The Creativity Vortex – Some Thoughts On Writing Brought To You By Harper Lee And Carl Douglas
Everyone who writes for a living- or even just as a hobby- inevitably ends up locked in a cycle. That cycle is a cycle of thought, and it goes something like this:
Step 1) Maybe I’m not too bad at this. Perhaps I’ll share it with the world.
Step 2) You know what, I’m really pretty good at this.
Step 3) Er…actually, it looks like I’m not as good at this as I thought I was.
Step 4) Oh my God, I’m a fucking fraud and I’m going to be found out any minute now!
Step 5) See Step 1
And so on and so forth. It’s a bit like the sentiment behind that song that goes “Eat, Sleep, Rave, Repeat. Eat, Sleep, Rave, Repeat.” It’s also equally annoying, equally pointless and equally bad for your health.
Most writers go through this rigmarole over and over again- often on an hour by hour basis- until they just give up through mental exhaustion or until they breathe their last breath. Though some writers – despite an initial success- get stuck on the “Oh my God, I’m a fucking fraud” stage and never put pen to paper again.
The prime example of this is Harper Lee. In 1960, she published “To Kill A Mockingbird”. It was an instant hit and won a Pulitzer Prize. Then she never wrote another word. In that way, “To Kill A Mockingbird” was the literary equivalent of Carl Douglas’ one-hit-wonder “Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting.”
This song was a hit, despite the fact it was very clear that everybody was not, in fact, Kung Fu fighting. Likewise, “Mockingbird” was a hit, despite the fact that small-town white lawyers were not, in fact, exactly falling over each to stand up against racially motivated railroading. Certainly not 1960, when the novel was written, and definitely not in the 1930’s, when the novel is actually set.
Having said that, Harper Lee has just released another novel. It’s called “Go Set A Watchman”. It doesn’t count though. She wrote it before she wrote “To Kill A Mockingbird.” In fact, it’s the manuscript that her wily editor got her to rewrite and repackage as “Mockingbird” anyway, so perhaps publishing it was not such a good idea. The “new” book portrays Atticus Finch as a racist rather than a doomed-to-fail-but-going-to-try-anyway knight in shining armour. And wily editors don’t get you to rewrite entire manuscripts for no good reason.
Carl Douglas did a follow up track to “Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting” called “Dance The Kung Fu”. Same theme, different concept. We shall just have to see how Harper Lee’s “same theme, different concept” book is judged by posterity. Reviews so far have been mixed. By that, I mean genuinely mixed, not the journalistic sense of “mixed”, which actually means “terrible”.
If you are a writer and you don’t want to be remembered for one single piece of literature, as Harper Lee has been up until a couple of days ago, then there are three options available to you.
First option: keep following steps 1 to 5 that I described at the beginning of this post until the thought cycle gathers pace and whips itself up into a sort of Creativity Vortex. Allow that vortex to suck you under and simply give up and don’t write anything ever again. I wouldn’t recommend this option. The desire to write is a sort of illness and just shutting your eyes and hoping it goes away is like hoping to make your diabetes go away by refusing to take your insulin.
Second option: accept that the thought cycle is just part of having the kind of brain that doesn’t want the body it inhabits to earn its living by doing any heavy lifting. Just keep plugging away and trying to promote yourself, even if you often think that there is nothing to promote. Even if you never sell a word, at least you’ll still be doing that thing that you love. Even though you may not love it all of the time.
Third and final option. Get stuck on the “Oh my God, I’m a fucking fraud” step of the mental cycle. Realize the fact you are stuck there is because you are a fraud who couldn’t write your way out of a paper bag. Then say to yourself “Fuck it. I don’t care if I am a fraud. I’m going to do this anyway.”
Let’s be honest, you’ll be in some pretty illustrious company if you plump for this third and final option. Some of the most successful writers in the world can’t write for toffee either. JK Rowling, Dan Brown, George RR Martin. All Terrible. But they do have stories to tell and the public at large clearly want to hear those stories. So, despite their literary limitations, these writers go ahead and tell the stories anyway.
Follow in their footsteps and you could make a fortune. Yeah, you’ll be panned by critics. Sure, internet smart-arses will put you on lists of unworthy authors. But you’ll be the one sitting in a beach-side mansion reading all the criticism. If you actually choose to read it, of course. Which you probably shouldn’t. And even if you do read the rantings of your critics, it’s a comforting fact that champagne and lobster can wash away even the bitterest taste left in your mouth by unfavourable reviews.
So please everybody, just carry on writing. And that includes you JK Rowling, Dan Brown and George RR Martin.
© Copyright Michael Grimes 2015