A friend of mine shared this video clip recently http://kottke.org/11/04/your-taste-is-why-your-own-work-disappoints-you
Now, some of you are already aware of my deep affection for Ira Glass (though, I have to admit, I find it slightly--very slightly--irksome that he uses "like" "you know" and "ok, ok?" with Valley Girl frequency. Even so, my dedication to him is unwavering...), but that isn't the only reason I've shared this video with you. Not only is his advice welcome, but it dovetails nicely with our discussions as of late. In one of my earlier posts, I think I quoted Salinger's character Seymour Glass (huh. I didn't try that...). When giving some advice to his younger brother, Buddy, he essentially says, you've been a reader long before you were a writer, so all you have to do is think about what you most want to read, then just write the damned thing yourself. Well, duh. Thanks.
Seriously, though, Nancy said it nicely in a previous comment--nothing in, nothing out. You've got to fill up the tank, so to speak, otherwise you run out of creative gas (uh...bad metaphor, sorry). But how do you work with the frustration that inevitably comes when what you're putting out doesn't quite match up to all the the Faulkners, and Hemingways, the Weltys and Pynchons, the O'Connors, Joyces, Fitzgeralds (ad infinitum and fill-in-the-blanks with your own) that you're putting in? And it is frustrating, even if the non-fictional Glass is telling me to relax and keep pushing through (you know, ok?).
Maybe all of this is in the front of my mind because I just turned in the first 30 or so pages of a novel I've been working on for years. I know exactly what it is I want the story to be, but I'll be damned if I can write the thing. Where the hell is the holdup? Why is it that I can't seem to make the words (all of them I am familiar with and have used countless times) say what I want them to? This monstrosity had gone through at least four all-encompassing, direction-changing edits since I first put the idea down on paper. When, exactly, do I call it dead? After an embarrassing number of years and so many disparate iterations, am I now entering the realm of heroic measures? Does my novel need a DNR order?
I think Matt touched on this in his comments previously, the idea of getting stuck in a cycle of just kind of regurgitating all the stuff you've just ingested. It's great to find inspiration in someone else's work, but, as he said, when do you cut the umbilical cord? Or, maybe better, how do you get the connection to start working for you again?
Ira Glass talks about a specific kind of frustration, but I've talked to people about this general idea before, this idea of pushing through the hurdles, the blocks, the general detritus to get to the good stuff, and my friend Betsy said it best: "You have to be present for those moments." You have to roll up your sleeves and dig in to get those moments. Sure, sometimes they come to you as a gift, when you least expect them--when you're walking the dog, or on the phone with your mom or doing the dishes. But I don't think I want to rely on that kind of breakthrough, because, more often, the great ideas--the ones that make you jump out of your seat with excitement, the ones that make you want to run around the neighborhood and tell random passers by what you just thought of (the ones that make you want to yawp across the roofs of the world, I guess)--come when you do expect them, after you've worked long and hard to get to them. After you've vomited up a whole lot of crap, too. But the point, I guess, is to keep working.
Sigh. Thanks, Ira. <3