In a desperate attempt to literally think my way out of my writing slump, I’ve been reading a lot of books about writing lately. This was my least favorite thing to do for any English course ever, middle school to graduate classes, which is not to say that I didn’t learn anything. I just thought I didn’t need to learn anything from these books that good old trial-and-error wouldn’t teach me.
Well, now trial-and-error has driven me to wild-eyed insomnia and just typing “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” alone in my bedroom while I pretend to write the best novel ever. It has also made me hyperbolic.
So lately I’ve been reading Stephen King’s On Writing and Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing (link will take you to a free PDF version of the book!). They are both a joy to read precisely because they do not try to break down the writing process or list dictionary definitions of different writing techniques. (If you’re interested in that, I highly recommend Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose. Just for kicks, I also recommend this weird list of writing tips from various writers.)
Now, I’m not sure either of these are moving me to passionate heights of writing, but they’re fun and happy because, man, these guys are in love with what they do. That’s good enough for me for now. I am still in love with what I do when not crippled by self-doubt. The key seems to be to just not think about where this writing is going. To just write.
That said, there is a section in Bradbury’s book that did captivate me enough to want to try something new. In the essay entitled, “Run Fast, Stand Still, or The Thing at the Top of the Stairs, or New Ghosts from Old Minds,” Bradbury talks about writing down “brief notes and descriptions of loves and hates…sensing that there somewhere in the bright and dark seasons must be something that was really me.” These lists, written down, fed Bradbury’s subconscious as he began new stories. He says:
“I finally figured out that if you are going to step on a live mine, make it your own. Be blown up, as it were, by your own delights and despairs.”
Bradbury’s lists are filled with things like: “THE LAKE. THE NIGHT. […] THE NIGHT TRAIN. [… THE DWARF. THE MIRROR MAZE. THE SKELETON.” From these lists, he’d pick one or a few and then write a “long prose-poem-essay” that would eventually turn into a story.
Having been distracted by side projects (and life), I thought it would be fun for Chebk and I to make some short lists of our own. It never hurts to have a few short stories in the wings and short stories is mostly what Chebk has time for, what with all the other top-secret work she’s been doing for Comic Con Honolulu. (In fact, she is sewing now as I type and distract her by asking her for her list.)
Things I like to write about, usually: LGBTQAI in love with other LGBTQAI. Fairy tale renditions. Creepy forests, with or without snow. Things to do with water. Too much thinking. Mental health survival.
My list: The graveyard in the middle of the city. The Ferris Wheel. The beach after the storm. The three girls on the bus. The paper plate. The prophet. The succulent garden. The guava tree.
Things Chebk likes to write about, usually: Female protagonists. Fantasy and action. Science! Brilliant underdogs beating the odds. Being awesome. Overcoming failures.
Her list: The glasses. The balloon. The costume. The middle of the volcano fields. The dieselpunk. The underwater. The hot boy.
We’ll see if this yields anything in the next few months. I’ll try to update on my writing processes in the upcoming month, as well as a few book reviews, including Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman. We will also finally be able to reveal more of Chebk’s projects towards the end of July.
In closing, I leave you with one last Bradbury’s words to get you through your own lists:
“I leave you now at the bottom of your own stair, at half after midnight, with a pad, a pen, and a list to be made. Conjure the nouns, alert the secret self, taste the darkness. Your own Thing stands waiting ‘way up there in the attic shadows. If you speak softly, and write any old word that wants to jump out of your nerves onto the page…
Your Thing at the top of your stairs in your own private night…may well come down.”
What would be on your list, writers? Let us know in the comments!