I sometimes include a parenthetical "Note to Self" in some of my postings, almost as an afterthought, the way you'd scribble "Check the reference on page 249" in an unfinished manuscript. Along those lines, while I'd originally intended to write today about the current uprising in Egypt, something other sort of happened. Other words rushed in, pushing their way to the forefront. Normally, I ignore this sort of uninvited intrusion and stick to the task at hand, jotting them down somewhere in shorthand for "later", and continue on with what I was writing. This time, however, they were unnervingly insistent. They, in fact, completely took over-- and my fingers, as if awakened from sleep, started pounding out the mental scribblings on the keyboard. Must be something in the air.
Anyway, the idea came to me, that maybe I ought to create an alter-ego to talk to me about why I seem stuck in certain creativity pattern grooves and can't seem to climb out.
A Play in One Act
WIZARD: Why have you come to me, Writer, can't find your words?
WRITER: No, Wizard. Of words, I have plenty. I just don't know how to say them.
WIZARD: We have been through this before. Do what you always do. Take a little mind trip somewhere. Bask in the sun through a remembered past journey, swim in that lake that isn't there anymore, dance one of those heart-pounding kolos that brought you back to life way back when, jog your innovation reservoir and work in your preverbial garden a bit. It'll come.
WRITER: Thanks, Wizard. Did all that. Yesterday. It didn't help. [Sighs]. By the way, I think you meant proverbial, not preverbial. Although "preverbal" and "garden" don't seem like they go together. Verb garden I can see. Even verbal garden. But preverbal, that presupposes ...
WIZARD: [Impatient, abruptly interrupts] Stick to the point. What's the problem exactly? I need specifics.
WRITER: [Gets out list. Starts checking off penciled items.] Everything I write sounds the same. [Check.] When I jump habit, it bombs. [Check.] My voice tells me it is not my voice anymore. [Check]
WIZARD: Whose voice is it then?
WRITER: I don't know. It sounds like me but when I hear it, I wince. It seems--how can I put it--like a singer with a limited repertoire, belting out the same tired tunes day in and day out. Predictable. Even as my hand is writing, my ear has already picked up and moved on.
WIZARD: There's your problem right there, Writer. Listen to what you just said.
WRITER: What did I just say?
WIZARD: You said your ear got up and walked away. Ears don't "walk."
WRITER: I never said walk. I said picked up and moved on. I never said "walked."
WIZARD: And that's another thing. You have this peculiar tendency to make inanimate objects perform as if they were human.
WRITER: [Goes and stands in front of Wizard's mirror]. Excuse me, but my ear IS human. And it is *not* inanimate. [Wiggles ear to prove it].
WIZARD: A mere technicality. You know what I mean. Now tell me more about your fire going out.
WRITER: Who said my fire went out? [Pause]. Damn. How'd you know that? I guess that's why they call you Wizard, Wizard. Okay, you want details? Here you go:
I let my fire go out and feel guilty. I 'm not writing the things I really want to write. I procrastinate. Make excuses. Start again. Stop. Start again. Stop. Mostly I stop. I'm exaggerating. But I stoke the fires and it gets out of control, words careening off everywhichwhere. It burns me up, I tell you.
WIZARD: Your fire burns you up?
WRITER: No! That was just a figure of speech. I mean it irritates me.
WIZARD: That your fire is not under more control?
WRITER: Yes. No. You're confusing me.
WIZARD: It's your metaphor, Writer.
WRITER: I thought it was yours! [Writer scrolls back up to see whose metaphor it was].
WIZARD: Look, Writer. I'd like to help you, I really would. But you're asking the wrong person. You don't need words. You have cupboards and closets exploding with them. Basement bins full, even. You don't need fire either. Yours is always burning. It will never go out. Trust me.
WRITER: But ... but ..
WIZARD: Listen, everybody's fire simmers down and lays quiet for a time. I mean how would we ever get anything else done? You just need to regulate yourself more.
WRITER: Regulate myself? You mean ...
WIZARD: No, NO, Writer. It's not what you think.
WRITER: How do you know what I'm thinking?
WIZARD: [Looks at watch.] Can we just stick to the problem here?
WRITER: Sorry. It's a curse.
WIZARD: What is?
WIZARD: Words are a curse? Why do you collect them, then? Why do you spend time with them, read them, write them, store them? Fall in love with them? Preserve them?
WRITER: No, I mean how I am with words is a curse.
