April 8, 2012

Are Brain Dead and the Eleventh Hour Synonymous?

This disturbing question arose on Monday, the day after I normally post my weekly novel installment. Only a handful of chapters, maybe less, are needed now before reaching that final page and doing a victory dance around my computer chair. The end of my novel is definitely in sight and I should be one happy writer. Shouldn’t I?

In terms of nearing completion and having my mettle tested, month after month, in the dogged writing trenches, I’ve reached my eleventh hour—along with my second wind several chapters back—and ought to be bursting with cerebral energy and a focused vision, since the climax of this epic story is thankfully all downhill now. Right?

Sadly, my expectations were wrong when Monday’s writing session found me brain dead and reluctant to even open the chapter file. As I listlessly watched the cursor blinking on the page, my mind tired and barren of one viable piece of dialogue or descriptive phrase, I realized this lack of enthusiasm had been creeping into my consciousness for a couple of weeks now. As to the root cause or how permanent the affliction, I took some time this past week to evaluate my situation.

Whether work, personal, or a journal, a day doesn’t go by when I haven’t written something to please myself or others. The daily stress of life is basically the same for everyone—family, job, money, health—so I set aside the day to day stuff and concentrated just on the writing aspect and what it still means to me.

Writing has always provided an inner contentment and enjoyment, a form of recreation to get lost in for hours and a way of re-energizing brain cells from the often rigid responsibilities of life. At the same time writing is also essential for my happiness, an attribute of who I am, like the color of my eyes.

In all the years that I’ve been writing I’ve experienced many emotions that helped make my work heartfelt respectable or a lackadaisical contribution, a righteous statement to the cause or no gold star and headed for the trash. But never once did I suffer through that dreaded dis-ease known as writer’s block. Was I finally due?

Anyone who consistently works with words can understand when I say that writing is often a pleasurable torment. There is nothing more delightful than experiencing that pleasurable high when the day’s writing has gone well. Of course, the flipside means equal measures of frustrating torment when the words won’t come together and all that work gets axed by the delete button. But having good days and bad is nothing new, nothing to stress about, unless you’re on a tight deadline.

During this evaluation period I reaffirmed my passion for writing, accepted the pros and cons of what it means to write and my own abilities. And wanting to make the limited time I have for writing each day to count for something, even if it was just one perfectly crafted paragraph, I set aside the novel and opted to try an experiment.

For the remainder of the week I did free-writes about anything that wasn’t connected to the novel.

The change was almost instantaneous. Suddenly intrigued by the limitless possibilities, I found myself perched on the edge of my chair in anticipation. After so many days of fighting with each word, my mind felt light and spontaneous again, my fingers moving over the keys with their usual nimble energy. The culmination of several writing sessions resulted in a rough draft of this blog.

The experiment quickly made it clear that I wasn’t suffering from writer’s block or becoming brain dead. A sense of fun had returned while writing this piece, something I hadn’t felt in several weeks while working on the novel.

What does it all mean? I’ve come to the conclusion that after months of high energy output and a strict daily discipline to composing each chapter, I was slowly losing my edge and enthusiasm for want of a little writing variety; a holiday, if you will, from work on the novel to relax my brain and get the juices flowing again.

Finishing the novel is important to me. But I have no desire to simply grind away with words and sentences and eventually fall across the finish line in numb exhaustion. I may be tired when I print out that last page but I want a smile on my face and a sense of accomplishment humming throughout my body.

For me the moral of the story seemed simple. Discipline and determination would only get me so far. To be the best writer I could be required a sense of fun and an eager anticipation of each day’s work as an ongoing part of the equation as well.

So, with a little holiday thrown in, now and again, I’ll be typing that last page of the novel in no time at all. Definitely my finest hour indeed.

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