Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Wobbles

Sharon Wildwind

(Sharon is unable to post this week due to a death in the family, so her blog sisters have chosen one of her most popular posts from last year for a rerun. Enjoy!)

Walt Wingfield, the Toronto stock broker turned farmer, hero of a series of plays by Dan Needles, has problems with everything rural. The neighbors. The weather. The horses. The poultry, especially the poultry. When he phones the vet about a set of mysterious symptoms his ducks are exhibiting, the vet replies knowingly, “Looks like you’ve got yourself a case of the wobbles, Mr. Wingfield.”

Writers get the wobbles, too. There I am, clicking along, dialog flowing, sense of place established, texture developing, stakes rising nicely, and then, bamm . . . . In one cold, terrifying instant I’m standing on the edge of a frightening precipice, called “The Book.” Whatever possessed me think I could write a book? A book is over 300 pages; 90,000 words; 550,000 individual key strokes, and that’s just for the first draft.

Never mind I’ve already written six books and published three of them. Never mind that I have more ideas waiting in the wings than I’ll use in this lifetime. Never mind that the characters are my friends. Never mind that I have a deadline. My writing muse has the wobbles and that’s that.

The wobbles aren’t the same thing as writer’s block. There’s nothing wrong with my creativity. I know the next thing that has to happen is for Meg Porter to snub the exhausted mother with two toddlers, then regret it and try to make amends and be uncomfortable with the mother’s gratitude. I know that with my rear end planted firmly in my chair and my fingers on the keyboard long enough, I can write exactly that. The problem is, I no longer want to be a writer.

I don’t want to spend hours every day creating make-believe worlds and stressing my characters to the breaking point. I don’t want to fret over contracts, or become dyspeptic about reviews, or mull over marketing plans, or make the dozens of decisions a writer has to make every week. Plain-and-simple, I’m fed up with being a writer.

It’s important to treat the wobbles quickly. That’s why Walt has the vet on his speed dial. When my muse has the wobbles, she wants comfort food. Macaroni-and-cheese. Baked chicken. Cornbread. Taco chips. She wants music, instrumental only, full of swelling arpeggios and grand climaxes. Wolfgang Korngold is good. So is Spanish flamenco music, or Elliot Goldenthal’s sound track from the movie, Michael Collins. Colors and textures help, too, whether it’s building a quilt or beading a purse. Or just walking, heading out with no destination in mind and walking and walking until I’ve walked the wobbles away.

If you have a chance to see any of the Wingfield Farms plays, by all means do so. Ron Beattie, who plays Walt and all of the other characters, is superb. A writer can learn a lot about timing by watching him. You can also buy audio or video recordings (http://www.execulink.com/~lmjost/). I recommend the video versions because this is such a visual performance. Oh, and I wouldn’t bond too closely with the ducks, if I were you.


Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Great post, Sharon. I suspect it's the wobbles when I sit down at the keyboard every morning and think "I can't!" I did it yesterday, I'll do it tomorrow, so chances are I can do it today too.
But every single morning I have to change "I can't!" into "I think I can...I think I can" like the Little Engine That Could and get those fingers onto the keys--in other words, straighten out those wobbles.

Julia Buckley said...

I think we all get the wobbles--good metaphor, Sharon.

I saw in your profile that your book of the month is BUSMAN'S HONEYMOON--what a terrific choice! I used to teach it in a mystery class, and I loved it.

Sandra Parshall said...

I live pretty much in a permanent state of the wobbles. I never believe I can do it, that I can finish a book, and I certainly never believe I'll be able to do it AGAIN if I finish this one. But Sue Grafton has admitted that when she finishes a book, she's positive it will be her last because she can't imagine writing another one. We're in good company.

Lonnie Cruse said...

Well, what's that famous saying? "Weebles wobble but they don't fall down?" Writers don't fall down either. But Sharon, it felt so good to read that you share the same scary feelings! Thanks for sharing so much of yourself.

Signed, A Fellow Weeble

Judy Clemens said...

Don't we all get to that point, also, when we've finished our first draft, re-written a time or two, and are so SICK of the book that we just KNOW it sucks and no one will EVER want to read it? That happens to me with each book I write. Scary, and frustrating. I guess we have to have faith that our writing couldn't have gone COMPLETELY down hill since our last book. Thanks, Sharon!

Sandra Parshall said...

Oh, Judy, I know that sick-of-it feeling so well. I am flat-out astonished to learn that anybody finds what I've written worth reading! I still have all the questions and confusion in my head, and it's hard to believe that it isn't all right there on the page for everyone to see.

Anonymous said...

It's so good to hear we're all in the same boat. My husband has this routine for when "'m going on about I can't or everything his horrible. He looks at his watch and says, "Yep, right on time. Now get back to work."