Writers on Writing #50: Michael J. Pagán
En Route to the Island
“Patricia: You mean, you were diagnosed with something called a ‘Brain Cloud’ and didn’t ask for a second opinion?” ~ Joe Versus the Volcano
Inspiration is a myth.
And so is Writer’s Block.
Actually, they both kind of remind me of that all-time favorite relationship cop out: “I love [Insert Name Here], I’m just not in love with them.” It’s deceptive and confusing. It’s also astonishingly convenient. Why can’t lovers admit when they’ve reached that point when they just can’t stand being around each other anymore? In my opinion, it has nothing to do with love. It has everything to do with obligation.
So, why can’t writers admit when they just don’t feel like writing a damn thing? Say it out loud: “I need a break! I love to write, I just don’t feel like being around it right now. I need to take a mental health day/month/year.” Don’t go blaming it on some imaginary condition. If you’re gonna go blame it on something, at least be creative about it, no?
“Inspiration,” as well as “Writer’s Block,” are convenient to those who believe that writers somehow spend their entire careers de-atomizing things—selectively plucking out of the ether molecules of thought, ideas, images, scenes, etc., that haven’t been discovered yet, then gifting them to the world as if they’ve discovered some new technology or vaccine.
Writers don’t do that.
If anything, we simply remind ourselves.
The creative mind (brain death or severe brain trauma being the exception, of course) doesn’t just shut off, automatically defaulting to its own cute little lock screen with the picture of the Panda or the funny hamster or the Liam Neeson quote from Taken: “I don’t know who you are. But I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you,” forcing you to have to scramble for days/weeks/months/years trying to figure out the doubleplussecret security code your brain somehow got past you. We don’t hack into our own brains in order to access the creativity inside—you’re creative all the time, not just when you (or your brain) want to be. The question is: are you disciplined enough to transcribe it?
“Creativity,” “Inspiration,” “Talent” (or whatever the hell else you choose to name it) is bred out of circumstance, pressure and opportunity. One of the most insightful things I’ve heard an artist say came from Tom Cruise while visiting The Actor’s Studio, saying something along the lines of: “If I walk on set and I’m tired, I just accept that I’m tired and tell myself, ‘My character is tired. Let’s explore that. Let’s see where that takes me.'”
If you feel you can’t write, don’t write. See where that takes you.
You put in enough time into writing and you realize quickly that all that other theoretical nonsense is pregame. It all ends when you put finger to keyboard. All that other mess resides in the idea/theory department, not in the practical. After that, it’s all habit and muscle memory. That’s really how you get your money’s worth out of an MFA program—developing habits.
Everyone says you should write every day even though in reality you can’t—unless, of course, you’ve got enough ducats to not do nothing except write and still have a means to pay all your bills—so forget that nonsense. Instead, collect. Like I said before, you’re creative all the time, that’s how our brains are wired. So, pick up your figurative canvas bag and handy dandy pick-up tool and start hoarding scraps of images, dialogue, scenes, shapes, whatever, until you remind, or re-remind, yourself of what it was you wanted to write about. It doesn’t have to function chronologically. It doesn’t have to fit into that piece you’re currently working on. It could be that missing bit for a poem or short story you stashed aside because it felt incomplete, or the bud for a new piece you haven’t bothered to concentrate on just yet. The point is: we all carry an idea of what we’d like to write about, we just don’t quite know how to put it into words yet until we actually rediscover the words. After that, it’s just about putting them in their proper order.
And do yourself a favor: don’t fool yourself into thinking that words are elements that, if mixed irresponsibly, can produce explosive chemicals. If it doesn’t seem to work, hit the Backspace key and do it again until it works.
Born and raised in Miami, Florida, Michael J. Pagán spent four years (1999-2003) in the United States Navy before (hastily) running back to college during the spring of 2004. He currently resides in Deerfield Beach, Florida, with his wife and daughter where he continues to work on his poetry, short fiction, and his first stage play. A graduate of Florida Atlantic University's Creative Writing MFA program, his poetry, fiction, non-fiction and drama have appeared in The Rumpus, DIAGRAM, Pacifica Literary Review, Spork Press, Requited, Verse, The Nervous Breakdown, The Coachella Review, and BlazeVOX, among others.