My Internal Monologue When I Write

despair

Oh, dear God—is there a God that watches over writers, some strange fellow with pencils in his hands and flying books instead of angels? Because if there is, I would hereby like to sacrifice my flesh and blood to him so that he will watch over me with his Inky gaze—it is time. It is time. Time to write. Oh, Lord. There’s something about imminent suffering that suddenly turns me into the most devout, evangelical creature under the sun. Dear God of Whatever You Are, Not Sure If You Really Exist, hear me now: if you have any mercy, you will shoot me down with a swipe of your pencil, and skin me to make paper; at least then my life would have been put to some good use.

Oh, no. Here it comes. The desk. The page. The blank page, filled with lines, waiting for me to fill them. There must be a million of them, just on this one page, I swear. What do I look like, some kind of magician? In what other profession are you asked to turn words into whole words, living breathing characters, into magic, I ask you? It’s absurd, if you think about it. Absurd. My entire life is based on absurdity—now there’s a good way to start a writing session. Oh, Lord. Please, I would gladly be enfolded into your bosom, and, erm, kiss the bud of death, in order to depart from this earthly plane, as long as I shall never have to face the thought of writing again.

No, wait. You are being dramatic. Remember what you told yourself yesterday? The only way out, is through. The only way you will get better is if you sacrifice perfectionism, and choose quantity over quality. All the writing advice you’ve collated over the past few years has said the same thing. You must write, and forget everything else. Fine. I’ll write. I mean, grit and determination is what separates the successful and the unsuccessful, and do you honestly want to be a pathetic, hopeless, nothing? Ah, there go: good ol’ shame and the thought of dying unpublished and unknown always does the trick.

Now. Pick up the pen. Good. Now. Write. Write one word. Wait, maybe it’s best if you re-read what you wrote yesterday, you know, just to jog your memory, slip back into the story. Wait. Is that a good thing to do? I mean, I’m sure I read somewhere that to re-read what you wrote the day before is not conducive to good writing. What if, by reading this, you are effectively snuffing out your creativity through repetition? Oh, please, you’re going to end up re-reading this, anyway, somewhere down the line. Okay, then. Let’s re-read it.

Oh, God. That is awful; what was I thinking, writing this gibberish, this nonsense, yesterday? That little bit of advice swimming in the back of my noggin was right: now my self-confidence has been smashed to smithereens. I should have never re-read my work. Darn it. Dummy-head. Can a dummy-head be a successful writer? I don’t think so. This is your only chance, you know, I mean, it’s not like you have another plan; writing is your Plan A, B, C, D, E and F, because, frankly, you’re not suited for anything else, and if you can’t succeed at this one thing you have a slight knack for then, well, you might as well hang yourself.

Okay! First suicidal thought five minutes into the session. Not good. Not good. Note to self: do not kill yourself, even when the writing is going so badly you could puke, because dead people can’t write. In fact, they can’t do anything. You’d be even more useless—wait, positive thinking, positive thinking, you’re not useless, you’re smart, and creative, and talented, and sooner or later, with a decade or so of practice, you’ll get somewhat good at this writing business, and make a living at it. Oh, it’s like trying to believe in Santa Claus when you’ve already seen your parents sneaking the presents under the tree in the dead of the night. Believe, my friend. Believe. You must believe. If you don’t believe, you can’t succeed.

Oh, right. The writing. Where was I? Okay, dear brain, erase every last word you just read of what you wrote the day before; today is a new day, a new dawn, a new page, and you shall start afresh! Okay. Now. Now. Okay. Okay. Right.

Write. Good, good, you’re picking up the pen, you’re writing, words are appearing—good, good! Very good, you wrote a sentence. Absolutely fantastic. It’s the worst sentence that has ever been written in the history of human thought, but let us not let that detract us from the matter at hand. You wrote something—that is what matters. Keep going.

Oh, God. Oh, God. Why isn’t the scene coming to life properly in my head? I can’t visualize a thing, I can’t even visualize every single strut of the Eiffel Tower if I close my eyes, even though I’ve seen pictures of it a million times, so how do you expect me to conjure, in my mind’s eye, an entire fantasy universe? Where am I going with this? I don’t know. I do not know. The whole story is a sham, it’s just a ramble, it’s like vomit, dribbled across a desk, pretending to be Art when everyone knows it’s not fooling anybody, and what it really needs is someone with a dishcloth to clean it up. After this scene, after finish writing it, I have no idea where to go on from there. No idea, at all. In real life, you’re told not to drive at night with your headlights off, so I don’t see why the same shouldn’t apply to writing. Dangerous business, this is. It’s dark! My headlights are broken, and the car is still moving, I think it’s declivity! Somebody help!

