Fiction Funk: Wake and Wander in Need of 'Self Help'

There have been many periods throughout my development as a writer that I’ve questioned myself and my ability, when I’ve wondered if any word I write is worth the time I took to express it. Most of those times come when I’m in a self-described fiction funk – when I produce nothing coherent in regards to a creative tale.

I never truly worry that the ability is lost – it has come and gone in waves my entire life. I won’t write fiction for a few months, then I’ll write three stories in a week. It’s simply how it always has been. It’s really hard to explain to someone who doesn’t experience it – there’s no on or off switch, only waiting.

Mentors have insisted that discipline (writing when you don’t feel like it) will solve that problem, but I’ve always found that process to produce mediocre writing and short stories that sound phony (I’m excluding novels from this conversation because they are a whole different beast entirely).

When I lived in Santa Barbara, one day I had a rough morning of writing and was in a similiar fiction drought, and then I thought to myself suddenly, “All right, there it is. Show them what it feels like to be a struggling writer. Go create someone whose feelings and emotions represent your own.”

As per usual when I’m not producing fiction, I browse through old works and drafts to see if I can get my juices flowing, maybe relive some old lessons I learned and forgot.

The short story I created on that day in the California sunshine is called Self Help, and when I read it today it sort of calmed me – knowing that I have been here amongst these feelings before and that I will, eventually, begin to produce again.

I mentioned previously that traveling alone is a good way to sort things out in your brain, and I’m looking forward to next week’s journey to Mexico. More NYC coverage on its way tomorrow.

Self Help

It was way too hot to be drinking the port or wearing a shirt, but he had no choice.

The only other thing to drink was the Campari, and he was not pleased with the way it carried the bite of a grapefruit – but at first he thought it was all there was to drink. It’s either this or nothing, he had thought, and he opened the fridge and took out the bottle.

He chose a very small glass and put an ice cube in the bottom and added the red liqueur. He cut a lime that his neighbor had grown and squeezed it into the drink. Then he added a dash of soda and orange juice – hoping the bitter taste would be washed out by the sugar.

But it was not, and he could only get through half the drink before he threw it into the bushes. Then he looked at his arms and shoulders and saw that, despite his tan, his skin was turning red, and he put the shirt back on once he had searched the cabinets and found and poured the port.

Still, he wished for some whiskey and soda and a glass full of ice. The cat came over and made a sound for attention and smelled the air, and when he saw the cat smelling the air he too took notice of the way the wind pushed the smell of the trees through the air.

He tried as best he could to write something that had meaning to him, that moved him one way or another. He did not care what direction it went so long as it went. Some days he filled the pages and then determined they were not truthful enough. Other times there was nothing.

He was doing a better job of keeping focused nowadays, although he knew his patience had its limits. Luckily, he had been dreaming more often and the dreams were stirring feelings inside of him. He knew they were unreasonable feelings but he loved them nonetheless.

Now that he had finished the first glass and thought about it, he decided he liked the port and went inside to pour another glass.

Indoors, as he had a break from the sun and saw the others in front of the television and felt the cold air of the window unit on his shoulders, he missed its heat. Give me a sunburn any day, he thought as he stepped back out.

As he sat down and picked up the notebook and read over his work, he wondered if he’d ever end up a good writer or if his words would mean anything to others. It will certainly mean something to them, he told himself, if you tell them correctly. You will be a fine writer and you are not the first to ponder these questions. This made him feel better but still he thought about all the writers who were paying to be judged or trying to learn from what others have written what they should write themselves. Maybe this will bring them success but it will not make them a fine writer, he thought.

He had things stashed around his notebooks that he would direct himself to in times like these, when he doubted his potential and every word that left his pen. He would read these notes from his former self and write new notes to his future self. As he was changing he wanted to make sure he was aware of it all, he once told a friend.

No, you will be a fine and even great writer if you stick to the truth. If you tell them what they want to hear you will never be anything and someone else will have to fill your shoes, he told himself, and just who is prepared to do that?

He was feeling very pleased about himself now and he sipped the port. It had continued to grow on him and he took the last sip and went back into the cold air for another.

He was glad when the glass was full before the bottle was empty. Awfully nice, he thought, it is always a pleasure to know there is one more after this one, and he sipped from the glass.

Outside it felt even hotter after the cold air had cooled him off. He thought to curse the now intense heat, but then he flipped a few pages back and remembered he would take the heat and a sunburn any day over the alternative, and he sipped the port in the heat.

Maybe later one of my friends will bring over some whiskey, or at least some ice, he thought, and then he turned his head toward the sky but he could only hear the plane that flew beyond the trees.

He thought about the pilot he had recently been with, the one that faded out rather quickly. He knew somewhere he felt something for her, but it wasn’t strong enough to really move him and he let it go, as he did when he realized the trees were hiding the plane.

You will be a good writer, he told himself, don’t you worry about that. Even if no one realizes it you will still be a fine writer as far as I am concerned, he told himself. So long as you read it and smile about it and know that it is written very truly I will consider you one hell of a writer.

He wondered what the others thought about him and how interesting it is how different everyone is, and then he wondered if everyone could be right or if someone had to be wrong. He saw he had almost finished his glass of port and thought, you’re the one drinking in the yard. What do you think they say about you?

Don’t get sour, he then thought, there is still one more to go. Thinking about it he smiled and he tilted the glass all the way up and smelled the sweet sugar and the grapes and saw the legs on the glass expand.

Go get the last one, he told himself, maybe after that one you can read what you have written and see what you can learn from it.

Maybe then you will see that you are a fine writer, he told himself.


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