WIZARD: I don't understand. What do you mean how you are with them? That sounds kinky.
WRITER: I mean, the way I spend time with them, write them, store them ...
WIZARD: That's what I just said. You are just repeating what I just said, Writer.
WRITER: See? I've passed the curse on to you.
WIZARD: [Struggles to contain his frustration] Look, I've got a conference to go to. Can we just wrap this up and get on with it?
WRITER: I forget where we were.
WIZARD: You were telling me you were cursed.
WRITER: No, what I said was words are a curse, not that *I* was cursed. Haven't you been listening?
WIZARD: [Looks out the window; wishes he were somewhere else]. Forget the curse. Forget words. Let's talk about voice. You said you lost your voice.
WRITER: No, I said my voice didn't sound like me anymore, is what I said.
WIZARD: Who does it sound like then? [Pauses and scratches head.] Didn't I already ask you that?
WRITER: It still sounds like me, but that's the old me. I want it to sound like the new me.
WIZARD: And what does the new you sound like?
WRITER: I don't know yet. I haven't seen an example of his style yet.
WIZARD: Well if you don't know what your new me's style is, how in heaven's name do you expect anybody else to know it's you?
WRITER: That's why I came to you, Wizard. To help me find me, so I can write like me. The real me.
WIZARD: All right, lemme see that thing you're writing. I'll tell you if it's the same old you or not.
WRITER: [Pulls out notebook full of scribblings and hands it over to Wizard]. Here.
WIZARD: What's this then?
WRITER: It's a poem I wrote last night.
WIZARD: Kinda long, dontcha think? [Shuffles through 16 single-spaced pages].
WRITER: [Red-faced, looks down.] It's only a draft.
WIZARD: Ever hear of haiku?
WRITER: It won't work as a haiku.
WIZARD: Show me something else.
WRITER: [Hands Wizard a single sheet of paper with an outline]. Here.
WIZARD: What's this?
WRITER: That's my novel.
WIZARD: Your what?!
WRITER: My novel-to-be. That's my novel-to-be.
WIZARD: Your novel-to-be. One you haven't written yet.
WRITER: Correct. It's still all in my head. I have all the characters, the scenes, the beginning and the end (still working on the middle), the dialogues, what I want to say, which of the characters will say and do what, detailed descriptions of the scenarios, all the ....
WIZARD: Stop!!! [Hands sheet of paper back to Writer]. Won't do any good sitting in your head, Writer. Have you ever considered, uh, just sitting down and--here's a thought--WRITING IT OUT?
WRITER: You're shouting. I've upset you.
WIZARD: [Lowers voice.] Don't change the subject. Answer the question.
WRITER: What was the question?
WIZARD: Why don't you just write it down?
WRITER: I have no time.
WIZARD: Yes you do.
WRITER: Yes I do, but ...
WIZARD: But what?
WRITER: I don't know. I don't know why I don't write it down. Sometimes I write it down but when I read it back, it doesn't sound like me.
WIZARD: Who does it sound like? Wait ... haven't we just discussed this a minute ago?
WRITER: [Scrolls back up to check.] Yes, you're right. We've already touched on that. Sorry.
WIZARD: Stop apologizing and just answer the question. Who does it sound like? Your writing--you said it doesn't sound like you. Who does it sound like?
WRITER: It still sounds like the old me. It sounds like me trying to find me.
WIZARD: Well, seems to me you got your answer right there, Writer. You gotta sit your butt down, put those drafts in front of you and go over them line by line. Yank out what sounds funny. Edit to make it sound better. Practice practice practice, like they told you in piano school.
WRITER: It wasn't called piano school. [Laughs.] Wait ... how'd you know I took piano lessons?
WIZARD: I didn't. I was just using that as an example.
WRITER: But you said "told", past tense. If you were generalizing, you'd have said "tell" -- like they "tell" you in piano school. But you didn't. You said "told." Like they "told" you in piano school indicates you're referring specifically to me.
WIZARD: [Rolls his eyes upward]. Do you always do that?
WRITER: Do what?
WIZARD: Get so nitpicky about words?
WRITER: No. I'm just saying ...
WIZARD: Well, stop just saying. It's annoying. I didn't come here for a grammar lesson. I came to help you get more serious about your writing again.
WRITER: I've been serious.
WIZARD: No, you haven't. You just play at it. You don't do the hard work to make it better. You give up too easily. You get too hung up on words. Your characters feel constrained. You won't let them be who they are. I notice they've stopped cooperating.
