Peter M Howard ::

The Last Ten Thousand

13Aug2011 [personal]

In which the final chapters seem larger than those that came before

I have, in the last week or two, written easily more than ten thousand words — between posts written here and at the Gruden blog, proposals and reports written for work. And while writing in Paris I could turn out ten thousand in a week. And yet the remaining ten thousand words I have to write of Raphaël's story are more and more seeming impenetrable. It's not like there's a block in the story — I have the final chapters all mapped out, the outline itself at over a thousand words, so expanding that to ten thousand should be straightforward. But I developed certain habits, a ritual of sorts formed while writing, and now it seems too difficult to find the necessary time for all the aspects of the ritual.

When I last left Raphaël, he made a discovery in Tunis that would set him on a journey south, ultimately leading to his immortality. In my head he's still running through the streets, being led through a maze, pulled out of time — it's no wonder he doesn't remember how long he ran for.

Meanwhile, other stories are still working their way through my mind, competing for discovery. I wrote about something similar while I was in the middle of writing regularly, with the strange creative buzz, identifying the mode in which I write and the mode in which I explore:

Both are messing with my brain chemistry somehow; my body’s pumping out some cocktail of happy chemicals, but to what end, or what evolutionary benefit that might serve, I’ve no idea. And I understand neither situation, with only a vague knowledge that the feeling is familiar, but without knowing what I’d have to do to reproduce its creative power under different circumstances.

I'm no closer, unfortunately, to reproducing the creative power. While I'm working every day I can still write, obviously, given the word counts I get through, but it's the older, more familiar mode of writing, with its last-minute rush, the words swirling around and taking form inside my head for days before I finally push them out onto paper. When writing R's story it's (/was) different: the words only take form as I put pen to paper.

Molly Wizenberg, in her own post about the pleasure and pain of writing, and procrastination, pointed to a TED Talk by Elizabeth Gilbert, on nurturing creativity. It's a great talk; she explores the myth around creative genius, the pressure the idea of individual, internalised genius puts on creative people, the pressure to create and to live up to expectations. She posits instead a return to the idea of an external genius, an entity who connects external creative power to its conduits in the form of artists. She doesn't present any easy answers, and the implied connection to the Logos is perhaps only half-serious, but the implications for a different way of thinking about creativity are profound.

Like Molly, I know I enjoy writing, taking satisfaction even from these smaller efforts, even from the reports I write for work, despite the difficulty it causes. Writing of her discovery that her partner also procrastinates, also finds the creative act difficult, Molly notes:

And that, that feeling, changed something for me. It made me feel less alone. It made me feel ready to write. And it made me feel ready to go into the cave. Even though it’s still very, very dark in there. Make no mistake.

How I proceed, I'm not sure. I really want to find some way to enjoy and make productive the long-form writing as well. I have some ideas to get back the writing even during busy weeks. If those don't work, I'll be taking a week or two off work to get the book finished for good.

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