Running out of juice by Sandra Horn

I’m in a terrible flat spot. I got to poem 38 of the 52 poems challenge and just came to a stop. I made notes for the next two and wrote one verse but just couldn’t go on. For all these past weeks, I’ve just fiddled about with old stuff – poetry and prose – but have not been able to be creative at all. It’s a familiar dilemma, but doesn’t usually last this long. Often in the past, walking somewhere beautiful starts the process going and recently, we’ve been in the Lakes, in glorious sunny weather. Blue skies above just-turning autumn leaves reflected in the water. The roar and magnetic pull of a waterfall in spate. Saddleback blueish in the distance. Evenings around a log fire. A squelchy walk from Pooley Bridge to Barton Church to rescue a wren that might have been trapped in there (it wasn’t). Everything, in fact, to gladden the heart and get the creative juices flowing. Except they didn’t. 

This is a lake, not a story


At one point I put it down to that kindly-meant but deadening thing,  ‘You should write a story about that,’ ‘There’s a story for you, Sandra.’  Etc. I have written about the Lakes walks and other happenings, but they are reports, not stories. It’s curious how often the difference isn’t appreciated by people who are, after all, trying to be helpful and encouraging. It’s quite likely that there is something waiting to be written, but it will take traces of those experiences and transform them into something other. I don’t know what it might be yet – and might not know until the writing is finished and I read it through and it dawns on me where that particular passage could have had its origins. 

This is a sunset, not a story

I was thinking of the difference between reportage and storytelling last night, watching and listening to ‘My Country’, which relied very heavily (and heavily is the operative word) on verbatim speech. It’s a fashion in writing for the theatre too. At the risk of offending large numbers of people who know more about it than I do, I think it’s lazy – and rarely as challenging or engaging as it might be. We know that daily chat is often repetitive, can be cliché-ridden and has not been thought about for long, if at all, before it is uttered. What can we learn from it, much less be excited by it? I think it is the job of a writer to take the raw material, listen hard, think harder, then let the creative forces loose on it. This transformative process is mysterious but it is crucial in the making of stories, which can then be transformative/informative/entertaining/thought-provoking in themselves – or what are they for?
Of course, I could just be riding a hobby-horse here, in a state of total ignorance, but in this long unproductive spell I’m having, I’ve had plenty of time to think about it. I have written about the Lake District walks to friends, describing such events is not a problem. Give me a topic, and even better, a deadline, and I’ll come up with something. With any luck it will be readable and I can make it amusing  if need be – but what I can’t do at present is the alchemy. I can polish the base metal nicely but it won’t turn into gold. I’m knitting instead! I’m knitting worthily, moreover. Little hats for smoothie bottles (for Age Concern), ‘bonding’ squares for the prem baby unit at St Thomas’s, fingerless gloves for my daughter’s outdoor craft activities. Anything absorbing but not requiring too much skill. And waiting. Waiting for the gleam at the back of my mind, the fiery spark, the – Oh, you know the stuff I mean. It’s elusive because, I suspect, I’ve never tamed it by setting proper time aside each day and being disciplined about writing. I’ve just bumbled along until something sets it off. I have, in the past, tried that business about ‘writing something every day’, ‘write for ten minutes, it doesn’t matter what you write’. The trouble is, it does matter! Ten minutes of uninspiring garbage is ten minutes down the drain. Never yet has it produced anything worthwhile. Back to the knitting. And waiting. And hoping.


Susan Price said…
You're waiting for your daemon, Sandra. He, she or it will show up in its own good time, like a wandering cat. It's gone off foraging. If you're lucky, it will come back and present you with some idea that mixes up several disparate things you would never have thought to bring together yourself.

I suppose daemons need time off, like the rest of us.

I think people who say, 'You should write about that,' think that stories spring from one image or event. In my experience, they come about from several very different kinds of incidents, experiences or ideas bashing together to make sparks. It could be an historical event from four hundred years ago, something you heard in the news today, an experience from your childhood and a story a friend told you about something that happened to a nephew of theirs on board a supertanker in the indian ocean. And none of these things need be used in a literal sense - it could be, rather, the mood of one or the lesson learned from another, the physical setting of a third.

There's no obvious connection between any of these things - and that, in a way, is the key. As you say, a sunset is just a sunset, however beautiful. An amazing coincidence is just an amazing coincidence. There's nothing for these things to strike on, to make sparks.
That's why we need our daemons - to find the right mix of unrelated ingredients and strike the spark.
Don't worry, your daemon is on its way back!
Sandra Horn said…
Thank you, Sue!Spot on about the sparks... I'll wait.
Penny Dolan said…
Sounds very frustrating, Sandra, though I'm admiring of all the knitting.

What going away to places like the Lakes - or anywhere away from home, really, idyylic or not - does give me is time to let the ideas I already half-have rise to the surface.

Besides, I'm not sure if you are trying to capture a spark when there's someone else there with you, which imo can be a slight burden and pressure on you? Or are the rather unhelpful comments coming afterwards?

Just keep listening out, and I'm sure the moment will come - and it may not be anything to do with sunsets. Also, that's quite a lot of poems you've written already!
Bill Kirton said…
You and me both, Sandra (and I'm aware that that's exactly the sort of cliché I should be avoiding). I know the novel I want to write, I’ve researched some of the themes, but I can’t get started. Mind you, I think this time of year doesn’t help. I’ve blogged here before about Xmas reminding me of Godot – huge, lengthy anticipation leading to … nothing. I think that saps energy from us. I do, though, believe that Susan’s right and that it’s not a permanent condition. Something will kick start things again and we’ll get back into the cocoon. (And the moment I hit that full stop, I realised it's better if I don't try to start writing again just yet - 'kick starting' something to 'get back inside the cocoon'? What garbage. I should stick to my equivalent of your knitting - wood carving.)
Sandra Horn said…
Thank you, Penny and Bill - I'm encouraged.
Ann Turnbull said…
I'm in that place, too, Sandra, at the moment, and sympathise. But I agree completely that writing something - anything - every day can be a waste of time, unless you have something you want to write. Many years ago, when I had young children, I stopped writing for about seven years. At the end of that time, despite the lack of practice, I began writing much, much better than before. (I'm about to try knitting a lace scarf with some 3 ply baby pure wool which I originally bought to make a gift for a newborn and then realised what a daft idea that was and got some acrylic instead.)
It's November, Sandra! I never feel creative in November. This is the No-month for me.. gloomy weather, the clocks go back so it's dark in the middle of the afternoon, too cold to sit and write for long at the computer, not Christmas yet (even if all the shops want us to think it is), and a depressingly long time until the light returns next spring. Needless to say, I've never tackled NaNoWriMo... I'm sure your creativity will return when the time is right.
Sandra Horn said…
Ah! Thank you, Katherine! 'these dark days of autumn rain' (Robert Frost) must be sapping my whateveritis!
Enid Richemont said…
I currently have become an editor rather than a creative writer, going endlessly over old stuff and re-structuring - creative in its way, but not that 'words forming in your head' stuff. Nothing to do with November, but more to do with the current negative publishing climate, plus a possible November of the soul November was the inspiration for one of my Y/A novels, TO SUMMON A SPIRIT, so nothing negative back then about the time of year, which I've always loved.
glitter noir said…
Sandra, I have total confidence that something glorious will come from the waiting and the ripening instead of a dull grinding out.

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