WRITER: Wow, you really are a Wizard, Wizard. How could you possibly know that? One of them told you, didn't they? Which one? I bet it was Abu in that old short story. No, wait, I know who it was. It was Allie in the second novel-to-be. She keeps nagging me to finish. "Finish my damn story, will you? It's been years!"
WIZARD: You have TWO novels-to-be?! So why haven't you finished?
WRITER: Er ... three. And the answer is: I don't know.
WIZARD: Three unfinished novels-to-be.
WIZARD: Why don't you know?
WRITER: Why don't I know what?
WIZARD: Why don't you know why you don't know why you don't finish them?
WRITER: I don't know.
WIZARD: You already said that.
WRITER: I know. It's a curse.
WIZARD: I think you know.
WRITER: Well if I do, I'm not aware of it.
WIZARD: Yes you are.
WRITER: Please, can we stop talking in riddles, Wizard?
WIZARD: Look, I'm going to be late for my conference. I'll leave you with this parting thought.
WRITER: Which is?
WIZARD: The answer is within you.
[The Wizard grabs his crystal ball, robe and staff and starts striding out, waving goodbye].
WRITER: Wait! Wait!
WIZARD: Goodbye, Writer. Good Luck.
WRITER: [Crestfallen]. Great. They all say the same thing--gurus, Buddhists, teachers, fortune tellers, my mother ... The answer's WITH-INNNNNNNNNNNNN you. What the hell does that MEAN?
[Enter disembodied fictional character from the first of the novel-to-be's]:
ABU: You should listen to Wizard..
WRITER: Abu, is that you, you scoundrel?
ABU: Why'd you kill me off in The Autobiographer?
WRITER: We've been through this before, Abu. It was necessary for the plot.
[Another character floats in from the opened window:]
ALLIE: At least you finished Abu's story. What about mine? I'm still stuck in that God-awful trailer down in Florida and you've not yet figured out how I end up ending up. You need to change the ending. And what's up with the stilted-sounding dialogues? Just 'cause you like narratives better than dialogue doesn't mean I have to have to keep my mouth shut. Let me speak!
WRITER: [Clasping sides of head with hands, shutting eyes]. All right! All right! Enough!
[TAP TAP TAP. A knock at the door. Writer looks up] Wizard? You're back.
WIZARD: Forgot my umbrella. Don't get up.
WRITER: I wasn't sitting.
WIZARD: Yes, yes, so I see. Who are those other people? They friends of yours? [Turns to go.] Wait, I just thought of something. Something that might help you.
WRITER: And what is that, Wizard? I'm all ears. Please. Tell me!
WIZARD: It's this. Just -- be yourself.
WRITER: That's it? That's your pearls-of-wisdom advice? Be myself?
WRITER: I'm already myself!!! What do you MEAN?????
WIZARD: The answer is within you, Writer. You'll figure it out. You should write all this down.
WRITER: Write what all down?
WIZARD: This--this conversation we had today.
WRITER: Why would I do that?
WIZARD: Because it's practice. You need practice.
WRITER: But it's not really writing. It's just gibberish.
WIZARD: Of course it is. But when you write it down, it's called writing. Duh. [hits side of head to indicate Duhness].
WRITER: Okay, say I do. Say I write it down, type it out. Whatever. What good's that gonna do? Who's gonna read it.
WIZARD: Why do you say that, Writer?
WRITER: It's too damn long, for one. And (B), it's not a serious endeavor.
WIZARD: You're pulling my leg, right? You did that on purpose.
WRITER: Did what?
WIZARD: Some nitpicker you are. You wrote "for one." Which is supposed to be followed by "and two". Not B. The sequence goes like this: You either have A, B, C, D, etc. OR 1, 2, 3, 4, etc. . You can't have 1, B or A, 2. It doesn't compute. Plus it's wrong.
WRITER: Now who's the nitpicker, ha ha. [Lightbulb goes off in Writer's head]. I do believe you've caught the curse, Wizard!
WIZARD: Have not. Now stop it. You're pissing me off. Besides, I have to go. Told you. I got a conference to get to.
WRITER: No you don't, Wizard. That's what characters say when they want out of the script.
WIZARD: Is this a script?
WRITER: T'is. It's a play. In one act. I've made it a play in one act. I'm calling it "Magic Time."
WIZARD: Give it to me to read sometime. I'll let you know what I think of it.
WRITER: Nah. It's only a rough draft. Besides, it's still got problems.
