Friday, 22 May 2015

The death of (my) imagination - by Nicola Morgan

I don't know what I'm asking for here or why I'm burdening you with my trivial writer's angst. No one's dying, though something is dead. Perhaps it's just a silly scream in the dark and I should deal with it silently. All I really ask is that if you think there's no such thing as writer's block you do one or both of two things: think again or say nothing. You don't know.

My imagination has died. "Use it or lose it" is the brain's well known way of functioning. And not functioning. Well, some time ago I stopped using my imagination and filled my writing brain with non-fiction; and now I've lost it. I used, years ago, to write fiction and non-fiction happily in tandem, bobbing from one to the other constructively and profitably. But a few years ago the non-fiction took over. It took over because I loved doing it, because it was (for me) easier, because it was successful, because it was bringing me in royalties, because it led to lots of wellpaid events (generating more non-fiction writing as I prepared myriad handouts and presentations and blogposts), because it gave me self-esteem and reputation, my niche, self-actualisation.

I thought that was enough for Heartsong. I should never have forgotten that for me it wasn't. Imagination was the lifeblood of my heartsong and I'd accidentally left the tourniquet on too long.

So, when I tried to write fiction, without which I don't feel whole, I found that the fiction muscle, my imagination, was dead.

At first, I thought, as you are thinking, that it was temporary. Dormant, not dead. All I had to do was all those things we know about, the things you're all wanting to say in support:

  1. Just do it - apply butt to seat and fingers to keyboard and write
  2. Give yourself time - don't worry
  3. Get outside and walk
  4. Stop thinking about it - it will come back
  5. Try a new environment
  6. Try another new environment
  7. Do some creative napping
  8. Listen to your dreams
  9. Read lots of fiction
  10. Read poetry
  11. Allow yourself to write rubbish
  12. Make yourself write rubbish
  13. Set yourself targets; don't set yourself targets
  14. Read Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg
I did them all to one degree or another. In fact, Writing Down the Bones nailed the problem in such a way that it created a new block by identifying the block: "If all of you does not believe that the elephant and the ant are one at the moment you write it, it will sound false. If all of you does believe it, there are some who might consider you crazy; but it's better to be crazy than false. But how do you make your mind believe it and write [it]?"

And that is the problem. I don't believe. Because of that dead imagination.

You see I'm trying to write a novel in which the central idea - invisibility - is a physical impossibility. You need your imagination to write or to read about it. And when I come to write it, to create it, all the time I'm thinking, "Don't be stupid: that can't happen." There's a disconnect between what I know stories do - the suspension of disbelief - and my ability to suspend disbelief for long enough to create belief.

I can't make anyone else believe it because I don't believe in it - what I'm trying to write or my ability to write it - any more. 

I don't expect an answer. And I don't want to sound self-pitying. As I say, no one died. There are really only two answers: give up or carry on trying to force life into a dead thing, charging up those chest paddles.

Or give my imagination a name: maybe Lazarus. No, I never believed that story either. Actually, I probably did once, before.

[Edited to add: funnily, someone crashed into me as I was walking along the street just now and he looked completely shocked and confused, as though I had been temporarily invisible and he was trying to work out how that could be. Then he just carried on walking as though he was thinking, "Yeah, so, she was invisible. So what? Get over it."]


Lari Don said...

Nicola, I’m so sad to read this post. I’m so sad for you that you’re mourning the (possible) death of something so real and so vital to you. I’m also sad for your readers. And I’m one of your readers. I was musing a few weeks ago that I hadn’t seen a new Nicola M novel for a while, I was wondering whether you had made a conscious choice to move permanently into non-fiction (we love those books too!) and I was pondering on how that must feel. Now having read your blog, I know a little about how it feels. And it obviously isn’t either voluntary or pleasant. I’m so sorry. But perhaps just one more thing to add to your list: readers love your novels, readers love what your imagination can create. There are a huge number of readers out there who believe in the stories and characters you create. I’m not sure if remembering that will help, but it’s true anyway. (Just like invisibility can be true too, in the world you create…) all best, Lari x

Heather Dyer said...

I can really relate to this. 'Believing' is key - and I think for me it was about writing about something you believe in. This can't be logically decided upon. I think the way to find your 'bliss' is simply to pay attention to the things you notice - inside and out - stay open, and follow those small hunches and inclinations even though they seem irrelevant - and even if they feel like nonfiction.