Alright. You know what? Just. Write. Forget everything else, let it all spew out, grammatical errors and terribly long-winded sentences—all that wonderful stuff that makes it look as though you aren’t a native English speaker but someone who toppled from some long-forgotten forest in the Tibetan mountains to rejoin civilisation, wearing nothing more than, like, leaves, and cradling a stone shaped like a cat you call Edward and talked to when you were lonely whilst up there all by yourself all those years. Just let it all out! Ugh. My God, the agony. This is horrible, horrible stuff, what am I doing? Nevermind, nevermind, forget it, keep going, keep going. Rubbish! Despair! No, no, no, shhhh, keep going, keep going…

Water break. Water break is necessary, as one has broken into a sweat and is panting very hard, and needs to re-centre oneself. Alright. Drink. Think. Why do you write? The joy of it, of course. Reconnect with that joy. But how can I, when such joy is tainted by my incompetence? I’ll never succeed, I’ll never be anything, I’m delusional, talentless, disgusting, hopeless—I can’t write, I can’t leave the house, I can’t talk to people without wanting to run away—

Back to the desk. Plant your buttocks in the chair: now, you are not moving from this desk, even if you get hungry and thirsty, for the next hour, at the very least. You will sit, and you will write, until the end of this scene. Remember, this is your job. Your job, is to write. Other people build houses, grow food, teach children—your job, at the moment, is to write. You are a writer. Writers, write. That’s it. Let’s get started. Come on, no-one gets a free ride in life, you’ve got to work for the roof over your head and the food on the table. Hm, getting rather hungry—no! Forget the hunger. You are not hungry. Well, you are, but I don’t fucking care: no words written, no food; that’s the way it goes, bitch. Why is that the pep-talk voice inside my head always swears like some graffiti-bespattered gangster?

Focus. MY GOD, this is bad. Nevermind. Keep going, soldier, you can do it, soldier, yes sir, yes sir. Keep on going, keep on going, keep on going—yes, a paragraph! No, wait, you dolt, a paragraph isn’t enough, don’t congratulate yourself when you’ve done the equivalent of shoveling one teensy pile of dirt out of the ground. Patting yourself on the pack only fifteen minutes in, pfft. Idiot.

Ugh. Ergh. Bleugh. Agony—agony—oh, the blood, the pain, the terror—nothing is going right, I’m doomed. Do you hear me? I am doomed. I am sitting here, writing words that make no sense, swirling my fingers through the dirt making mud-cakes in the hopes someone will eat them, when in truth—my God, even my internal monologue has writer’s block! Now blockages are springing up even in the formation of my thoughts! That’s it. Where’s the gun? Where’s the noose? Let me at it. There’s a reason so many writers killed themselves, and if I kill myself, I’m sure it’ll be a mark of my genius later down the line, when they discover all my notebooks and publish what is written in them, post-mortem.

No, you ninny, you’re not some Sylvia Plath, no-one will care if you kill yourself or not—least of all the world. Hey, if you want to be a writer, then you just have to suck it up, and write. Okay. Good. Good. There we go. Just keep on going, it’s terrible, what you are writing makes you want to claw out your eyes and tear out the eyeball of the universe from its socket in a bleeding burst of dark matter, I know, I understand, just keep going, though, just keep going…

My characters are dead. They have been dead for some time. In fact, I’m not even sure if they were alive in the first place. So basically, what I’m doing here is just fiddling with corpses. I am fiddling with corpses! That’s my job, folks, to bring corpses back to life with my magic necromancer pen—ah, the laughter, the hilarity. Oh, my God, really, they are so dead. They are so dead that I can barely work with them. Never mind a relatable protagonist—mine isn’t even alive! Stupid woman, why can’t you just create your own personality, oh please, Character No. 4, won’t you say something and do something of your own accord, you lazy, silly creature, just give me anything I can work with, I’ll take anything at this moment, don’t just stand there slack-jawed like some lollipop-head—ah, God…

Wait a minute: that’s quite a nice idea, a good bit of imagery: snatch it out of the ether, right this instant, before it vanishes, and write it down! Oh, no, it got ruined when you tried to write it down—again. For, like, the thousandth time. Why is it that whenever you try and translate something from your mind onto the page the material ends up mangled-looking, like some beautiful animal floating in some other realm plopping down on your page looking as though it went through some grinding machine beforehand? All guts and blood; no shining horns and wings. Horrible, horrible—you are useless! That’s it. Where’s the gun? Oh, right, you hid it from yourself. You’re so useless you can’t even find something you hid from yourself, that’s how useless you are, pathetic slime-ball, who will never get published and die alone, poor and unloved.

