Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Letting it Flow

Last night, I had an interesting insight about writing--at least I hope it's an insight. I was working through Philosophy (I have committed myself to understanding Philosophy, particularly the mind/body problem and induction), and my mind often wanders while I'm reading Philosophy. Last night, it wandered to how I might be able to get the words out. I am confused, because when I'm writing this blog or my morning pages, I just write what comes into my head. It just flows out, no problem. But when I think it's a good time to do some of my fiction writing, it's like everything in my head slams their doors on me and locks up tight. Nothing comes out. It's like trying to think of where you've seen an actor before and it's right there, gagging you but you can't get it out. I have the feelings, the inspiration, the dedication of a piece of time, and yet my hand stays motionless, hovering above the keyboard/page. I feel frozen, like I've been asked to do a presentation I know nothing about.

I suppose what I described above is the reason my new insight doesn't work, but here it is: If I can just listen to my thoughts and write them down effortlessly in morning pages, why can't I do the same for whatever ideas I may have for fictional writing? Why can't I just write it down? Why can't I listen to the story in my head or describe the images in my head? Why can't I get them on the page? I proposed to myself drawing pictures of whatever ideas I might get, and then writing about the drawing I've made. This sounds great, and is an intriguing suggestion for how to get writing done, but once again, the freezing blankness in my mind that I described above is the biggest issue.

I would write ideas down if I HAD them. It's very frustrating to call yourself a writer and not have ideas. I sense, however, that there's something that's still just scared inside me, despite The Artist's Way course and all the thinking and growing I've done since then. Now and then I do have ideas, but the juice of them dries up quickly. I guess the key there is to forge on, which is what I learned from National Novel Writing Month. I am also able to write if I have a prompt. I'll get something down no problem if I have a suggestion. But as a writer, shouldn't I have some kind of ability to come up with ideas on my own? I get scared back into my hole when people like my professor (who is also a "professional" writer) says things like "If you're really a writer, nothing can stop you from writing" and "if you're a writer, you get that feeling, and calling that you need to write, you just have to, you have no choice." I don't feel like this applies to me. I'm afraid, first of all, that as a university student, I'm likely to put priority on my work rather than creative inspiration. I also don't feel like I was born to write, except that I've held onto the concept of being a writer for my entire life. But I don't feel some kind of metaphysical pull. This worries me. When people put these specifications on what it means to be a writer, I seriously doubt myself and my abilities. It's discouraging and heartbreaking and frustrating.

Of course, it's to people like my professor that I should stand up and say "you're an egotistical fool, I'll do writing my own way." That's another specification he outlined: that you have to be "malignantly self-absorbed" to be a writer. He sat there at the head of the class like he knew everything there was to know about writing, and that we could ask him anything about it. I have a question, Professor: If you had to teach a class, but you had an inspiration to write, would you really leave us all waiting for the sake of the inspiration? It all sounds a little too romantic and implausible. But it certainly has sewn my creative lips shut for a while, and I'm angry about it. These are the kinds of people The Artist's Way helps you deal with when you're trying to get your inspiration back. These people with doctrines and ideas about what good writing/writers is/are, the ones that bring you down with their ideals. I think I can fairly say to myself that all of them are right and all of them are wrong because I've heard different pieces of advice from every single writer I've talked to. They are right about what works for themselves, but they might be wrong about what works for me. Quite often the advice is contradictory. "Make yourself sit down every day to write." "Don't make yourself write everyday, but have committed times to write." "You can't control when you have inspiration, so write whenever you have the inspiration." "Write about real life situations, that's the only thing that's interesting." "Write whatever you feel inside, even if it sounds goofy." "Never edit as you work." BLAH BLAH BLAH. I don't know what to believe, and I'm not even sure I know how to go about figuring out what I believe about writing. After I read The Artist's Way, I felt uncomfortable reading other writing advice because I didn't want the impression of Julie's advice to get tarnished and confused. That's obviously not the right way to be thinking about it. I should be open to all kinds of advice. I guess what I really need to do, is find out what advice works for me, but also find advice to give myself, from myself, because only I know what is best for me (I think).

In other news, we started moral philosophy in philosophy class, which is DELIGHTFUL. It encompasses just about everything else I'm interested in in my other classes. Culture, comparing cultures, what is right/wrong, how do you know what is right/wrong (are your opinions influenced by society?), why we follow the unspoken moral code. It's great. It has even made me consider taking a second year Philosophy course about moral philosophy. GASP. It has also made me much more open-minded now that I have spent a good couple hours trying to understand Smart's "identity theory" and to concretize my understanding of Descartes' dualism and Ryle's objection to it. It turns out I don't agree with Descartes as fully as I thought. He says mind and body are separate kinds of things with separate properties and laws (so mental states have mental properties and there are special laws which govern the activity of the mind). While I think I'm a dualist (someone who believes that the mind and body are made of different things, namely spiritual and material things, respectively), I'm not sure we can brush off the difference by pretending there might be a whole different world of laws and properties just for the mind. But I think what we need to keep in mind (ha ha), especially materialists like Smart, is that the body has an effect on the mind (it tells the mind when something is wrong, and we feel everything we feel in and around our bodies because of signals sent to the mind) and the mind has an effect on the body (it dictates how the body behaves, I should think). So, they definitely interact (which I guess Smart says). And I would even say that most of these interactions between the mind and the body are brain processes, BUT there are certain things that go on in the mind that are indeed entirely private and exclusive to the mind. There is no language to describe these processes (oops, an easy way out of explaining) and the experience of them is entirely subjective. So, sorry Smart, we will never find a way of describing all mental states in mechanistic terms. We can never generalize these experiences. Smart did not give a very direct or satisfactory response to this objection, for instance: compare the mind to Wittgenstein's "beetle in a box." If everyone is given a box with a beetle in it, we think we know what everybody else's beetle looks like (even though we may never see someone else's beetle) because we assume it must look like our own. But someone else's box may be entirely empty, or the descriptions different people give, though they may be similar, may be describing completely different things. It is the same with the subjective, private experiences of the mind. For this reason, I think that there are parts of the mind that are entirely spiritual, while other parts, like the brain's processes, can be explained by science. I don't know if I am being entirely clear either, but these are the opinions I have formed since applying a greater effort to the issue.

I still am not sure I really know how to continue my writing career. At one point over Christmas Break, I even allowed myself to abandon it entirely. I said to myself, if you're going to get so stressed out over never being inspired and never having any work to show for yourself, just don't write anymore. You don't have  to be a writer, no one is telling you that you have to do it. Writing has become a part of my identity, though. It's one of the ways I define myself. I can't seem to let it go. It's true that I don't write regularly and that I have embarrassingly little inspiration, but I can't seem to drop the notion and the desire to be a writer. I just don't want it to be all-or-nothing. It's not what my life revolves around, and it never will be, but I want it to be a part of my life. I will never come to point where I would drop everything for writing, and I don't think I would ever make an actual career out of it, but I want to do it. It's part of how my brain thinks about and views the world. I'm always looking for stories (and more importantly, the interesting, relatable phenomena we experience in life). But I still don't know how to get them out. Maybe I just haven't found my style. But I think I could ever stop myself from trying to write.

I've gone and squandered an afternoon of work. I guess I do this writing no matter what else is supposed to be important in my life. Maybe that's a start.

Your friendly neighbourhood Erin.

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