Saturday, 27 August 2016

Writing a block buster

WARNING: contains self-regarding nonsense

I've been trying to get a game down on paper – on digital I guess – since the weekend and am completely tied up in knots and stressed to fuck about it. Which is completely stupid because a) it shouldn't be this bloody hard and b) nobody asked me to write this, nobody's paying me to write this, nobody knows I want to write this. I made up a rod for my own brain and am now beating myself up with it. I can't move past it and can't resolve it, being a monotasker of singular intensity, which is great when I'm on top of the task at hand – nobody can clear moss out of the paving blocks on a driveway like me – but a complete fucking crippling deadlocked disaster if I'm unable to complete the task. In this case, unable to even bloody start the task. It's in my head, swirling and crashing against my forehead like a scratched CD or the Tasmanian Devil, and I can't resume anything like a normal mental life until I get this sorted. Somehow.


Write what you know, they say, so instead of trying to write the thing that I want to write, I'm going to attempt to use a loophole in my brain's stupid monotasking rules and write about writing about the thing that I want to write. I think meta-writing is allowed. Perhaps by just splurging out every thought I have about my problem I can get this bastard problem out of my head, maybe get the actual thing I want to write about sorted and done and dusted or failing that, at least express my frustrations here in a way that maybe gives me some insight into a way forward, or failing that even, gives me some small satisfaction that I've written something even if it is just this meta-flagellation. Sometimes I think I just need to get a certain word count down and recorded to stop my head from filling up and harming itself. Maybe that's why other people keep diaries and proper writers write. It's not for the fame or to get an idea across or to entertain others. It's to stop their brains from filling up. So I'm just going to start squeezing my mind and get all the idea-pus out and keep squeezing until it all comes out in a jumble and my brain bleeds clear and true. It might empty my brain with no clear useful thoughts set down here, but It Will Be Out Of My Brain, and that is a good thing. For as long as I can remember, I have feared forgetting things. Whether it’s the name of an actor in a TV show, the secret identity of a superhero, or a cool idea for a game I once came up with, the thought of losing that thought is terrifying. Like Dr Hans Zarkov, formerly of NASA, once said: don't take my mind – it's all I have.

So – and I apologise for the overuse of so in this – let's call the problem what it is – block. Writer's block I guess, but that is probably a self-aggrandising term considering I've hardly written anything to get bloody blocked in the first place. It's more like thinker's block at this early stage. It's not like I'm stuck at chapter 7 or anything. How to describe what it feels like? It's like… it's like I have something, part of an idea for a book/game, but not all of it. No, that's a rubbish description. First off this book/game is a Choose Your Own Adventure (CYOA) thing – a very particular sort of writing, which probably doesn't help. A strangely structured story with multiple paths to the ending or multiple endings. It requires story writing skills plus game writing skills and a very particular approach to structuring and balance, as the reader has agency when reading it – they choose to go left or right and are thus invested in the material in a way that differs from passively reading a conventional fiction book from start to finish. It must feel fair to them, like they had enough information to make the right choice or at least feel as if they had a chance of 'winning', if indeed winning is an option, and if it isn't I suppose that I ought to state that in the introduction to the CYOA.

But I'm straying here – what I'm supposed to be doing it describing my thinker's block. OK, so I've an idea for a CYOA. I got this idea at the weekend, possible on Sunday. Probably in the bath, which is a terrible cliché but it does work for me sometimes. As does going to the loo or doing the washing up. Enforced 'creative thinking time sat in front of the laptop' is sometimes the very last thing I should do. Anyway, it had been a semi-unsatisfactory weekend for various stupid reasons; hours spent searching for a computer security reader so that an online game could be played, guilt at not organising my time enough to visit my family for a couple of hours, frustration at trying to do some relaxing model painting only to discover that some of the paint had dried up and the brushes were manky, and sadness that someone seems to have replaced my formerly excellent close-up eyes with old person's eyes which go all blurry when I bring a model up close to paint. In many ways I am the opposite of Colin the Forger from The Great Escape played by Donald Pleasance. I can't see close up to work and people six feet away are not a blur.

So I was frustrated and feeling unproductive. Unproductive is bland word. Maybe worthless. Stupid, right? But if I haven't achieved useful things every day I feel rubbish and black sadness starts to creep in. I refuse to name it the D word because I think that makes it real. Also I dislike the metaphor of the Black Dog because I like dogs and it in no way feels like a dog to me. If I had to describe or characterise it, I would call it the Tar Pit, sans woolly rhinos (a reference which will only make sense if you had an Aurora model kit in the 70s), because it's deep and cloying and sucks me in and makes it hard to breathe.

