An Explanation on Being a Slave to the Music

There's a pretty big reason I would never consider myself a writer these days. I haven't written in a very long time. Not really, anyway. Although I pop out a little article sometimes, the flood of thought and corresponding paragraphs just don’t flow like they used to. It would be great if the reason for my drought was a mystery. Writer’s block of the mythic kind is a wonderful dilemma because it is instantly dramatic. Where there’s drama, a story can be found, even if that story is that you can’t write a story. No, unfortunately, I know my problem quite well.  My creative process was never one built around sustainability. No two creative process are quite the same, but to explain, mine was built around coincidental song discovery. The rockbed for the story or poem would be something I was having difficulty talking about during normal life discourse. These were things I couldn’t talk about with friends easily or, often enough, didn’t understand well enough to articulate them as personal reflections. A troublesome thought or misinterpreted feeling would sit around and stew for a while, then spill out all unexpected like when coincidence just happened to rear its head in the form a song. Whether it be overhearing a radio, having a friend send a link or following the release of a favorite band’s new album, songs would have a funny way of illuminating that thing you’d been having discomfort for in just the right way at a time that felt appropriate.

I say this is not a conducive way to write if you want to keep writing because I have convinced myself that music is the one and only catalyst. It would be the turnkey to the floodgate of feeling. Recognizing that fact, it left me with basically no agency as a writer. It wasn’t my decision to sit down and write a story anymore, it was a game of chicken with the musical universe on when it would allow me to write because I happened to hear a song that made me think of that one time it took me three hours to travel about two miles.

Waiting around for musical coincidences didn’t used to be so much of a problem in the days of doing absolutely nothing but going to class, reading, then writing about what I read. I'd put a newly discovered song on repeat and let it drive my pencil until a surprising amount of the core content was committed to paper. In a lot of ways, it was an exhaustive process. I’d let the song inform the interpretation of my characters and the conflict they were to experience. It was a focused effort with the only real time limit being my ability to keep listening to the song and maybe a deadline for a first draft. A pencil and paper were always close by and the work continued. In most classes I wrote out of necessity, in others, out of opportunity. Even when I had no idea formed naturally from experience, there were prompts from professors or fellow students that would fuel a wide range of creative output. Lured into a false sense of happiness with my thought processes and workability, I found out when you feel comfortable you should know something is wrong. That something, was sustainability. I had to graduate eventually. When I did, I went to work. And like with every pseudo creative person before me, what creativity I had was pretty much swallowed up by responsibility.

It isn’t all bad. Thankfully, my job actually allows for me to listen to music much of the time. There are a lot of solitary tasks and enough quiet where plugging the headphones in and getting into a groove can be very helpful. Here's what's not so helpful: All of those emotional things that used to only surface under the right musical circumstances still exist. They don't break free as often, but sometimes when getting lost in a series of spreadsheets, an unprocessed fit of sadness will bubble up because Joanna Newsom’s munchkin voice reminds you that yes, you really do have a soulmate and she married a friend of her’s you’d met a few times while dating. Before, that was great. Break out the tears and try not to let them fall on your keyboard too much! I’d sit until the sun lowered beneath the windows and my computer screen was the only source of light in the entire apartment. Now, I'm at work. That spreadsheet is unblinking from the crisp screen and all I want to do is work out this idea for a story about a girl looking into a mirror and recalling trying on her mother's shoes as a six year old. That's it. I continue to listen to the song but it’s more a tantalizing fantasy to get to sit and actually write through it so I can discover.

Postpone it, just postpone it. Jot the name of the song down and it's fine. You'll come back to it. You’ll remember how you felt. No. That poor woman will remain in front of that mirror forever. Those moments can't be recreated. I learned that. I can play the song all I want, doesn't matter. The story of that woman gets hijacked into a story about how I can't write that story. That surprised me a little, but it doesn’t feel as satisfying. Examining being unable to write can be helpful in the sense that it gets you to actually put some words down, but the same sentences tend to work their way in more and more often. Trying to disguise it only makes you feel worse. How many times can you really write “I can’t write.” So eventually the writing stops. Again. Maybe a great line will come up and I’ll have just enough time to open a word document, type it out and save it. I won’t look at it again. The title will probably be Untitled, like everything other document. Dates mean nothing so finding what you’re looking for would be a fool’s errand on its best day. So your creativity rests. You can think of it as hibernating if you believe it’s still there. Instead, you might worry that maybe it just walked off and left you. You can reminisce about how you used to be a great poet or how well received your story was in your workshops, but you know you are a different person now.  

It turns out, for me that isn’t true. I'm just not that creative a person. The circumstances for creation for me are so narrow and so crucial to it’s generation that it's a good thing, probably, I'm not sitting around trying to craft fiction or films anymore. Sometimes that’s tough to take. I dedicated a lot of my time learning to write, and learning to read in a way that would make me a better writer. Sometimes it feels like I should have chosen something else to study. Other times I think it wouldn’t have mattered what I studied because the results would have been the same. I used to think I would try to be the best. It motivated me. Sure, it’s vain and unrealistic, but believing I was good helped make me good. The curtain got pulled away, though, and the truth is that there are so many people better at writing than me. They are so good at it, they can even write when they want to.


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