Reluctant Poet (on writer’s block)

 

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The following is one of the first poems I ever wrote, back in those voice-finding days when I still believed in writer’s block. A bit melodramatic but accurate, which is more than I can say about many of my poems from back then. 

I had a conversation with an interesting fellow recently who said he was plagued by writer’s block and asked me what the cure was. I told him his belief in it was making it real. The world is full of interesting things to write about. All one needs to do is watch the news, talk to a neighbor, look out the window, sit in on a courtroom, read a newspaper (if you can find one), read a well-written book, or file through the thousands of memories each one of us has. With all this to draw from, how can anyone ever run out of stories?

This poem, when I wrote it, was about writer’s block, but what it was about more specifically was writing the things we know we must. The hard stuff most people spend their lives avoiding and burying. This is why authors and artists of any kind are celebrated, and should be – because they give freedom to the multitudes trapped within themselves, without the desire, ability, or perhaps the courage to excavate these emotions in themselves. As Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “In every work of genius, we recognize our own rejected thoughts.”

 

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Reluctant Poet

Words bound
through darkened corridors of my mind
like coy lovers daring me to catch them.
But I do not follow.
The darkness frightens me.
I do not follow.
I am safe in the light.
Safe from the worlds
they might open to me.
I accept myself, a fool,
until frustration with this half-life
erodes the empty shell of comfort,
forcing me to venture out,
to gape into the horrible blackness
I created
and groping, search
for what I really am
beneath the tortured, questioning facade
of awareness.

 

“Begin to write in the dumb, awkward way an animal cries out in pain, and there you will find your intelligence, your words, your voice.” (Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg)

Smash writer’s block by writing one line. It will lead to another, and another, and another, naturally following each other. Every book and poem you’ve read and every movie you’ve seen were written that way – one line at a time.

So when someone tells me they’re plagued by writer’s block, I assume that a) they’re being artsy and playing writer, b) they’re looking for excuses not to write instead of reasons to write, and c) they’re not paying close enough attention to the great, big, wide, throbbing world, to humanity, which is always bursting with stories. The hard part is choosing which ones you will devote large portions of your life to. I tell those plagued by writer’s block to stop thinking about it and it will evaporate like the fantasy it is.

People Every Writer Should Know About #1 – Joseph Campbell

 

This is the first of what will be a series of posts about great writers and others who writers can learn from. I intend to learn from these as I post them, too. After all, when we stop learning, we start dying.  

Anyone who wants to write fiction or find their own true path in life should read everything they can get their hands on by this man – Joseph Campbell.

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He wrote a couple of books –  

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He may be among the top three authors who answered the deepest questions anyone could ever ask, about religion, mythology, writing, and their own inner nature.

He said some cool stuff. Stuff that not only inspires but saves you from the soul poisons of anger, blame, resentment, etc.

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Find-a-place-inside-where-theres-joy-and-the-joy-will-burn-out-the-pain.

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But I think my favorite is this one –  

“We have not even to risk the adventure alone for the heroes of all time have gone before us. The labyrinth is thoroughly known – we have only to follow the thread of the hero path. And where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a God. And where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves. Where we had thought to travel outwards, we shall come to the center of our own existence. And where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world.”

Jonathan Young’s interpretations of one of Joseph Campbell’s main philosophies is pretty good, too.

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He is valuable to a writer because in his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces, he described the elements that tie together most great stories. Here’s a chart – 

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The book to start with is this one –

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It’s an interview in the 1980’s between journalist Bill Moyers and JC. It is extraordinary. A friend I urged to read it once told me she felt as if she were “coming home” – like it tied together everything she had studied up to that point.

Like most geniuses, Campbell had a way of charting the obvious, or what feels obvious once we’re made aware of it – things we knew but didn’t know we knew about storytelling, movies, religion, and the inner workings of our own hearts and minds. 

It’s important for writers to write what they know and what they feel compelled to write, but it’s also important to know the elements and, okay I’ll say it, formula that makes a story great. We don’t need to adhere to this formula slavishly. In fact, doing so can make a screenplay predictable and even boring. But if we deviate from the basic elements of the hero’s journey, we do so at our own peril.

Here’s an even simpler breakdown – 

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These elements are defined very thoroughly here – http://www.movieoutline.com/articles/the-hero-journey-mythic-structure-of-joseph-campbell-monomyth.html

Thanks for joining me on this particular “journey.” Please look for future posts titled “People Every Writer Should Know About.” 

I hope you write a best-selling novel, hit movie, or timeless poem, and I hope this post and the others in this series help you get there.