WIZARD: I can imagine it would. [Wizard grabs play out of Writer's hand and flips through it.] I see you don't have an INTERMISSON inserted in here yet. Readers are going to be gasping for air. Definitely too long for a blog post. I would seriously reconsider if I were you.
WRITER: Reconsider what?
WIZARD: Not posting it. I mean, really, what point are you trying to make here? And what's the title mean?
WRITER: I thought you had a conference to go to.
WIZARD: Then why'd you bring me back? I was already out the door.
WRITER: You said you forgot your umbrella.
WIZARD: No, you said I forgot my umbrella. That's what you wrote. You wrote me saying I forgot my umbrella. Scroll back up. I'm not lying. It's all there, in black and white.
WIZARD: It's okay, by the way.
WRITER: What's okay?
WIZARD: To have many different voices. You don't have to stick to one style, one habit, one train always riding on the same familiar track. But keep them in different writerly compartments. It gets confusing when they overlap.
WRITER: What do you mean? What's a writerly compartment?
WIZARD: Well, take this little play for example. It started out as a serious conversation with yourself in which one part of you plays the Wizard and the other part of you plays the writer. You're trying to find out how you can be a better writer. Correct me if I'm wrong.
WRITER: Yeah, so?
WIZARD: This is your problem, as I see it. You start out writing one thing--a serious essay, say, but then--how shall I put this--it's like the window opens and the wind blows in and you turn your head to look and when you go back to work, some new thought blows in and takes over. A character pops up out of nowhere and whispers a story in your ear. So you indulge him. Next thing you know you're writing out his story. And then he goes and does something out of character, which you wouldn't think of attributing to him. But you're curious, so you go with it. All of a sudden, things turn--comical. You get totally into it, you're laughing off your chair at what's coming out of your characters' mouths then that little voice intervenes--you know the one--and says, What the crap is this? You've jumped trains again. You've gotten trapped in the words.
WRITER: I told you. They're a curse.
WIZARD: Oh stop. Curse, shmirsh. No such thing. Ears that get up and walk. Words that hurl curses.
WRITER: I never said hurl. I never said words hurl curses. And please don't make me scroll back up there again to see what I wrote.
WIZARD: I rest my case. Now you have some inkling of how it must be for the poor reader to read what you write. It just goes on and on and on. And on. They've already left, all two of them, right after "I forget where we were."
WRITER: Oh yeah. When I looked out the window. I will take your advice about not looking out the window while I'm writing.
WIZARD: I never said not to look out the window, Writer. Now listen carefully. I want you to look at what you've just written. How many times (go ahead, count them!) did you type the words "I never said". That's what we in the business call, "favorite words". You can read about it in the chapter on "Repetitive Renderings." It's also covered, in more detail, in "Insufferable Patterns".
WRITER: How do I stop doing that?
WIZARD: Well, you might think about just STOPPING for a minute. Period. I mean, does this Play have an ending? Or are you just going to keep typing until the cows come home?
WRITER: So should I delete it? I mean, it being just a practice thingy anyway.
WIZARD: Ka-ching! Another favorite word. What in green blazes is a "thingy"? There's no such word.
WRITER: I think it actually is a word nowadays. I could check. We were talking about deletions. Should I just erase it? I mean, it's no big deal, I could probably reconstruct it.
WIZARD: Why would you want to do that? I gave you the answer. That's all you need to know. All the rest is fluff cake. [Wizard pauses, holds chin in hand.] I have to admit, on second thought, I don't much like being erased, though. I have my moments, don't you think? Even if I am a fictional character. But go ahead, if you must. I'm sure I'll come back when you least suspect.
WRITER: I could give you the leading role in another story.
WIZARD: Please. Stop patronizing me. And stop italicizing everything. I have not enjoyed being your fictional psychoanalyst, I have to say. If I come back at all, it will have to be in a better crafted, more carefully written role. Otherwise I am going to refuse.
WRITER: Okay, okay, I'll leave you in. I won't delete you. I will probably hugely regret this, but I won't erase our conversation conversation just yet. You made some good points. If I send it all down the memory hole I won't be able to remember what I had you say to me. But you were absolutely right, Wizard. I must get serious. And I definitely need more practice.
WIZARD: If you ever rewrite, can we please leave out the coming-back-for-the-umbrella bit? Makes me sound forgetful. Wizards would never do that, be forgetful. Not any I know, anyhow.
WRITER: Thanks. I'll remember.