Linda’s prompt for Stream-of-Consciousness Saturday this week is “-est”. Usually I like to find a single word or phrase using the prompt, but this week, when I plopped down to think of an -est word, the unusual happened.
Normally, I take the prompt and one of two things happens: either a single word hits me right away and, like the moon drifting across the face of the sun, immediately eclipses any other ideas, or a different moon drifts across the same sun and blocks out everything, and I sit there, unable to think of a single way to interpret the prompt, for hours. But not today. Today my brain is a slowly-spreading pile of gasoline, and the prompt is the casually-tossed cigarette of a black-clad action hero.
Too many words to choose from, so I’m gonna use as many as I can.
Our creativity, like the heavens, is inestimable, full of wonders we can hardly imagine, if we only have the courage to explore it — unfortunately, so many of us never do.
Our forebears in America were compelled to go west; partially out of a dissatisfaction with the way things were, partially for the promise that the unexplored country held. The artist needs more than a little bit of that wanderlust, of that westward yearning; the artist satisfied with where he’s at is an artist who stops pushing his boundaries.
Pushing the boundaries, though? When it goes well, it’s a(n) euphoric love fest. The ideas come fast and fresh, blowing through your hair (or in my case, across your dome) like the top’s down in your mid-life-crisis-mobile. But there’s no guarantee it goes well, as any writer will attest; and when it does go poorly, as inevitably it will, the whole affair can feel like the universe’s cruel jest. Every idea falls flat, every word feels forced; some days it’s all you can do to keep putting one word after the other.
But because it matters to you, you persist. And maybe you ingest some liquid courage or some chemical inspiration to kickstart the process, but one way or another, you keep on pushing your Sisyphesian boulder along. (Lest we forget, momentum matters.) Because you know that if you stop moving, if you bog down and leave the work for another day, one day quickly turns into another, which turns into another, and then, like a fetid pool, your creativity begins to fester, and even the stuff that looked good a few weeks ago begins to rot.
Still, the brain is a muscle much like any other, and a little rest brings it back to full functionality. Invest in a day off here and there, and somehow or other, the muses will wander their way back to the dark corners of your mind and drive your storytelling anew for a few more days. But it’s a foolish artist who relies on the muse too much: her magic is intoxicating and enticing as a desert mirage and just as fleeting.
The better way — the safe way — the only way, in fact, that works for more than a few weeks — is to establish the habit. Work for it. You don’t eat an elephant all in one sitting, you do it a little bit at a time, working day after day, checking your westward expansion by the stars overhead, the words on the page, the story twisting in your gut. Gestating. Improving, getting stronger with time, even if you can’t always tell quite how at the time. You keep writing. You keep pushing. And eventually, maybe, you bring your creation, squalling and covered in phlegm and gore, into the world.
Is this the best way to do it?
Hell if I know.
Writing is nothing if not an experimental flight in an experimental aircraft with an experimental pilot. Each and every element is a test.
But it feels good when it’s working.
This weekly remotivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every weekend, I use Linda G. Hill’s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.