One day Lisabet pointed out something to me. At this time I’d written three Nixie stories. If you string them together, she said, in a certain order they form a continuous narrative. One leads into the other. What about linking them together into an episodic novel? Then you’ll have your first novel. That was a brilliant observation. It had never occurred to me, and once the idea took hold I was hooked on it. I wrote a fourth story, “The Lady and the Unicorn” to link a couple of the other stories together and I loved it. But already I saw the signs of trouble. The problem I’ve created for myself is due to the fact up until now that I’ve been writing my novel backwards.
I have a revelation to make. I have writer’s block. I have it now. I’ve had writer’s block for a few months.
Oh shut up. I hear you.
Anyone who has ever read my stuff here is going “Goddamn, what’s that blabbermouth sound like when he doesn’t have writer’s block?”
I tell you – I have writer’s block. Allow me to step forward and declaim with noble frankness - I have writer’s block.
Now mine is a very particular kind which you never hear about in any of the books. Its very specific. Probably not the worst you can get, but I’ll bet my old Schaeffer snorkel fountain pen that this is a common kind of writer’s block for successful writers, much more than wanna-bes like myself. Think series novelists like Laurel Hamilton and J. K. Rowling, people who work with the same characters over and over for a wide audience of readers who love those characters.
Usually writer’s block evokes the image of the man in front of the keyboard who is mentally flaccid. He wants to write, he just can’t get it up. His imagination lays there like a dog. I don’t really have that problem. I can get it up most of the time, usually in moments of passionate inspiration and the words work fine. But there’s this one thing, where nothing happens. That’s “The Frog and the Scorpion”. Like an Ivory Billed Woodpecker, or the Loch Ness Monster, or ever receiving a paycheck of any kind for a story, it eludes me still.
I’m a short story writer. I’m really not a novelist. I’m not cut out for it, because although I write long and my short stories often explode by themselves into Godzilla proportions, I have the attention span of a five year old. I rarely finish reading novels unless I have a lot of time on my hands or unless it’s a very compelling story. Short story writer’s are not highly regarded in popular fiction. Real men write novels. Not just novels either, but thousand paged monsters of Tolstoyan length churned out regularly by guys like Brian Herbert and others. Those are real writers. Guys like me, pooh. In recent times writers like Alice Munro have revived the format, even as the magazines that published them died out, and pulp writers like me are finding a new home in anthologies like the Coming Together series. But in this one area there’s that feeling of . . . you know . . .
“It’s all right, honey.” She said, rubbing his shoulder. “It happens to every guy sometimes. I don’t think you’re any less of a man. No, really. I don’t. You’re just tired. We’ll try again later. I just like being held.”
ED. Expressive Dysfunction.
Some guys can get it up with any woman except one. I can get it up with any story except one. My Nixie. My darling Nixie, whom I love. She is the only character I’ve written about more than once. She commands the stage of some of my very favorite stories, my best work - and listen oh Friends of The Inner Sanctum, listen well if you’ve been skimming over this until now to get to the end so you can say something nice, because I’m about to say something profound –
Okay- stop skimming and listen – profound stuff coming - Here it is:
A writer has to be his/her own number one fan.
There. I’ve said it. I've said it and that's just the world I was born into. Don't judge me.
That’s a dirty secret of this business. You have to make yourself laugh and cry first. You have to secretly, shamefully believe you’re the goddamnedest writer since William Fucking Shakespeare.
If your own stuff doesn’t make you squirm with pleasure, behind a public veil of appropriate modesty (“Oh hey, glad you liked it. It’s nothing really. Just some goofy junk I scribbled out in court, waiting for my parole officer.”) then you are not writing as well as you should be. Roger Daltrey always said he was The Who’s biggest fan. I understand that. I believe it. I believe that even when John Lennon hated the Beatles and insulted them in public, he still privately believed they were the goddamnedest rock band of all time. We know who we are.
When you don’t have readers, when you don’t have that many stories out in the wind, if you haven’t made any money at the game, you have to have to somehow believe in yourself to keep going. You have to be your biggest fan. Secretly. On the outside “Aw shucks, thanks for reading my stuff.” On the inside, a seething mudpot of vanity. It works for me.
