So some of you saw my previous post where I waxed eloquent about writing. And some of you saw the post that came before that where I said I was basically done with writing. And some of you said, “Um…Albert. Didn’t you say you weren’t going to write any more? Because clearly, this is writing. What exactly is the deal here?”
The deal is this. 2011 was a great year in a lot of ways. I wrote a lot, this blog grew, I met new and interesting writers.
In the beginning of 2011 I was reading a lot of writing blogs. And these blogs, almost without variation preached a common message: write every day. Feel like it, don’t feel like, doesn’t matter. You get up every morning and you commit to that schedule and write something. And in the beginning of 2011 I bought into that message hard.
And for a while it was working for me. I was really enjoying what I was doing, and, if I may toot a little ditty on my own little horn, some of the stuff I wrote this year was really good.
But toward the end of the year things started to grind. My brain felt like a machine with sand stuck in the cogs. And still I tried to follow the mantra, write, write, write, all time, every time, forget the muse, forget inspiration, just go.
Until finally, those little grains of sand stripped my cogs, froze up my bearings and torqued out my grommets, and I ground, shuddering, clanking, wheezing, to a halt.
I gave up, said I couldn’t do it anymore, that I was done, that even the desire to write had gone. And that was true for the moment.
But after a while I found that I couldn’t quite stop thinking about the shapes of words and stories. Somewhere inside the old machine I could hear a steady ticking, a last holdout of a mechanism that hadn’t quite gotten the message that it was time to shut down. Sometimes in the dead of night I would wake to the sounds of thunks and squeaks and groans coming from somewhere within that old derelict heap of metal. The machine had died, but some part of it refused to stop, lurching and groaning forward like a clockwork zombie.
And then came the Krampus. I first heard of the Saint Nicholas’s dark and ancient companion in a piece on NPR about people who still included him in their celebration of Christmas. It seemed strange to me that I had never heard of such a creature before, a monster who both contradicted Santa Claus, and also, strangely completed him. It got me thinking about our culture and about how we have expunged all the darkness, all the unpleasantness, all the judgement from our cultural consciousness. And suddenly the machine clanked into life once again, and spit out a conversation between to very old friends; Of Teeth and Claus was born.
It was not the best story I’ve ever written, but despite that it was a story that I deeply enjoyed writing. And I realized that that was what I had been missing over those past few months. Joy.
Around the same time, I happened to read The Automat’s post about Leonardo da Vinci, and his comments about the rivalry between Michelangelo and Da Vinci struck a strange chord with me.
Michelangelo worked like a dog from get on to get off, rarely slowing down. Leonardo took lots of long breaks to eat bacon and stare at his knuckles. He was always dragging his feet over some project or other, allowing himself to stop just short of actually completing something that had never been done before, and the people loved him for it. This drove Michelangelo crazy.
Now I am not comparing myself to either of these great artists, but the basic gist of the story for me boiled down to this: Michelangelo
wrote painted every day. Da Vinci wrote painted when he felt like it. And no one (except possibly Michelangelo) would dare insinuate that Da Vinci wasn’t a “real” artist.
But he didn’t let his art overwhelm him. He didn’t ruin his back painting the Sistine Chapel. He didn’t obsess about how well his rival Michelangelo was going. He just painted.
So this year I’m trying a different approach. Because the thing is, I’m not a freelancer. I’m not a novelist. Writing isn’t my job. I do it because I love it. I do it for me. And if I happen to get paid for it, well then great. If not, that’s okay too.
From now on, I’m going to write for the joy of writing. And if the joy isn’t there, if the muse does not speak, if the words do not roar inside of my head demanding to be released into the world, then I will remain silent.
Because I can.
Because I should.
Because the machine has a soul.