You know, in life, we’re all alone, at the end of the day, and never does this fact become more clear to me than when I am writing. With a crazy noggin like mine, it is likely I shall never get married, never have children, and live alone, for the rest of my days, with cats, if I’m lucky. Sob. I hate the world—I hate everyone in it, and I am scared of everything in it, and most of all, I hate life, and you, writing, well, I don’t hate you, but you’re the one thing putting the greatest damper on my mood at the moment, so I hate you, in a sense, too. Wait. Back to writing. New rule: whilst writing, you are not allowed to feel sorry for yourself, or experience any existential angst; that kind of business is reserved for when you’re sitting on the toilet, or showering. Are we clear? Good.

Oh, my, the scene is coming to an end. Somehow, you made it, oh, by some miracle, the finishing line is drawing near! Now, end it, tie it up, all neatly packaged—plenty of loose threads trailing from it, but nevermind that, at least you finished, you finished! Of course, you don’t know what’s going to happen after this scene, and the terror of the Unknown is already begin to suck away at you like some black hole in the corner of your eye, but that is a problem to be addressed another day; today, you have done something, you have written something, and I congratulate you for it—even if it is dreck, nonsense, disgusting, despicable nonsense, at least you wrote something. At the very least, you put down words, and there they stayed, on the page, indelible, eternal, a mark of your blood and sweat, and, oh, Lord, what if you died tomorrow and these were your last words, messy ramblings, not even coherent enough to form a proper story seeing as you haven’t edited it yet?

Wait, don’t think about that. Just focus on the present. Look at the clock, well what do you know: it’s time to see your psychologist, whose smile is glacial and whose eyes are, you’re certain, made from hailstones enchanted to look like actual human eyeballs, only the enchantress didn’t do a very good job of it. And when you come back, you’ll eat, and perhaps you’ll go outside for some more exposure therapy, or perhaps not—and when you come back, guess what?

It’s back to the desk. Now, where is that gun?

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2 thoughts on “My Internal Monologue When I Write

  1. I was a bit irritated and disappointed when I read to “choose quality over quantity”. But then I realized that, to some degree, I am still stuck in paralyzing notions of perfection. I recalled reading about the ceramics teacher from “Art&Fear”:

    “The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality.
    His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pound of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot”albeit a perfect one”to get an “A”.
    Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work”and learning from their mistakes”the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.”

    It seems that the essence of writing is a combination of rewriting and commitment. (Personally, I struggle to commit to anything, which can be a good thing, but can also turn out poorly, especially in love). Again, from Art&Fear:

    “Tolstoy, in the Age Before Typewriters, re-wrote War&Peace eight times (…), Kennedy (…) re-wrote is own novel Legs eight times, and that ‘seven times it came out no good’, (…) Lincoln doubted his capability to express what is needed to be said at Gettyburg, yet pushed ahead anyway, knowing he was doing the best he could (…). ”
    But they all started somewhere, just as you did.

    Regarding to dead characters:


    (…) making detailed plot outlines is an exercise in futility; as actual writing progresses characters take on increasingly a life of their own, sometimes to the point that the writer is as surprised as the eventual reader what their creations say and do”.

    I don’t know if making detailed plot outlines applies to you (I imagine so, you being a prefectionist), but I find that surprising and insightful.

    Off-topic and note to myself: We need Xanalogical structures.

    • Quantity over quality, indeed! And, no, in fact, I don’t make detailed plot outlines. In the past, I’ve tried doing so, but they either ended up sucking all the enjoyment out of the writing–because I knew exactly what was going to happen, and there were no nice little surprises–or I ended up ignoring them entirely, and writing off on a tangent. In life, I am a perfectionist (well, except in regards to the neatness of my own living space), but my creative brain refuses to co-operate with such ideals, and tends to just go off and just play on its own.

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