Don’t Let Exhaustion Win

Writing is an art that wells up from the unconscious, and that places it within the realm of grand currents we struggle to control. Signs of the id’s enormous power are everywhere, such as all the people who deny climate change on ideological grounds. What moves great rafts of people stems, as Tolstoy held, from what stirs each one of us. The same mindless drift abroad in the land afflicts the poor writer who has been unable to sit down with their manuscript for days.

Authors face a dam inside their mind every time they sit down at their desk. We erect that dam for our own protection, in order to prevent running out to a movie theater with a semi-automatic weapon. Yet that barrier also hides the treasures that we labor to put out onto the page. It doesn’t make sense that we cannot penetrate that barrier at will. So many other things we do, such as guiding our children to be good, seem to flow right out of the pipe. So it is not surprising that we turn away from our own futility. We can tackle some other task that we might even be able to accomplish before the end of time.

An author might be likened to a small mill set up on a large river. We are posed to capture its great flow of possibilities, if only we could corral that tide to spin in our wheel and grind our corn into perfect sentences. What happens most of the time, however, is that we are too timid to face the onslaught. We understand the mechanism, because the gears make logical sense. We keep inside our tawdry little house and let the majestic river sweep past.

So what are you supposed to do? Do what you do best. Dig in your heels, don’t give in. You have to devise a logical plan to tap the flow. The only way to make the wheel spin is to expose that wheel to the river’s current. When the wheel creaks from the load, oil the gears to make it run more smoothly. As that happens, you become more proficient at understanding the ebbs and flows of your subconscious. 

You cannot always expect to perform on demand. One morning you wake up feeling great—but the wall is firm and your efforts at penetration result in a trickle. The next morning you feel like crap—but the writing flows out effortlessly. The important point is, you are a conscientious miller. You keep to the task, day in and day out. And pretty soon the world that you can break into sensible little pieces becomes less attractive than the castles you create in your own mind.

“Inspiration is wonderful when it happens, but the writer must develop an approach for the rest of the time.” —Leonard Bernstein

Copyright @ 2023, John Paine

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