DAY 3. Zenith.
Have you ever gotten up in the morning and thought, “I can’t write today.” That, despite all your methods and ways of writing, nothing seems appealing about writing. No intriguing story ideas, no wandering characters in search of a plot, no tantalizing settings that yearn to spawn a new tale. No poetry tickling the back of the mind.
In the past couple of weeks I’ve been unaccountably feeling “in a slump.” Everything I think of seems trite, already-done. No pomodoros, no scheduled daily writings. I couldn’t even bring myself to look at the two chapbook manuscripts that I was hoping to polish and submit this fall, or when I did look at them, I could only wonder, what had made me think they were nearly ready to go?
Deep breaths. This isn’t forever. Something is keeping me from writing, but what?
Not sure. But there is something I learned in research, from working on my Ph.D., that popped into mind. When you’re stuck, when you’re not sure where you are – maybe you have gathered a bunch of research data and you’re not sure what the analysis of the data is telling you, there is a concept that you can draw on. First Principles.
First Principles might be defined as “the fundamental concepts or assumptions on which a theory, system, or method is based.” Every field has a set of First Principles, the basic set of beliefs or truths that govern that field. The concept is that, by going back to the fundamental bases of your discipline, you can “connect the dots” to the place that you’re at in your research. For instance, in mathematics, First Principles might include the facts of arithmetic, or the methods of logical reasoning. First Principles gives you a grounding, and it helps you find your way through the knowledge that you may have uncovered in your research, so that you can organize that knowledge into a new finding.
When this idea popped into my head, I thought (sluggishly) – “I’ll go back to First Principles.” What are the First Principles of writing? For me, there is the notion of writing, just writing, anything that is expressive of my art. Pick a writing prompt, choose a line of poetry, find an image, and write. Write whatever comes out, even if it’s not great, even if it’s not a story, even if it’s not anything. Just practice the piecing together of words into a sentence, sentences into a piece of prose or poetry, just follow the methods of my field. Go back to the basics of writing on anything, a turn of phrase or a photograph, and while it may not be good, eventually something will strike a spark and I’ll be able to go on. I’ll find a thing that does push my imagination into creating something new – whatever that is. Meantime, I’ll just accept whatever does come out.
This is hard – the accepting part. But that’s what I’ve been doing for the past several days. Last night I wrote with my friend Kyra, and we both confessed that we were feeling uninspired by anything we’d done recently. So we made what I called “The Emily Dickinson Pact.” As you may know, Emily Dickinson only published a handful of poems (less than a dozen) before her death. Yet today her work is highly revered, and she is considered one of the finest poets that has lived. I told Kyra, “Let’s just write. Let’s not worry about whether it’s a story, or it’s even ‘publishable,’ let’s make a pact to write, and to keep going, and to not criticize ourselves for whatever comes out.” So we agreed!
And we wrote. She had a lovely start-to-a-story about a little thief apprentice who steals from the wrong magician – and then becomes the magician’s apprentice for it. It was wonderful! My writing was more of a monologue of a larger-than-life personality who outgrows the women he loves and realizes he is no longer loveable himself. Not a story, nothing remotely publishable … but the point was to write and to accept what I wrote. In that light, I was successful.
Thanks for visiting! (More tomorrow!)