Actually that's probably worth mentioning – I'm finding it hard to catch my breath. The air quality this summer in our area has been shite. I'm on the Ventolin several times a day which is very unusual for me. It occurred to me this week that being slightly short of breath all day is almost certainly a sure way to experience constant low level anxiety. The perfect breeding ground for other problems.

Sorry, I still haven't described the block. What it's like… It's like there's an idea or a bunch of ideas crashing around in my head, but they're all only partly formed. I can't catch onto to one without it melting away the moment I turn my attention to it, like trying to grab your reflection in water – a lazy metaphor I must have pinched from somewhere. I am unable to focus, to concentrate. The sheer, sheer pressure of wanting to get it down on digital and out of my head is interfering with my ability to calmly organise it mentally. I simply can't hold a thought about the CYOA long enough to get it all out. Sure, I've made an attempt – I've got a small 2-page word doc knocking around that I started to write this week, and a 3 minute voice memo on my phone. I guess they indicate some sort of progress, but it's nothing like the coherent 'story ideas' I've seen written down in – I dunno – Alan Moore scripts.

That's another thing – I get very depressed that (shit – sorry – I used the D word) as soon as I have an idea of an idea I think that it can't possibly be as good as something Alan Moore or indeed any professional writer could write, and I get very intimidated and the spectre of failure creeps in. I mean, there are so many writers out there, people who wrote their first Victorian detective story at the kitchen table before getting the kids off to school, or down the pub in the evenings. How come those people can do it, and I can't? I don’t have kids to worry about or even a very demanding job. Christ, I've hardly had anything to do at the office the last two days and could easily have skived it, writing the CYOA right there in the office quietly, but no - I couldn't. I'm too caught up in the block and panic about the block and frustration and Tar Pitness - Tar Pity? - about the panic.

What is the block like? It starts off not as a block but as the initial surge of the idea in the bath, something that is a feeling of an idea that could be a cool thing to write – a general emotional impression of the sort of thing I want to do (a choose your own dinner party, if you can believe such a ludicrous thing). It's like a surging fire inside, a wave of Feeling and Idea that if I can just surf the crest of and think it through to its complete shape, I can get it down on paper and out of my head and feel happy about it. Christ, I think as long as I got the idea out of my head and on digital, I would probably be OK if I didn't actually write the whole thing out properly, just a structure from start to end and the characters and so on. So I was surfing this wave of creativity, feeling it inside me, getting out of the bath and then, I dunno, I lost it. I fell off the wave and it rushed past me and I've been trying to catch up with it ever since. The wave is in me and rushing past me. It's like a merry go round spinning far too fast in front of me. When I was on it, it was fine, I was going at the same speed as it and it was all good, but then I fell off or threw myself off and now it's far too fast for me to jump back on. I keep trying and reaching out my hand and I cling on for a few minutes and start to get up to speed but then I slip off again and the merry go round keeps rushing around and around in front of me. I can't turn away from it or turn it off. I need to get back on it or I need it to be gone like it was never there.

Now I could at this point mention how I have trouble knuckling down to work on things like this. How the washing up and sorting out my comic boxes and watering the plants seems like being productive. Hell, it is productive, just not productive on the thing that is most important to me – writing something, creating something. I will leave nothing else in this life but the things I write. I don't build buildings, or make movies or save lives or have babies. When I am gone there will be nothing left of me but words and ideas. And if I don't get them down then I will limp through life knowing that I have wasted my time and added nothing, left nothing. My mind is all I have. But sometimes I think it hates me.

Sorry, that all got a bit dark. So, the block. It's whirling and bouncing and yelling in my head. I have bits of ideas for this fucking CYOA but I can't get it sorted and coherent enough to the point where the merry go round runs smoothly to its conclusion, slows down and goes quiet. So let's call a temporary halt to all this navel gazing and meta shit and look unblinkingly at the idea and try to get it down. I'll just bung it all down in any order so that hopefully a lot of the jigsaw puzzle pieces are at least on the table. Then maybe I can see them all in one go and start to rearrange them, find the edge pieces at least and maybe make up some of the missing corner bits.

Oh lookee – I've written over 2000 words of whiny crap in 58 minutes. Yaaay.

I really should have ended this on the 'I think it hates me' bit, as that is kind of cool, but I really did go on to write another 3000 odd words on the actual game, which I have not shown here, just in case I get the bastard thing written. At the time of posting this up, it's still not written, but I have at least started it. The Tar Pit still has me in its clutches, but I am reaching spastically for a handy vine to pull myself out. Or is that a quicksand metaphor?

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