Michael Haskins

Friday, January 18, 2008

Here a Muse, there a Muse, everywhere but with me, a Muse

Writers’ block. What is it? And, do I have it?

I am probably within 50 pages of finishing my sequel to “Chasin’ the Wind,”Free Range Institution – and haven’t written in weeks! I have re-read the manuscript twice, making changes in it and I know where it’s going and how it ends; I know who the good-guy that turns out to be a bad-guy is. I like it and think it’s good.

I sit and stare at the screen that holds two pages of the chapter I can’t seem to finish, even though I know what happens. I have never had this problem before. Oh, I’ve been stuck because I’d written myself into a situation I couldn’t get out of. But not this time. I know where it’s going, but that ever-important next sentence won’t come.

It’s Friday and I am afraid to go home and face the computer screen. Key West has been my Muse for more than 10 years and she has blessed me. Where is she now? Is this a form of depression? Is there a Muse pill I can take? Is there a shrink who can explain why she left and let me know if she’ll come back?

I escape to my refuge, the Hog’s Breath Saloon, in Old Town. Everyone’s friendly. Bruce Issacson is playing alone for the second time since Red died from a heart attack during the holidays. Many local musicians will show up and sit in with Bruce. We all loved Red. He and Tim Carter are the best fiddlers whoever came here. I would’ve paid money to watch Red and Tim fiddle together. It won’t happen, now.

I sit with my back to the parking lot, the stage to my left. Boston Frank is the bartender and he brings me a Jameson on the rocks.

“Can I have bottled water, Frank?” I ask, taking the drink.

Frank brings me the water and an ashtray. I smile my thank you and listen to Bruce as he tunes up, alone on a small stage and he looks small, up there alone. Locals have filled the outdoor area and yell encouragement to him.

This is a refuge because I observe talk and characteristics in people – locals and tourists – that will find their way into my writing. I make rapids notes as some half-drunk tourist tries to pick up a girl. She’s with friends and I wonder what would happen if he was successful. I make a note on the page: what would happen if . . .

There’s a guy across the bar I’m watching. He inhales his cigarette smoke, exhales, takes a sip of beer, and then scratches his nose. Does the beer tickle him? He does it each time he drinks. Inhale, exhale, drink, scratch.

A another guy sits with his back to the bar and stares into the parking lot. Who is he waiting for? His wife, a girlfriend, a buddy with money from the ATM? He fondles his beer bottle and sips. He’s wearing an obscene T-shirt from one of the Israeli T-shirt shops on Duval Street.

I make notes on all this.

“No cigar,” Frank asks, noticing no cigar and that my drink appears untouched because the ice has melted and replaced what little I drank. “Is it Lent already?”

During Lent, I often give up either drinking or cigars. One year I gave up both. Friends told me later that I was a holy terror for 40-days and 40-nights! I thought I’d done well. I can give up drinking easier than giving up my cigars, but today, without my Muse, and maybe with writers’ block, I had no desire for either. I wanted to write.

“Naw, Frank, I’m tryin’ to keep a clear mind for the long weekend,” I lie.

“I’m in the next book, right?”

“You’re in the first one,” I lie again.

He smiles and leaves to wait on a customer.

“Finding characters?” Art, the manager asks, as he stands behind me and looks at my notebook.

“Something like that. How’s the writing going?”

A few months back, Art read one of my short stories and decided if I could write and drink at the Hog, he could probably write better than me.

“I think I have writers’ block,” he frowns and sits down. “You ever get it?”

“Not me.” I assure him.

“I just can’t get my idea from my head to the computer screen.”

“Finger exercises,” I say and drum my fingers on the bar as if I was typing. “It loses them up.”

“Really?” Art types on the bar.

“That and read and work on your notes.”

“Not enough time in the day,” he says and types. “Puts a little feeling into the fingers.”

“Exactly,” I say and smile.

“You make it look easy,” he says slowly. He stops typing. “You’ve got one book published and you’re done with the second one. I don’t know how you do it. Where do you find the time?”

“You make it,” I grin. “You get up an hour early, you take your notebook to lunch, you skip your favorite TV show at night. You do it, because it’s more important than sleep or food or TV.”

“Sounds like you give up life,” Art mumbles. “I didn’t know about all that.”

“You trade one life for another, Art. But, if you need to think about it, maybe it’s not what you’re supposed to do,” I tell him. “If writing isn’t what drives you, you’re not a writer. It’s not about sales – though sales are good – it’s about writing, turning that idea in your head into words.”

“I won’t bother you,” he says and stands up. “I know how important those notes are. Thanks for the advice.” He walks away.

I put money on the bar and walk out through the T-shirt shop. I want to go home and write. I’d find her, my Muse, she was just playing hard to get, but I’d find her.


Terry Odell said...

I have trouble writing when I know exactly what's going to happen. Probably why I'm not a meticulous plotter. Nora Roberts, if I am allowed to quote a romance writer here said, more or less, you can't wait for your muse. You have to wrestle her to the ground.

Nancy said...

Hi Michael,
This is your Book Muse editor, member of your sailing crew and friend: Stop sniveling and finish your manuscript. And don't blame it on your muse--I may take it personally. And who needs a hurricane?

Declan Burke said...

For what it's worth, there's a syndrome that should be called 'fear of finishing' ... because once you do, what're you going to do with your time? Are you ever going to come up with another story? What if the story isn't as good on the page as it was in your head (which it rarely is)? Etc., ad nauseum ... It's the writing equivalent of 'the wall' in marathon-running ... just grit your teeth, write the rubbish out of your system, then go back in and finish it. Cheers, Dec

Jess said...

I popped over from Sandra's blog to see what you had to say. Well... depressing, but mainly because your post identified MY problem. I've lost my passion for writing. Years ago I was on fire for telling my stories. Today, it just seems like a hassle. I listened to a telecast today where a couple of editors commented that 200,000 books a year are pubbed. I look at my little romantic suspense and I think--what's the point? I'm not saying anything that couldn't be said a helluvalot better by someone else. :(

Okay... I'm really depressed now.

Sandra Scoppettone said...

The problem you're having is not the same as mine. I wish I had something to finish. I can't get started and I don't want to get started. I feel I can't do this anymore...can't write. You'll finish eventually. I wish you luck.

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