My mum had a fantastic way of describing me – “her head’s full of bees and they’re all buzzing”.
It’s true. The inside of my head is a noisy place. Now it has a name and I know a bit more about Attention Deficit, distractability and hyperfocus, but having lived with it so long and never having experienced anything else… it’s just my brain. That’s just what it’s like.
On the one hand, as I’ve mentioned here before, the hyperfocus element can be remarkably useful. It has led to some fantastic writing binges. It can also lead to some horrible bouts of writer’s block. I’m not sure how other people experience writer’s block, never having been in anyone else’s head, but for me it’s not a lack of ideas. If there’s one thing I have never been, it’s lacking in ideas.
No, for me writer’s block is the sensation of being trapped beneath an avalanche of ideas, trying to claw my way out. I feel like I’m trapped in that moment of inception, it just happens again and again and again. I end up with snippets scribbled on bits of paper, random pages of notebooks, Word documents – I’ve got a whole folder where most of the documents don’t contain more than a sentence or two, because I can’t get past that stage.
When that happens I have a couple of options. If I don’t have a deadline to meet and there’s no strong contender forcing me to work on it, I can give in to the randomness for a while. I read, go on long Wiki walks, watch films, listen to music, watch my cat, hang around in busy places. I keep my notebook to hand (or at least in my handbag) and scribble things down in the hope that at some point one of them will demand my attention. The important thing is to keep going, because when I stop, when I try to ignore the ideas and not work on anything I get stressed and upset. My idea of hell is a long train journey with no pen, netbook or phone to make notes on. When I’m really in the depths I feel better if I have my fingers on a keyboard for as much of the day as possible. It’s just comforting to know it’s there. It used to be a notebook and pen that gave me that comfort, but times change…
The other option is to try and force a writing frenzy. I can pick one of the existing ideas from the Folder of Single Sentences and try to find the right place in my head for it. I need its soundtrack or a particular physical location that I can work in, or I need the right voices in the background.
(Voices in the background are why I watch TV while I write. My television has never been tuned in and probably never will be because the voices can’t just be random, I need particular ones and I need them until I’m done. When I was younger I would achieve this effect by watching the same film over and over again. When I got a bit older I discovered American television with its massive long seasons, so now I’ll happily put a box set and settle down to 20+ episodes of the right voices. The voices keep the bits of my brain that aren’t working on writing occupied, which means they don’t whine and tug at the sleeve of the bits that are. I have no idea if this makes sense to other people, but trust me – I struggle to work in silence, as my every school report can attest.)
If I can find the right sounds and feelings, I can trigger a writing binge that will either last long enough to flesh out an idea, taking it to a place where I can continue to work on it bit by bit, or I’ll finish the first draft in one go. The latter makes my life much easier, since it means I have a sense of actually having finished something. If I don’t finish the draft all at once, it means there’s a strong chance of my becoming distracted by the sound of the other bees and moving on without ever getting it finished.
The partial first drafts annoy me much more than the single sentence ideas. This is because every time I try to trigger a writing frenzy on the same subject, it becomes a bit harder. I struggle to recapture that initial fervour. Those bees don’t buzz as loudly as the new, shiny, unlistened-to bees.
The best feeling comes from the organic, unforced frenzy, when I simply get caught up and can’t stop. But those are comparatively rare, and we all know that the work can’t be dependent on perfect conditions or nothing ever gets done.
For the past couple of months I’ve been struggling with the buzzing. Perfect conditions certainly aren’t happening, and forcing the frenzy hasn’t really been an option as it’s my busiest time of year and I can’t just drop everything because the characters are chattering. So mostly I’ve been writing reviews. Reviews have deadlines, structure, discipline. These are not usually things that I like.
Yet something is working. Despite August being busier than any other month, despite assuming that my creative writing would have to take a back seat to reviewing and performing, I find I’ve done more work on existing ideas in August than I did in the previous three months combined. I have some material for the as-yet-unnamed children’s novel. I have a much clearer idea of where the current play is going and a new completed 15 minute piece. Randomly, I have a plot and the beginnings of a script for a webcomic.
Constraints bring clarity. I should know this, it’s one of the things I say all the time in Affectable. Sometimes having that discipline in one area of your life frees you up to be creative in another. I wouldn’t say I’ve found exactly the right balance yet, and considering that there’s a lot of emotional stuff going on at the moment (dead parents, as ever) I don’t expect that I will in the immediate future. But I feel closer to it than I have done previously, and I’m enjoying the constraints of having to marshal my thoughts and present them in a way that makes sense to other people. That goes beyond just reviewing, that goes for blogging too. As we approach October I’ll be interested to monitor what effect the ninth anniversary of my Mum’s death has on my creativity and my ability to blog here. I might set myself a couple of challenges in this regard.
We’ll see. I’m certainly not committing myself to anything publicly at nearly 2am and under the influence of the Fringe. I have a tendency to convince myself that I’m invincible at this time of year. There’s been sunlight and theatre and nothing can possibly ever go wrong. Best to wait until my feet touch the ground again before I say more.