concerned though. I'll gladly stand up and clap at all that, but where his post was particularly helpful to me was his analogy of the writer as a dam. He says, "Artists and writers should create because they have a primal urge to do so, not because they think they should or can or might possibly be able to one day if only they read the right books or take the right class."

(Or, I might add, talk to the right authors. I've forgotten how many times I've heard the annoyance in an author's response when someone asks, "Where do you get your ideas?" What the asker really wants to know is, "How can I be as successful as you without having to think up my own stuff?" That kills me, but I'm digressing. Back to Otis' analogy.)

Otis says, "Writers and artists have creative reservoirs built up behind the dam and let it pass through as much as is humanly possible without causing a tidal wave, they don't pray for rain." I love that visual. It's how I feel, but it's also a challenge because I've been living in fear of the tidal wave. I'm doing better lately, but I've been holding back out of the irrational concern that if I just let the ideas flow, they'll get out of control, flood the banks, and I'll lose all of them. So, I've been damming them up and letting out a faucet-sized trickle a little at a time.

This isn't a declaration that I'm opening the dam wider or anything. These Writing is Hard posts are mostly just for me to refer back to later and this one is simply an acknowledgment that I should be more liberal in my output. But the fear - though crazy - is real and I'll need to take baby steps to overcome it.

Visualizing the dam is going to be helpful though, so thanks again to Otis for that.


inkdestroyedmybrush said...

of course reminds me of the classic Sandman issue, Calliope, wherein the author, having created a successful career by raping his muse is taught a lesson by Dream, who floods his mind with so many ideas that he can't possibly control them all.

If all artist and writers are dams, why are some of us more successful at letting things flow? I go straight back the idea put forth in Art & Fear: that some are less afraid of failure than others. those less afraid to fail will open up the gates a little wider and let more out. For some of us, it truly is in our blood.

Michael May said...

Another challenging, encouraging, and scary thought. Thanks for that.

I know fear of failure has played a role in my lack of output, but I haven't been thinking about how huge a role it must be. I'm working to correct that, but I need to work harder.

Thanks again.


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