The first Nixie story I wrote (“Nixie's In Love”) wasn’t that great but it was a lot of fun. I liked Nixie at first sight. The second story (“The Dying Light”) was very hard to write, it took almost a year, but inside I felt I’d written something I didn’t know I could write. It was a major turning point for me because it was better than I thought I could do. Then came “Singing In The Dark” which I didn’t even know was a Nixie story until she showed up in the middle section on her own. Three stories, observed my mentor Lisabet. You’ve got something going on here. Try putting them together. I had to imagine a story that would link the events of “Singing In The Dark” and “The Dying Light”.
Now, if you’re still reading this, here’s the point I’m getting to. It’s a different kind of writing from just making up any old thing that scampers through your head, and it will absolutely constipate your imagination.
When I'm talking about my variation of writer's block, I'm referring to that muse killing story that has to cover specific events, accomplish specific things. It has to start where one story left off, and end where the other begins. It narrows things down. Certain things have to have happened by the end of the story. It narrows things down – a lot. That custom tailored story emerged once as “The Lady and the Unicorn”. Told from Nixie’s point of view, it took four months to make and it was the hardest thing I ever wrote. It is my personal favorite of the Nixiad, and was picked up by ERWA for their October Gallery of erotic horror. The last paragraph of the story still rips me up every time I read it.
I am my number one fan. It sounds pathetic and creepy and feels lonesome to say it out loud but that’s the way it is, Friends of the Inner Sanctum.
You know what?
You'd better be your number one fan too if you're going to stick with this writing thing when the going gets rough.
Here’s another dirty secret of writing. When it comes to fighting writer’s block, the answer is fairly easy. The secret cure for writer’s block, as Lisabet said, is simply to lower your standards. Don’t try so hard to write well. If crap is what you have at the moment, write crap, be happy and find a use for it later. Have fun with your head. If God dealt you an imagination why wouldn’t you use it?
“The Frog and the Scorpion” is an old Aesop story. A frog lives by a river. One day a scorpion says “Carry me on your back across the river to the other side.” The frog says “Hell, no. If I get near you you’ll sting me.” “No, I promise I won’t.” says the scorpion. “After all, if I sting you we’ll drown.” That’s sounds reasonable to the little frog and he gives the scorpion a piggy-back ride across the river. Halfway across the scorpion up and stings him. The dying frog cries out “Why did you do that? Now we’ll both drown!” “I couldn’t help it.” says the Scorpion. “It’s my nature.”
That’s the Nixie story I’m waiting on. I know what my story will be about. It will be the first story in a novel which is written back-assed-wards to front and now all the burden is on the first story. It will be a story of betrayal. I will stab my poor Nixie in the back. I will condemn an innocent country girl to a life of damnation. How to do it? Usually a novelist knows how a story begins but doesn’t know how it ends. Me – I know how the story ends, I don’t know how it begins. Guess I never was much of a conformist.
I’ve had many, many false starts. I’ve bought books. Read books. Tried it this way tried it that way. Cried on Lisabet’s shoulder. The story is in my noodle some where, I just haven’t found it. Stephen King said that story ideas are like fossils. You find them in the ground, already formed and your job is to remove them as completely as possible without shattering them. But what if you’re not looking for any old fossil? What if you’re looking for a missing link fossil that you know should exist but no one has ever seen? Then the search is difficult. Then you get writer’s block.
J. K. Rowling, who enabled a million kids to discover for themselves the pleasure of reading a good book, said that when it came time to write the last Harry Potter book, it was the hardest thing she ever did. I know she wasn’t talking about saying bye-bye to the money either. When it came time to write the last couple of scenes in the book, she locked herself in a hotel room and when it was over she smashed things and cried with grief for her character. I understand that. She was Harry Potter’s number one fan. Somewhere there is a story in my head like that, and when I write it I’ll know when I have it right, because I’ll fall apart and weep over my keyboard and smash things. Until then, Nixie is waiting for me to get it up.
(stage whisper) You can read "The Lady and the Unicorn" and other stories of erotic horror here for free: http://www.erotica-readers.com/GD/S/The_Lady_and_The_Unicorn.htm