Do you remember the Scandinavian beastie of folktale known as the Troll? Trolls often guard bridges and won’t let you cross until you’ve paid them (or perhaps they won’t let you pass at all, but will simply eat you!). They are much larger than humans and particularly ugly. They are frequently said to be extremely old, very strong, but slow moving and not terribly bright. They turn to stone upon contact with daylight.
I can’t think of a better description than that of a writer’s internal critic, or internal editor. You know the sound of its voice – sometimes raspy, sometimes shrill, sometimes a bit like a critical parent or teacher you once had, or a ‘friend’ who never believed in you. It’s the voice that tells you you can’t do this, that you’re talentless, that writing doesn’t matter anyway, that you’ll never publish and that even if you did publish once, you never will again, so it’s all bloody pointless and you might as well stop wasting your time.
Every writer has a Troll (one at least) and every writer I know has a different way of slipping past the brute, but slip past it you must, if you want to write. No matter how many times I’ve eluded it, my own Troll always returns. They’re quite immortal, I’m told, so there’s little point in trying to kill the big bully. It’ll just turn up again.
So, writers develop rituals — Slipping Around Rituals. Most of the rituals involve lots and lots of procrastination disguised as getting cups of coffee, going for walks, finding just the right piece of music, adjusting the chair, lighting the candle/incense, adjusting the curtains, dashing off a few emails, scribbling in a journal…. etc. I have, on different days, done every one of those things and a few others as well.
Certainly, one of the tricks I use is the I’m-not-really-writing writing technique. This is where I fool my Beasties by starting a wee bit of scribbling which IS ABSOLUTELY NOT the actual writing, it’s just a little warm-up, a few hundred words exploring what I’m writing about. Certainly nothing that will draw the interest of my Trolls.
Something like this:
9:00 a.m. Just sitting down to write. Today, I’d like to tackle that scene in which Odessa goes into the ‘bad’ part of town to look for her brother, who’s gone back to using. She shouldn’t find him, I don’t think, I want that to take up maybe the entire chapter, maybe even two, but I do want to introduce the world of the drug user, and up the ante for Odessa, who, as a recovering addict herself, will have to face her own temptations if she’s going to save her brother. So, what does this part of town look like? What shall I call it? Blacklands. Fine. That sounds good and dreary. Let’s say Blacklands is what they called it, the area on the outer fringe of the Rambles where the addicts tended to congregate, the sort of place one was unlikely to wander into by accident, since as soon as one took a few steps along Beggar’s Row, or into Sulliwin Street and one would be aware of, first, the smell. Unwashed bodies, unwashed clothes, sewage in the streets, decaying scraps of what might have once been food in the gutters, the sickly-sweet stench from garbage piles, from open windows, the occasional carcass of a cat or a rat or a dog, rotting where it lay, combined to create a wall of odor through which only the most persistent would break. City workers did not bother to collect the rubbish here, since no one paid taxes and no one complained. No one in the Blacklands, after all, wanted to invite visits from any sort of official. The buildings, which once held families, albeit poor ones, and shops, albeit shabby ones, were mostly boarded over, the window glass long broken. Some doors still existed, but many others simply had boards affixed over openings by chains on which hung padlocks. Old newspaper was stuffed into holes in walls here and there. Nearly every roof was missing tiles and the chimneys tilted dangerously. Here and there along the narrow street lay piles of bricks, evidence a chimney had lost the battle against gravity.
Huh. Look at that. I’m writing. I have italicized the section where the actual writing-writing (if you’ll excuse me) begins. Now, it isn’t very good, but it’s a start, and that’s what matters. I have managed to fool myself, to dodge past my ever-present internal editor, and slip into the writing stream. I’ll keep going. There will be more than enough time later to revise and improve the prose.
If you’re like me, once you get going the words tend to trip along quite merrily, and before I know it I’ve reached, and exceeded, my writing goal for the day. The trick with writing, as with so many things, is to begin.
I’ll offer more trips on literary furtive maneuvers in future blogs… now, quick, while the Troll’s over there picking his teeth with a writer’s fingerbone…