I recently ran across one of those test-your-knowledge clickbait pages on Facebook — the kind that offers a series of multiple choice questions and hypes that only a genius can answer more than half the questions correctly. This one quizzed the user’s knowledge of art, displaying an array of well-known paintings and asking the participant to guess the correct title for each.
Normally, I would scroll on past. But being a one-time fine arts student, I couldn’t resist playing. Not surprisingly, the works were so recognizable that a third-grader could have aced it. But it did make me take note, for the first time, that history’s greatest creative masters didn’t seem to waste much time looking for clever titles to give their works. Girl with a Pearl Earring. Starry Night. The Last Supper. The Water Lily Pond. Whistler’s Mother. The Scream. Lady Writing a Letter with her Maid.
No clever word play. No mystery. What you see is the title you get. These artists had no time to entertain you with piquant descriptions. The flavor is in on the canvas, and will not be dressed up with witty gallery wall placards.
I’m not sure writers have that luxury. After all, the written word is our art. But I do think we can become too consumed with churning out ever-increasingly shrewd observations wrapped in sparkling prose. And that drive, in turn, can lead to what would otherwise be a productive day of composing simple, honest observations ending instead in writer’s block and procrastination.
I know all about such dawdling. I’ve spent much of the last year wallowing in it.
My last entry on this blog was nearly a year ago, when I promised a published novel sometime in June. It was too ambitious a goal, and I knew it. My strategy in announcing a publishing date was a ploy meant to force me into whipping it into shape sooner than later.
The ploy backfired.
Instead of pushing me to meet my own self-imposed deadline, it left me paralyzed. I put off the edits it desperately needed. When I did get around to them, I edited mercilessly, suddenly unhappy with all of it. It felt as though all the progress I had made was being carried off by a riptide of doubt and inaction, and all my attempts to fight it left me too exhausted to do better. Worse, I allowed my misgivings to interrupt my writing.
A daily routine of writing is necessary for me to keep on task. Missing a day of writing makes me feel bad about myself. It makes me feel lazy and unproductive. The only thing worse than feeling lazy and unproductive is feeling untalented and clumsy. Which is why I had been procrastinating in the first place. And led me to feeling even more inept. I recently confessed this downward spiral to my grown daughter.
“I couldn’t think of one clever thing to say today,” I griped. “I’m a hack.”
“You are not a hack,” she insisted. I could hear the eye roll. “Why do you have to be clever?”
Because, I thought, who’s going to bother reading something that’s not clever?
“You don’t have to always be on, you know,” she said. “Some days, it’s ok to just wake up and read. Or take a walk. Or do nothing. Or, to write something that isn’t the most profound thing you’ve ever written.”
She may be on to something.
Surely it’s better to write something, even if it’s not your best work, than to produce nothing more than another blank page. Because even if the something is not your best work, it serves to exercise the creative muscle that will otherwise atrophy.
With that in mind, I’m working — slowly, steadily — to stay on track, writing in my free time for both this blog and another and working on the novel, which has a new working title of Gumshoe (it had been Good Old-fashioned Shoe Leather). As penance for leaving a number of readers hanging, I plan to publish a second excerpt of it here — essentially, the second chapter — in the coming days.
I don’t want to make the same mistake of promising a publishing date for Gumshoe. But I will go out on a limb and say I plan to seek your advice in the coming weeks on what works and what doesn’t, starting with the change in title. More on that later, though.
For now, in this age of pandemics and social distancing, I remain A Woman Writing at Home.