I’m sitting here staring out the window on this beautiful Friday morning, the dew still glints on the newly cut grass…. And I’m exhausted. Well, let’s be honest, I am struggling to push COVID away for good (now day ten), but physically I feel okay. It’s the imaginative exhaustion I feel. Oh, I have felt it before. It happens every time I finish a novel. And this is what I want to discuss today.
It is no small thing to create a world through words, worlds populated with characters, and all of them want something, can’t have it, make choices, act to achieve some new goal, a goal I will actively thwart which will lead to more choices and actions and defeated goals. It is no small thing to have a character take a step and by doing so force a creative explosion of setting – an instant visual depiction of a woods, a formally undiscovered country that must now be discovered and damn quick, because the reader needs to know where you are and why you are there. Sometimes this results in an instant spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings translated into words. Sometimes it is a barbaric yawp that makes no sense at all. Sometimes it is simply a turd sentence that you put as a place holder: “They walked into a woods.” Sigh.
And don’t get me started on characterization. Who are they? What do they want? Why? What are they thinking? What do they want to do but can’t do in the scene? What do they leave behind when the scene ends? I told a dear friend of mine once when we met around a bonfire to have some beers, “I feel bad. I just left a character on a cliff. He’s probably pissed at me.” It was a literal cliff, but thank god, he climbed free. Sorry, Wilkins. It’s part of the job description.
Don’t get me wrong. I am extremely excited and happy that I can do such an amazing thing as I sit before the blank page. Just as all those who have done it, are doing it, and will do it in the future – it truly is quite profound. And that is the point I want to leave you with. How many artists do you know? Did you know that that is what they can do? Do you understand what a precious gift that is to the world? Yes, a gift, like something divine or magical in a world that can actually seem like a deterministic, grinding machine built by the former Soviet Union – bureaucratic, senseless, gray, and brutal. Are you an artist? Well, rejoice, therefore! You are rare like a lunar mineral. You are discarded and ignored but just as stunningly important and amazing as every breath.
Exhaustion can be incredibly satisfying.