A. Carter - novelist: unplugged
dark corners, and burnout
famous Canadian Science Fiction novelist
Mark A. Carter discusses writer's
block: dark corners and burnout.
As I see it, there are two kind
of writer's block: writing yourself
into a corner, and burnout. I will start this
rant with a brief mention about
writing yourself into a corner. But I want to focus most
of this essay on the issue of burnout
since it is the more serious manifestation of the
yourself into a dark corner and coming to a complete,
unrecoverable, dead stop is for amateurs.
Oops. But it is avoidable. Careful story planning long
before the writing commences is the solution to this problem.
Take time before writing begins to do your research, decide character
names, determine archetypes,
and genre, work out the
back stories, determine the
story curve, the turns and
twists, all of the details. It is common to have more
written in the way of notes than the eventual length of the story.
And that is the way it should be. If you do this, writing the
story will be easy and uneventful. If your notes are scant, it
is a warning sign that you are destined to have problems unless
you have "talent on loan from
God," to use a Rush Limbaugh
catch phrase. So, take heed.
is another form of writer's
block entirely. Reality and
writing do not mix. If anything is currently happening
in your life that distracts you enough from your solitary writing
existence, you will not be able to write.
If you have an
impending court date hanging over your head you will not be able
to write until everything is completed and done. And that could
be months or years not withstanding whether you are found guilty
or innocent of whatever. Like a sword
of Damocles, the experience takes its toll.
If you are ill
and in hospital, the commotion and noise of the everyday and
every night in and outs of staff will drive you mad, as will
the lack of sleep, the chiming of intravenous drug dispensers,
and the knowledge that you are likely to pick up a
hospital acquired infection the longer you remain there.
Treat all surfaces as contaminated.
you have recurring appointments with specialists, as I have had
to receive shots in my eye balls, these outstanding appointments
and the days that are lost without workable vision the day of
the appointments, blow holes in your concentration.
And if you are
planning to move from old digs
to new and have to pack and do all of the little things that
moving requires, you might as well just box your writing too
because you're going on hiatus
for a few months, baby. Packing, moving, digging out, painting,
putting up shelves, pictures and paraphernalia will consume you.
As will domestic disasters like water pouring into your freshly
painting apartment from places above, weekly fire alarm tests,
the Wednesday tests of your NOAA
weather radio, and even leaving your apartment and being forced
to talk with the hoi polloi
when you go downstairs for the daily mail.
writer's block and other assorted psychological blocks
The longer you
are away from the writing the easier it gets to waste time with
trivia. You may want to write but you will not be able to. Your
desire will be to write every day. Your
raison d'être will call to you, as well
it should. And being unfulfilled, you will be tormented. But
you still won't be able to write. You will question everything
you ever wrote and even consider yourself unworthy. Feelings
of worthlessness will consume you. You may endeavor to rewrite
old material. But in your current state of mind, you will destroy
it. So, leave it alone.
guts of my old typewriter reminiscent of Naked Lunch courtesy
of a writer's block
||WARNING: Take nothing apart during this mental
state of disarray. You will disintegrate it. I recall attempting
to perform a minor repair on a tub chair years ago when in this
condition. And the destructive tendencies that come with
burnout had me unravel the chair down to its wooden frame
and then knock the frame apart. Touch no clock, computer, toaster,
or what have you when in this psychological condition because
you are a wrecking machine.
And once depression
sets in, you might even consider ending it all like
Nobel Prize winning author
Ernest Hemingway did, during a bout of
writer's block, by toeing
the trigger of his favorite shotgun;
"Danger, Will Robinson!" (Lost in Space, 1967,
Season 3, Episode 11: "The Deadliest of the Species;")
or like Virginia Wolfe
did by filling her pockets with stones and drowning herself in
the Ouse River near her home
in Sussex. Suicide is such
a self-indulgent waste.
or razor blades, wrists, and warm
Roman baths are more to your liking. Or are you a
pill popper? The problem with
overdosing is sometimes it doesn't kill you, and you
just end up permanently brain damaged
and disabled, which
is a hellish situation worse than
death for anyone with an intellect. And avoid taking
anti-depressants to remedy
the funk of
writer's block. A common side
effect of anti-depressants
is suicidal ideation.
And there you are back again contemplating, bullet, pill, or
hanging, as was my case when I was prescribed
Paxil for pain. Personally, I feel
safer taking 3-methylmorphine.
are toying with, forget about it.
