Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Ticking Clock: Your Imaginary Friend.

The ticking clock, presaging the arrival of the deadline, is a splendid inducement, the agar agar or other nourishing medium on which story begins to munch, then outright feed.  If you procrastinate much longer, try to think things through for just a few moments more, surely the idea will come, a gift from the indulgent uncle who has been so tolerant of you all these years.  Procrastination is your individual way of hastening the process, creating the atmosphere for the work to come forth, identify itself, then begin the process of revelation.

No matter that the indulgent uncle's gifts are never quite the things you'd wished for, they are nevertheless tangible manifestations of a process in place.  You notice, sometimes in your procrastinating clean-up and desk tidying, other times as you stumble about your rooms in search of a particular thing that has no relationship to your writing life, a clutter, a graveyard of gifts that seemed pleasing enough at the time but now cause you to wonder about your sense of taste.

Add another element to the recipe; add the atmosphere of surrender, of recognition that this time, it has finally caught up with you; you can't do it.  You have exhausted all your ideas and strategies, your jokes instead of stories, your technique masquerading as story.

Ticking clock and admission of surrender usually do the trick, a one-two punch that admittedly has to be sincerely felt before it can work.  But it does work, just as the process of giving up on trying to recall a name, a lyric from a song, some splash of memory hastily filed in your already crowded mind produces the answer you sought.  Many products forged in this particular fire of ticking clock and surrender are things you are more likely to want to save:  they are gifts from the process, not from the indulgent uncle.

Thus you arrive at an awareness:  if you are driven to begin setting it down somewhere, your notebook, a legal pad, the backs of the interminable index cards about your desk and work areas, there is no need for the ticking clock, no need for the surrender notion that you have written yourself cold, out of enthusiasm.  The awareness has to do directly with thought.  Thought in the beginning is a distraction.  Stories should not be thought about until they are in a completed draft form.

The awareness continues:  many of your things are begun in the forge of despair, arriving in some kind of focus only after you have despaired of ever having another impulse to begin.  An equal number, however, are begun with enthusiasm or a sense of mischief, or a desire for revenge or a wish to rewrite your own history.  All those stimuli are, of course, feelings.  Beginnings come from the crucible of feelings as opposed to the textbooks of thought.

Story comes rushing forth like a tube of toothpaste too tightly squeezed at the outset.  Trying to think a story out is like trying to get a cat to come when you call it.

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