Sue Purkiss said...

I think Heather puts it really beautifully. It certainly sounds as if the invisibility novel is not the one for you at the moment - so perhaps you just have to let it go. You're a very organised, efficient person - but maybe you just need to behave counter intuitively and do as Heather says for the moment - watch, and wait, and just be, and the story will come. Your imagination isn't dead - I'm certain of that! It's just having a bit of a snooze.

catdownunder said...

You need a hug. I can't give you a real one so a virtual one will have to do.

Hayley N. Jones said...

It sucks that you feel this way. I don't believe imagination can die — though it may seem lik it has. Perhaps the only solution is to wait it out. Time is a great healer and perhaps one day your imagination will return as suddenly as it disappeared. Please don't give up hope.

Richard said...

Is it possible that your imagination hasn't died; it's just gone somewhere else? We reinvent ourselves every day until we hardly recognise the person we used to be. That person had different dreams and different beliefs. You haven't been keeping track of your imagination for a while and so it has wandered off on its journey without you, but it's not lost; it knows just where it is. It is happily toasting marshmallows and waiting for you to catch up.

Nicola Morgan said...

Lari, thank you so much. Is it OK that I'm now a little bit teary?! You are very kind and those were inspiring words.

And thank you all. I'm going to try again. I can't not, really.

(It's rather ironic that in order to leave a comment here we have to tick a box that says, "I'm not a robot.")


Joan Lennon said...

There's a lot of wisdom in the comments here that I agree with, and hope you can hear when the time is right, but I'm adding my virtual hug to catdownunder's. Thanks for posting.

Rosie Best said...

This is such a sad post, I'm really sorry you're feeling like this.

I'm going to make a constructive-style suggestion, but it totally makes sense if this doesn't work for you as it's a bit specialist...

I would suggest finding some fiction you think doesn't work (any kind of fiction, any kind of problem) and thinking about how you would fix it.

This sounds a bit technical, more like editing than creating, but it actually exercises the exact same imagination muscle as trying to come up with something brand new. It should get you thinking about how this story could go that you would believe in, while taking a shortcut through the part of your brain that already believes that these characters and situations are in some way real.

As I say, might be completely unhelpful but something to try. Here's hoping you find your bliss one way or another x

Katherine Langrish said...

Nicola, go away and play. Go do finger painting, or muck about with clay, make up silly rhymes, tell jokes, read poems and fairytales and picturebooks. Your imagination isn't dead, it's just hibernating under the snow like a big sleepy bear. Make pictures in your head about it it: tickle the bear, bring it berries, wake it up slowly and gradually, tell it the ice is melting and the birds are singing and it's time to shake its head and stir. Metaphors are such powerful things, I believe they can heal. Sending love.

M Louise Kelly said...

Oh man! I think Lari said it all, this would be sad for your readers if it were a permanent state of affairs. If I were you i'd be hoping that writing this unblocked some sort of drain. Hope it does. You've tried lots of tricks but you don't mention what you WANT. Have you tried the old 'close your eyes - imagine feeling really happy about having written something. What was that thing?' I was forced into this position by a lovely friend recently, and for me - embarrassingly as network coordinator of a children's writing group - it wasn't children's fiction! I'm still mid exploration of that! If you had free reign what would you choose?… hang on a mo, you DO have free reign! Go on and choose! Good luck. The support you've given to so many others deserves some payback so hope cosmic karma is taking note. xxx

Penny Dolan said...

Nicola, huge dollops of sympathy! I don't think your imagination has gone - just that maybe it's baulking (sp?) at the problem with this invisibility premise - especially if the idea isn't an other world fantasy, where you can include a device and make up rules etc. If you're trying to write it into the real world, there's a clash between the two concepts that your brain won't believe - and then you go down and down and lower and less convinced and what's left of imagination & confidence are drowned under all weight of the anxiety/guilt/fraud-feeling/wish to hide/money worries and so on and so on. Doubly hard when you've been training yourself as well as others to be "out there" & logical and in control. Like someone's sucked out your soul & reason for being you. All I'd suggest is you listen to all what's said here, and go easy on yourself. Give that story a good rest (or make a lot of time to talk about it with a good writer friend), and/or try something else - maybe in baby steps - and be easy on yourself. A shit kind of time - made worse by the fact that your distress also seems pitiful compared to the troubles out there. Ps. The solution isn't to go and organise some more in the hope the feeling goes away. (Can you guess how I know all this?)

