I was originally going to title this post 'A New Cure For Writers' Block'. But really, it's not a new cure, for either the world in general, or myself. You've heard me talk about it before; the cure is simple: listen to your characters.
But it occurs to me that the principle involved has so many more applications, and can be summed up in just one word: listen.
Most of us are not so crash hot at the concept of listening. The fact that it's a primary skill taught in relationship seminars speaks to this point. Sure, we hear other people talking, and we can repeat back a rough idea of what they've said, and we can even respond appropriately, but how often do we actually listen?
Listening is hard. It requires focussing completely on the speaker, clearing your mind of everything but what they're trying to convey. No wandering off onto tangents of your own, no pondering what you're going to say next as soon as they finish speaking; just listening.
One of the primary reasons we're so bad at listening is the kind of world we live in, where minute-long soundbites are six times too long and an article nearing a thousand words is more like an essay. We're used to doing ten things at once - we call it 'multi-tasking', and we're proud of it.
As I type, I'm also half-watching The Flintstones on tv, I'm chatting to my baby sister via gtalk, I'm discussing puppy care with my husband, looking up a timetable on the school intranet, and uploading photos to my webalbums. I also have my email inbox open, a short story I'm editing, the spreadsheet that reminds me I need to weigh the puppies, and a host of writing related articles to read. Oh yeah, and Twitter.
Is it any wonder, then, that we struggle to really listen?
I mean, seriously. I'm a writer. I know I need to listen to my characters. I know my characters should have personalities that are well-rounded and unique and individual, and that motivate all of their actions. I know this. I know that this requires listening to them, letting them be.
So why am I so bad at doing it? Why, every time I butt my head against another wall in my story, does it take me forever to remember to stop, breathe, relax, listen?
I think there's a clue in what I said about the kind of society we live in. Our lives are so fast paced, we're conditioned to believe that everything can happen at the click of a button or the speed of thought. I sit down to write, and I expect that the words will be there, waiting for me - and if they're not, I get restless, dissatisfied, think I'm doing something wrong.
I procrastinate, because I know it will take me fifteen minutes or so of concentrating on writing for things to start flowing each day, and fifteen minutes seems like a Really Long Time.
But here's the thing: Creativity takes time.
It takes time for ideas to filter through our mind, for connections to be made, ideas to be formed. It takes time for these things to consolidate, to shape themselves into more than ephemerality, to live.
It takes time.
So I need to remember to give it time. I need to slow down. In the scheme of things, fifteen minutes isn't that long; and it's certainly less time than the hours I can fritter away through procrastination otherwise.
Turning off the distractions doesn't help; if I'm not committed to sitting down and pushing through those fifteen minutes, I'll find other things to keep me occupied - dishes, dinner, tidying, puppies...
As writers, it's so tempting to look around and see how much progress other writers are making, and to let that get us down. I need to work faster, I need to work harder......
Well, maybe. But that's only going to happen if first, I slow down.