Saturday, January 24, 2009

Back on the Blog Chain: Writing Funk

As promised, I'm back once again for another Blog Chain Pooooost! Michelle posted right before me, and Abi will finish off this round. Elana picked the topic for this round; it consists of two parts:

1. When you're in a pool of writing funk, how do you get out?
2. I want your favorite funny and/or thing that makes you happy.

Elana is very specific about what makes up the pool of funk: Not sure what the Pool of Writing Funk is? Maybe you've heard of the Lake of Self-Doubt. No? The Ocean of What-the-heck-am-I-doing? Or maybe each rain drop in your life seems to whisper, "You're not good enough." These all contribute to the pool.

After re-reading these words last night, it struck me that this topic was similar in some ways to the one we did in October on confidence. In the last few years, I've encountered other people, mostly women, who lack confidence in themselves. I wonder if this is a gender thing. After all, not only are we women juggling more roles than ever before, we're constantly assaulted by ads saying we're worthless if we don't have long enough eyelashes or don't wear a size zero or fail in any way to live up to impossible standards. (I'm so glad I don't see those kinds of ads in Scientific American.) It's in the beauty industry's interest to make us feel insecure so we buy their products. But perhaps this would be a better topic for a WisCon panel than for our current blog chain.

Anyway, like Mary, I try to avoid swimming in the pool of writing funk/lack of self-confidence. I mentioned in my post in October that I regard myself as a student of writing, always improving my skills. So yesterday, when I was editing a long paragraph from Across Two Universes, I was happy when I saw how I could cut out some unnecessary information and speed up the pace. I didn't cuss myself out for writing a slow scene in the first place, because I've learned more about pacing and what's really necessary to include in a scene since then.

But what do you do if you are swimming in the funky pool? You need to rebuild your gumption. Gumption, as Robert M. Pirsig says in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, "is the psychic gasoline that keeps the whole thing going." (If you haven't read this book, I recommend it whole-heartily. On one level, it's the story of a man and his son on a cross-country motorcycle trip, but at the same time, the man is trying to reconnect with his past as a failed-scientist-turned-English-composition-teacher-turned-philosopher-turned-madman. Along the way, he discusses philosophy, especially as it applies to science and Quality. It's not a simple read, but the concepts are explained clearly.) Pirsig discusses gumption in the context of fixing a motorcycle, but it can be applied to anything you do. Like confidence, gumption is not fixed but can fluctuate during the process. Things that drain gumption are called gumption traps. One trap that might pertain to writers is value rigidity, or being so committed to what you think you know that you disregard what's actually in front of you. When this happens, it's time to sit back and re-evaluate what's in front of you. Both too much ego or too much anxiety can become gumption traps:

I was going to say that the machine doesn't respond to your personality, but it does respond to your personality. It's just that the personality that it responds to is your real personality, the one that genuinely feels and reasons and acts, rather than any false, blown-up personality images your ego may conjure up. These false images are deflated so rapidly and completely you're bound to be very discouraged very soon if you've derived your gumption from ego rather than Quality.

If modesty doesn't come easily or naturally to you, one way out of this trap is to fake the attitude of modesty anyway. If you just deliberately assume you're not much good, the your gumption gets a boost when the facts prove this assumption is correct. This way you can keep going until the time comes when the facts prove this assumption is incorrect. (Pirsig, 1974, p. 283-284)

Pirsig goes on to say that if you're anxious, afraid you'll do everything wrong, the way out of that trap is to learn and realize everyone messes up once in a while. When it happens to you, you can learn from the experience. "You should remember that it's peace of mind you're after and not just a fixed machine" (or story, for us writers).

There are other gumption traps discussed in the book, but those seem to be the most relevant for this topic. So I'm going to move on to the second part of Elana's topic: something funny or something that makes me happy. Well, my family makes me happy. Even when my son wakes up from his nap crying (as he did about an hour ago), he never fails to entertain, especially when he puts his boots on all by himself:

But for Elana, I'm going to recommend that she listen to some blues. Specifically, the legendary black Scottish bluesman Wet Biscuit McGlee:

That's enough for one post. Head on over to Abi's blog to see how she deals with writing funk!


Anonymous said...

Great post (and great reference to one of my fav books). Oh, and the video at the end LOL...Thanks for a great laugh....

ElanaJ said...

Ahhhh, yes. TV. I love "Who's Line Is It Anyway?" Thanks Sandra.

And holy deep. You weren't swimming in the lake, girl! More like the ocean. Over the Mariana Trench...great post! I'm gonna check out that book. My hubby loves motorcycles, so he'll probably let me buy it, even if he doesn't know what it's about. Tee hee.

celticqueen said...

wow, awesome post! Rebuild your gumption...I love that! The Holiday is one of my favorite movies, and Kate Winslet's character struggles to get gumption throughout the film. Gumption...good stuff :D

Archetype said...

Great use of quotes -- I've never read Zen, but perhaps I should...

Kate Karyus Quinn said...

Gumption is just an awesome word. And love the "Who's Line is It Anyway" clip!

H. L. Dyer said...

What a thoughtful post!

I should really look at Zen again. An ex of mine advocated it strongly but I never got around to finishing it.

Mary Lindsey said...

"Whose Line is it Anyway" is one of my favorite shows of all time. I'm still laughing! Thanks! Excellent post, by the way. "Gumption" is an amazing word.

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