Have you ever been cursed, as in hexed, jinxed, given the old stink eye? If you have you know it’s no laughing matter. It happened to me once several years ago and I’d like to tell you how I valiantly overcame The Most Dreaded Flapping Curse. Some might say that a curse is really a negative suggestion that through its uncanny connection to a core fear worms its way into the cursee’s subconscious and undermines their confidence. As I am a profound adherent of magical thinking, I will stick to thinking of this as a paranormal matter.
It happened quite casually during a conversation with two friends. The subject of the much-coveted flying dream came up. We all talked about how much we loved to fly, how great it was to soar high above the earth, etc. Then the other two began to complain about how tired they got from all the flapping.
Wait. Flapping? Aghast, I explained to them that one needn’t flap in a dream. One might, as I always did, soar like a rocket, like Superman, arms extended, expending no effort whatsoever. That’s when I got the stink eye. They believed this was cheating, or just not right. Well, I laughed at their pedestrian misery until the dreaded night came when I started to fly and found that I had to flap furiously to get off the ground. I could barely clear the treetops. If I slacked off I plummeted like a rock. Oh, I was so mad. I cursed the cursors.
You might be wondering what this has to do with writing or anything else of import. Well, lately I’ve read several blogs offering two quite different views on writing. One view presents writing as a nearly mystical process in which the writer gleefully takes the hand of their story-spewing muse and skips down the jewel-lined streets of their unlimited imaginariaum. The other view is that of the writer alone and miserable, slumping over a sweat and blood stained keyboard, shuttered from the world of sunshine as each word is painfully chiseled from the marbled block of the scribe’s tortured soul. (I may be exaggerating these views slightly.)
Both of these realities can be true at any given moment of the writer’s day, life, and career. I’ve always come down on the gleeful skipping side. As I contemplated writing a post about this phenomena that wouldn’t completely cheese off the tortured bleeders, I looked up and witnessed a scrub jay flapping to beat the band, skirting across the sky pell-mell on his way to screech at squirrels. This triggered the memory of The Flapping Curse and naturally my tortured blogger’s soul instantly made the connection.
I am intimately familiar with those times when writing is like extracting teeth with a plastic spork. However, my main struggle comes in the moments before writing, when an inexplicable force field arises, consisting of the fumes of self-doubt and the toxins of Anticipated Failure. Once I plunge through the force field and reach the keyboard, I am in my happy place. At these times I like to think of Douglas Adams’ instruction on how to fly: just fall and miss the ground. Mostly I’m able to fall through the doubts and miss the ground. Instead of face planting into the keyboard I find my fingers moving across it and the cinema of the mind in full swing. Sorry, bleeders. Writing is fun. Writing is bliss. Even when it’s hard and ugly and painful, it beats just about anything else I can think of doing (except maybe hopping a plane for an all-expense paid trip to Maui, but I’m talking about my reality right now.)
The Bleeding Curse unfortunately tries to insinuate itself into my mind again and again. The curse insists that I haven’t suffered enough at the keyboard to be authentic, profound, deep, honest, and all that painfully extracted self-revelation stuff that the voracious reading public demands. I think maybe I’m having too much fun. Maybe I need to agonize more. Learn proper grammar. Oh god, the sinkhole of shoulds is wide and vast and bottomless. Having fun is cheating. It just isn’t right.
But wait. I remind myself that I’ve earned the right to soar, Supergirl style, at the keyboard. I’ve been at this work my entire life. It just happens that most of the agonizing happens when I’m Not Writing. It took many years of stealing writing time, carving out twenty minutes three times a week, or an hour here and there, to gain a fierce appreciation of being able to write, of cherishing the time that I’ve fought for and defended against all common sense and financial concerns.
I overcame the Flapping Curse by getting angry, by quite deliberately taking control of my dream, and firmly telling my subconscious that yes, I can fly without flapping. I’d like to think that we all have this superpower, to take control of our dream, to own it, and to become enthused enough with the power of story to soar at will.
Truth is, all who would fly have to flap. We have to flap to get off the ground, to clear the treetops, but as our arms grow strong and our vision expands, we get to glide sometimes, and exult in the currents. We have to do the work and we have to fight off curses, and sometimes the results aren’t what we expect. Swimming dreams have replaced my flying dreams. Now I sail through water like a shark, or perhaps Auquagirl. Just please don’t ask me how I breathe down there.
You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.
If you are writing without zest, without gusto, without love, without fun, you are only half a writer. It means you are so busy keeping one eye on the commercial market, or one ear peeled for the avant-guard coterie, that you are not being yourself. For the first thing a writer should be is—excited. He should be a thing of fevers and enthusiasm. Without such vigor, he might as well be out picking peaches or digging ditches; God knows it’d be better for his health.
For more reasonable views loosely related to this subject:
The Muse by Cindy Ray
My Hero’s Journey between the Coffeepot and the Keyboard by Eric Witchey
Writing Is Magic by Kristan Hoffman