Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Creative Fear & My Resident Gollum

How do we do it? How do we master the necessary courage to pick up a pen, or start that new word document while the cursor blinks accusingly, and a sly whisper forms in the dark recesses of your mind: Who do you think you're kidding? Or perhaps this doubting demon emerges halfway through a novel, as mine did, when struggling to write the last third when all plot strings required resolution, when all characters needed to be appropriately disposed of. What if you can't do it? My demon has a sibilant wheeze like Gollum in Lord of the Rings, and tends to make his appearance in the last quarter of the writing process and loiter like a profoundly unwelcome guest through to the queries and submissions. Unlike Ben Franklin's visitors who reek of fish after three days, my Gollum is so well-camouflaged that I am unable to evict him. He is so well-settled into the clustered nuerons of my mind that he even able to prompt cascading fear effects that have me poised to rewrite massive chunks of my novel based on a single inevitable rejection letter.

A small consolation remains that all of us writers have our own resident doubter, even the established, supremely talented ones: Katherine Anne Porter called courage "the first essential" for a writer. "I have to talk myself into bravery with every sentence," agreed Cynthia Ozick, "sometimes every syllable." E. B. White said he admired anyone who "has the guts to write anything at all." A marginal comfort? It does seem to imply that the Gollum can be wrested from his nefarious purpose, does it not? That he can be overcome, or utilized to spur us onwards and upwards? Hope springs eternal after all.

Curiously, I find this performance-fear manifesting in other creative mediums; I am also a painter of ambitious proportions; I mean this literally - I stretch my own canvases to impossibly large sizes and then spend several years meticulously painting every square inch. And on every occasion before attempting a particularly challenging portion (lately the fur of a tiger) my Gollum raises his brutish head and his cunning hiss echoes through my mind: you call yourself an artist? You are really going to attempt to do that?

So to roll it all to the overwhelming question: How do we evict our Gollum? Honestly, I don't know that we can. I think we need to recognize his destructive intent and perhaps utilize it as a galvanizing force to mitigate his influence. At the very least we ignore him and push on and push on. The key, I believe is to keep writing. Then when we come to the end, when we insert that final period of that final sentence - at least, then, it is done warts and all. And of course the subsequent editing (visions and revisions that a minute will reverse! - sorry still have Prufrock on my mind!) refines the product still further. I think in the end we all have the power to surprise our inner Gollum, to render him quietly muttering to his own dark corner in reluctant acknowledgement that perhaps his landlord has some small modicum of ability after all. As many many writers have urged previous to me: just keep writing and it will come - in fits and starts maybe, some days more easily than others...but the potential for completion is there inside - the golden ring jealously guarded by the Gollum - We wants it, we needs it. Must have the precious.

So in search of the golden nugget for my next book, and endeavoring most valiantly to studiously ignore the internal wheeze : you will never find it!  I charge onwards, musing on dramatic plot potentials, possible character combinations, and a lurking Gollum of a guest.


  1. beautifully expressed, thanks PJ!

    1. Thanks so much Sarah, thrilled you enjoyed it!
      All the best,