M Louise Kelly said...

whoops… i obvs meant rein… tho, long live the reign!

Penny Dolan said...

Sorry - my remark in brackets may come over in a smug, too-bright voice that I didn't at all intend. Been stuck in the same horrible place for way too long. Hugs.

Nicola Morgan said...

Penny, there was absolutely nothing smug in your voice or message at ALL. It was all wonderful and wise advice. And i do hope you are coming out of your difficult place, too.

Thank you, everyone, for your kindness.

Louise, I think you should stick with the reign spelling - I prefer it!!

Pauline Chandler said...

Writing's such a taskmaster. There are SO many opportunities for anxiety. It's a lonely profession and a millstone as well as the most magical intake of oxygen when something goes right. Nicola, I'm positive that this angst will pass. You just need time, and as Katherine puts it, so beautifully, just need to offer the sleeping bear some berries from time to time. In your place, I would offer myself a sabbatical. Take a year off, do other things to feed your soul. Wrap your worry up in a box and put it to the back if your mind. Once you're fishing in a calm still lake, a golden fish will swim past and make your spirit tingle again. So, that's bears, berries, boxes and fishing. My best prescription! XO.

Anonymous said...

Could it be that your imagination has simply become, er, invisible for the moment?! In the meantime, your honesty is as inspiring as your books, both fiction and non fiction. Go draw and paint while your brain recovers. We can wait! Sending over virtual hobnobs.

Inbali Iserles said...

I'm so sorry to hear this, Nicola. You are a talented writer and I feel sure that your imagination is there, waiting to be rediscovered. It sounds to me as though your rational, intelligent editor voice may be speaking so loudly that the writer cannot be heard. "Invisibility? That doesn't make sense!" and so on. In order to hear the more tentative voice of the writer, you may need to find a way to take the editor by the scruff and walk her out of the room for a while. While the sensible editor balks, let the writer play. Don't worry about chapters, synopses or plans. Let the writer experiment and get dirty. Writing is a rarefied version of "let's pretend", after all, and your inner writer is that part of you that never quite grew up. I know you can write this story, and I can't wait to read it x

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

Love the idea of Richard's comment that your imagination is just lolling around waiting for you to catch up. Sorry about this Nicola but in some way or another, we have all been touched by it. You've just been brave it enough to say it out loud and coherently.

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

and that wasn't very coherent with that extra 'it' there!

kathryn evans said...

You know what? Maybe you're just trying to write the wrong book. Invisibility is a hard thing to believe in - you're trying to climb a mountain when your brain is telling you it isn't yet up to a hillock. Sometimes, when your brain is saying 'nah, that would never work' there's a good reason for it...i know you'd have never written this post if you weren't facing a really difficult challenge and I also know you'll have tried all the tricks to get yourself writing. I'm not going to offer advice accept to say be a little kinder to yourself, it might be your talent as a writer that is warning you off this topic...also, in direct contradiction to what i just said, Keren David has a good trick for generating ideas - cutting out news stories and smacking two together to see what 'what ifs' you come up with . It'll be ok, it will, it's the same brain it's just been focussed elsewhere - wrong muscles have been working, you can get those other one's back up to speed, it'll just take a little time and gentleness x

Sheila Averbuch said...

This is a brave post. And you must feel like Julie Andrews after that throat operation. I am trying to write highly feasible SF and the journalist 'me' is pushing me hard to make the science realer, better, even though the adventure my MC goes on is clearly impossible (probably). I also found that, the more I read and knew about gardening, the less effective my favourite meditation was (sitting in a garden), because the meditating me kept seeing plants that needing weeding or moving. So I changed my meditation to flying over the clouds, like in a plane - it worked! It's inspiring and a bit defeating to see how easily my kids dream and imagine, with no fetters. Little Nicola knows how to do it. She's in there somewhere. Keep the faith.

Nicola Morgan said...

Once again, thank you to everyone for your kindness.

It's a trivial complaint in the scheme of things but each of us has our own lives to try to wrangle into something worthwhile.


Today there has been small progress. Small. Progress.