I’ve had a really, really bad case of writer’s block with this blog lately. Or rather ‘poster’s block’ – I’ve got like 6 drafts of posts that I haven’t had the heart to publish. I have had a whole bunch of things that I wanted to write about, and they’re things I want to share – it’s just a matter of finding the right way to say it, and for whatever reason, I’m not there yet.
And then of course there’s my baby, Tallulah. Going nowhere, and going there fast. Which is not fair; it is going somewhere, but every time I look at that plan and just … look at it, it feels wrong. It’s like when you think of something you really want to say or ask, and then something happens and you lose the thought, and all you can intuit is an approximate articulation of how that idea felt in the moments before it slipped away. It feels close, but I know it’s not what I want. It wasn’t meant to be what I wanted anyway, just something to roll with, something to enable my ability to roll if you will, and it did work to that effect, to a point. I got to almost halfway through revision and then hit a wall, writing the same chapter over and over again. I had a couple of breakthroughs but while the last one felt best, it also poses a difficulty for me, and for the aspects of my plan that work.
I talked a little while ago about the ‘movie version’ of Tallulah, the one that I picked a bunch of actors I like and cast them as the characters, and it added a whole new dynamic to the story, and particularly the characters. Namely that, as per stereotypical depictions of Hollywood actors, they all started demanding more screen time, and the end result was that the story suffered a crisis of identity – whose story was it? The name said one thing, but the emphasis said another.
And all of this happened while I was listening to a particular song. And it is a song that I need to uproot from its spot in my Tallulah plot and donate to another story’s garden, because WOW can music affect my writing.
That song became the anthem of Tallulah for a while – something about the music felt right, and the lyrics, if I tilted my head the right way, stopped being about sexytimes and turned into a desperate plea for non-specific intimacy, which is what I liked about it. But it also exacerbated the issued I had with characters clustering the narrative geography, and the story that had already started to get away from me had now decided to throw a house-party and, as they say, lost the plot entirely.
Music takes you places, and it is a tool of affect – it makes you feel things, is what I’m saying. There is no music I have ever listened to that has had no emotional effect on me, so it’s important to be mindful of what music you’re using while you’re writing, if you’re using music at all. Tallulah is the only book I’ve written (drafted) almost entirely without an accompanying soundtrack – I made a few playlists, but I’d listen to them when I wasn’t writing it. It became too leading, and this song in particular was a Manic Pixie Dream Girl in terms of grabbing me by the hand and yanking me off into unexpected and even unwelcome adventures.
Perhaps because I wasn’t writing very much, listening to this song had even more of an effect on me when I heard it – there was nothing to contrast the song-ideas to the story I’d physically written (digitally whatever it still took physical labour), and as such they started to take precedence. Before I realised it, I had started thinking of Tallulah in terms of this clustered ensemble cast, and all of the solutions I tried to come up with were concocted in relation to this version of the story, as good as though I had forgotten that there ever was another one.
And then today I had another brainwave, and from that brainwave I got back on-track, mentally at least. Right now I’m studying for exams so there isn’t a whole lot of revision going on, but I feel like I’ve gotten back on course. I feel like I know where this plan has to go, and that in order to go forward, I have to go back.
Without this song.
I like associating certain songs with certain stories or characters, and when it sticks it sticks hard, to the point where I can’t think of that story or character without also thinking of that song. It feels like I can’t leave out the song when considering the story, like it’s no longer my idea but the song’s idea as well, like I need to consult the goddamn thing any time I’m thinking of making changes – I feel obligated to remain constant to that version of events, to maintain my ‘integrity’, and if that sounds stupid, that’s because it is. The only obligation I have is to myself, and I know that, but that’s why it’s so important to be mindful of your influences, to keep yourself from basically holding your ideas ransom to associations that may have formed totally involuntarily – or even if they were intentional – it becomes so easy to fall into these habits and sub-routines, to find yourself on an autopilot trajectory you didn’t realise you even had programmed in.
I mean it was that and also just thinking ‘Hey, my plan feels like three-quarters of one story and one-quarter of another jammed together into four quarters, I should change that’, and finding a natural through-line I could incorporate. And that got the ball rolling, got me unstuck, and made me realised just how hooked into this song I was while thinking of this story, which was entirely different to what it had once been.
I like the movie story, and the last thing I wrote was heading in that direction. I wouldn’t mind writing it. But I want to write the story I started out with, and I feel like I’ve found a way to do it.
It’s also gotten me to thinking about other stories of mine that have fall down mud-slides without me noticing (or remembering), and continuing on without trying to get back to the path, and a lot of it has to do with music when it comes to things I’ve actually sat down and written. The book I was writing before Tallulah took on a certain shape while I was writing it, had a certain mood of its own and I really liked it, and then I made up a playlist for it (and wrote a bunch of lore and backstory) and it became this big sprawling thing that I just couldn’t get a handle on. And now I think that this is perhaps the main reason that I didn’t write a second draft while I was doing undergrad: I had no idea what I was trying to accomplish, and I had no idea that I had no idea what I was trying to accomplish, that I’d gotten so sidetracked that I could hardly remember what the ‘track’ was. Of course I didn’t literally forget, and I often lamented how different things were and that I was being so indecisive, but that’s the whole problem – it’s that attachment, that investment in something new while still having something unfinished sitting on the shelf that really got me. I was split in two and didn’t know which side to take.
So I guess this has been an exercise in being mindful. I think it’s turned out well, and I’m looking forward to these exams being over in two weeks-ish and being free again, for about a month and a half until I’ve got Summer School (assuming they sort out enroment stuff; apparently I enrolled in my diploma the same year as a big system overhaul and they actually don’t have the appropriate forms even created for me to fill out yet so this should be fun), which should be ample time to … do stuff.
I’m not even going to think about finishing anything at this stage, because while the actual act of revising is not time-consuming, planning most certainly is. I may have a new plan cooking up, but I’ve still got this one to finish in the meantime, and it may just give me some much-needed insights. I’ve got to go back and do it properly, though, which means really rough, really messy, really patchy and hasty and obviously thrown together violently and without attention to details of continuity. It might help me. And if it doesn’t give me what I’m looking for, at least I’ll know one more thing that I’m not looking for, and I’ll know why.
For now: be mindful, and if like me you fear waking up any earlier than 10am, give it a try. I’ve been waking up at 8 for the last two days and already I feel … different. Good. Like I’ve lived longer. Or more, I guess. Length has nothing to do with how much you live.