Writer's block does indeed pass. You do have worth. Your
writing is not as awful as you imagine in this wretched state.
What you need is exercise; food, and by food I means fruit, vegetables,
and lean meat; fresh air; sleep; and vitamins. And stop eating
gluten. How gullible are you
to believe that gluten free
is really free of gluten.
It's all advertising word
games, baby. Eat gluten
and you will continue to be physically
sick and mentally blocked.
You've read it here. So now you're no longer ignorant.
Don't listen to sound advice and you're just plainly stupid.
Oh well ...
"Experience teaches only the teachable."
- Aldous Huxley
the idiot's lantern
is not the remedy. It is so dumbed
down that you have to be stoned
to watch it. It is visual
anesthesia for the masses. Steer away from it. It will
only make you more depressed. Specifically do not watch the news.
Everything is propaganda.
News is all about perpetual crisis, disaster, politics, sex,
and violence designed to distract you and to emotionally upset
you to the point of denial
so you can join the hive mentality,
get plugged in, and
waste your time texting like
the other happy, happy and oblivious
campers out there. But who can write in that anesthetized
to see if you're still sane. If you've just written a manuscript
repeating the backwards word: REDRUM,
like Jack Torrance
did in Stephen King's The Shining,
you may have a problem.
Ask a friend
for an opinion on your mental state or seek professional help.
The voices in your head don't count. And stick to a schedule.
Get out of bed every day. Make the bed. Shave.
Take a shower for God's sake. Eat. Go for long walks.
Get a haircut. These things
As Douglas Adams wrote in
The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy:
"Don't Panic." Don't fight
burnout writer's block. It occurs when it occurs as much
as writing happens when it happens. You can't plan for it. You
can't force the writing. Well, you can. But it will be
shitty. Look at TV. It's full
of it. My point is: embrace the
block. Consider it an unplanned
mental vacation. Get some sun. Smell the roses. Live a bit of
life. Go to parties. Indulge in the stupidity of everyday
conversation about people, politics, and the weather. There is
no faster remedy to writer's block
than the boring beyond belief
hideous banality of conversations with
fashionistas and glamazons
art show openings, Friday evening
cocktail parties, and Saturday
afternoon barbeques. The intellectual
vacuity of the gals
at these galas may well shock
you out of your morass and
send you running back to your creative writing with renewed zeal.
It's worth a try.
If you want to
get back on the road to writing once again, select the music
for your next writing assignment and play it over and over until
it awakens your temporal cortex
and your writing voice returns.
times of burnout, I
fish the internet for photos of anything and everything.
I have no agenda. I don't know what I'm looking for. I just look
and let the links carry me where they do. And every once in a
while I hook something that inspires and motivates me. If I may
make a suggestion: I have always been inspired by the paintings
of the masters. Perhaps you might be too.
So, if you are
blocked and can't write your short stories or your next
novel, avoid the indulgence of depression and do something to
keep busy. Make notes on your next project. Build a
morgue of photos. Or do something absolutely unrelated.
Buy wood. Cut wood. Build a fence. Have a hobby that you fall
back on during periods of writer's
block. Play with those electric trains. Grow a tomato
plant. Cook. Whatever. Keep busy and stay calm because
adrenalin is the enemy of creativity. Know that the
block will pass in its own
sweet time. It is a refractory
period, a necessary recovery time that the brain demands
after intense creative endeavor. And it happens to us all. You
are not alone. So, don't sweat it.
Yes, that's me writing.
Mark A. Carter writing
I know it's an
but I have been known to shut myself off from the world while
in this state, go unshaven, and walk around for months within
the confines of my small apartment, in my pajamas, blue housecoat,
and slippers. It appears as if I'm doing nothing,
frittering away my time watching movies on
DVD, searching the internet, essentially wasting my time.
I even get angry and frustrated at myself for not being a
writing dynamo all the time even though I realize that
it is impossible. Everybody eventually
burns out. But I also know that a
refractory period provides the
fertile mental muck from which my next novel will spring.
After a period
of play, and my play often means designing and building a new
high voltage power supply for numerous
helium-neon laser tubes that I have kicking around in
my electronics junk boxes,
it hits me that writing would
be easier than my complex notion of play. So, I begin.
When your brain
is sufficiently recovered, the switch
will flip. You can't force
it. It will happen when it happens. But it will indeed
occur. Your thinking will suddenly illuminate. And you will
go to town once again.