I’m having a hard time settling into a post-WIM project.
That makes sense, I guess; after all, I spent 5 1/2 years writing true tales of liquor, lust and primer gray Camaros, during which time I paced a pretty deep groove into that patch of carpet. My mother’s death probably isn’t helping matters much, either: My routine has been disrupted by the emotional aftermath of that event. We’re not even three months removed from that morning. I still see her last moments when I close my eyes, and occasionally when they remain open. Three months isn’t much time to say goodbye to one’s mother. Perhaps I’m expecting too much of myself too soon.
Those perfectly fine excuses aside, writing projects differ from other projects anyway. I have a garage full of bicycle stuff, for example: frames, rims, bins filled with parts. I could set aside my notebook right now, walk out to the garage, and build a bike. All of the pieces are just waiting for me to assemble them.
On the other hand, writing requires one to manufacture his or her own parts. There’s no off the rack assembly; well, that’s not entirely true. Work for hire is a bit like visiting my garage. I’m handed a frame — “Write a piece about such and such” — at which time I go to the bins and pick out the right parts (facts, quotes, etc.) and I’m off.
The limitations of those kinds of assignments can be frustrating, but often they’re liberating. Thousand of choices often leads to no choice. “Here’s your framework” allows one to focus on the work itself rather than the infinite possibilities for inventing work. Compare these two examples:
- Make a picture. It can be any size, any medium, any topic or even no topic. Have it to me whenever you feel like it.
- Here’s an orange crayon and a sheet of printer paper. Draw me a bear wearing skinny jeans. You have 30 minutes.
In terms of artistic merit, #1 might lead to a better outcome, but #2 is more likely to actually be completed.
My job right now is to assign myself a new bear wearing skinny jeans. I’ve scratched at a couple of ideas, but I haven’t been able to get much going — some parody here, 2,500 words for a short story draft there. I’ve spent most of my time thinking about an alternate version of the Jesus story based on the Gnostic gospels. I haven’t done much writing, which might be the problem, but I’ve done quite a bit of homework. Reading books that were written around the same time as the New Testament yet expurgated as heresy is pretty fascinating. They have great names like “Thunder” and “The Paraphrase of Shem,” and they introduce characters that aren’t part of the canonical story.
There’s “The Good,” the god that outranks the Judeo-Christian god, the latter of whom is a bit of a screw-up when it comes to creating worlds. We get a sympathetic Judas in his own book, the Gospel of Judas. Jesus gets a twin brother in some stories, a childhood in others. In one book Jesus isn’t even crucified — he switches bodies with someone in the crowd and stands by while the poor sap dies. Don’t mess with the Magic Man, mama.
Somewhere in there in that parts bin rests a great story (and by “story” I mean work of fiction), but after weeks of research it doesn’t feel like a good fit for me. Perhaps if I were more religious, or maybe less. I’d imagine a zealous atheist would have a field day tilting at those particular windmills, as would a true believer. I personally don’t care one way or the other, and apathy makes for pretty boring writing.
So for now it’s on to the next sheet of blank paper, the next giant box of crayons and open-ended deadline. I’ll find a story framework eventually, then the parts bin will make itself known and assembly will be easy. Or maybe I’ll just write a short story about a bear wearing skinny jeans. We’ll know soon enough.
Categories: on writing