He appears in many guises,
filling every corner of my dreams,
his darkness matching the demons
that linger beneath the seams
of the fears I seek to bury
yet no matter how hard I try
he comes without knocking, unbidden
like a swarm of locusts darkening the sky
And after he gets what he wants from me
stripping me of everything I once held dear
it’s a release that’s like no other,
where nothing else dares come near.
And so I leave the door wide open
of this little cage I still cling to,
waiting patiently for him to return,
gracing me with a madness that speaks so true.
“If you want to write, if you want to create, you must be the most sublime fool that God ever turned out and sent rambling. You must write every single day of your life. You must read dreadful dumb books and glorious books, and let them wrestle in beautiful fights inside your head, vulgar one moment, brilliant the next. You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads. I wish you a wrestling match with your Creative Muse that will last a lifetime. I wish craziness and foolishness and madness upon you. May you live with hysteria, and out of it make fine stories — science fiction or otherwise. Which finally means, may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world.”
– Ray Bradbury
This is SO my New Year’s resolution – which was the same resolution I had for 2015.
When was the last time you experienced writer’s block? What do you think brought it about — and how did you dig your way out of it?
Writers block hit me from around 2002 – 2012. What precipitated the beginning of the end for me was a boy, I think, and life in general, realizing that while I was living my life, enjoying my parties, living on the beach and playing beach volleyball everyday – being as American as I could ever be – I was also denying my heritage. When my brother moved to L.A. it was hard to maintain that American image – especially when family was getting closer and everywhere I turned was a reminder of who I was, who I was supposed to be, and of the expectations of family that I’d turned up my nose to for years.
While I did turn back to my “roots,” so to speak and do my best to fulfill certain obligations expected of me – both from my family and my husband’s, my writing tanked completely. And I mean completely. I’d never felt so hollowed out in my life – smiling on the outside but feeling completely empty, really empty, on the inside. I felt just like Bilbo when he told Gandalf in The Fellowship of the Ring, “I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.”
Finally, because in some other life, I must have been good, in 2012, I rediscovered the muse, who helped me back int the writing game, even if I had to start over by writing fan fiction. Lucas North, John Standring, Thorin Oakenshield – all characters played by Richard Armitage – got the stories flowing.
This year he’s been replaced by another muse, though he/she comes in different guises. A song, a poem, a photograph, a memory. And in a month or so, my first book will finally, finally come out, a novel whose rough draft was written in 90 days because this time, the muse would not let go. If you’ve been following my blog since the beginning, you’re probably sick of hearing about Finding Sam and all that – but at least I can now say that the smile is back.
Most of all, the writer is back. And she’s left the block party – this time, for good.
One night, three months ago now, while driving one hour each way to one of my gigs, I heard a song on the radio that made me drop everything else I was writing. I wouldn’t know its title, nor hear it again till two months later (which I announced on Twitter because I’d been looking for it forever), but it stuck with me, seeping through my pores against my will.
At that time, I was in the midst of writing this historical fiction novel. My heroine, Luna, was in deep, deep trouble, and the hero, Dev, was — well, it doesn’t matter what he was doing now because the entire story got steamrolled to the side all because I heard this one song that changed everything.
In a matter of days, maybe less than a week, I wrote my first 15K words. The heroine was forming slowly – and begrudgingly, we were getting to know each other. And the hero, well, he had the guise of one Michael Fassbender, and the way his character, Erik, wriggled his way into my writing was slow but sure. And just like the song, I may not have known its title or its singer then, but I knew, or rather felt, its message.
The night Finding Sam was born was April 28 and months later, I’m getting to the finish line, when I ready myself to say good-bye to Sam and Erik and let them live their lives without my meddling (for a while – because there is a Book 2). But there is one character in the story that propelled Sam and Erik’s stories forward, and that is the character of Rosie, whose name appears in the novel’s opening line (and one that I probably will keep there, even for publication).
Readers who stumble upon Finding Sam have written about how the story makes them cry, and I’ve seen how people read Chapter One in the morning, and eight or ten hours later, they’re voting for Chapter 40 (it’s not done yet). It’s a marathon read, but one that’s made me realize just how far I’ve come after hearing a song one night, and at first wondering, do men really think that way about love or is it just a way to sell records? to asking myself why the hell am I writing something as vulnerable as this? Who am I writing this for?
And it made me realize, really realize, that the real muse for Finding Sam isn’t its main character, artist and vulnerable Sam. Nor is it the patient and stalwart Erik.
It was Rosie, Sam’s friend who starts the novel, well, dying.
Rosie is my friend, Pam. I met her on my first day in massage school 17 years ago and we became good friends long after massage school was over. Each month, we got together and exchanged massages (newsflash: most massage therapists don’t get regular massages) at my office, then spent 2 more hours having burgers, or Thai food and lots of coffee.
It was to Pam with whom I shared my secret passion for writing. Up to that point, friends I spent more time with knew me only as the party-loving, always laughing (probably because she was drunk) girl who couldn’t spike a volleyball – but never knowing that I preferred writing more than playing.
It was to Pam to whom I told my wish to write a story set in 1895 Philippines, complete with a brief summary of my characters and little tidbits about my home country. Not even my family knew about it. Pam had this knack for listening to you that made you just want to spill your life story. She was the best – hands down – massage therapist I’d ever allowed to touch my body, because she touched hearts just by being there with you.
My last conversation with Pam was over three years ago, when she called me just as I was getting ready to leave to see clients. Though Pam was always the one on time all the time, she was also someone worth being late for.
It was during this conversation that she asked me how my novel was shaping up – over ten years since I told her about it, and had actually NOT written a word. Pam wanted to learn what happened to Luna, my heroine, and whether her story would continue because she would certainly love to read it when I finished writing it, and when I’d publish it.
But Pam would never get to read my story.
She died a week later — I think, from a pulmonary embolism, for her radiation and chemotherapy treatments had left her with two blood clots just biding their time. Her final wish was not to have a memorial held for her, and I remember how perplexed and angry I was then as to why, for I needed the closure. I needed to talk about her, and all the good she had done for me by being my friend.
Most of all, I just needed her.
It’s been three years since Pam’s been gone. She would have been 55 or so and probably giving massages still, her waiting list probably longer than the three months’ wait that it had been before her cancer diagnosis. Since she’s been gone, I’ve distracted myself with other things, like spinning wool into yarn and gushing over an actor — yet always feeling an emptiness that I knew only one thing could fill. This time, there seems to be no escaping Pam’s memory, and her desire to one day read my stories.
Which means, now I write.
And now Pam’s in this story that came out of nowhere, all because I heard a song that touched my heart and my soul – and maybe through this song, she finally got through to me. And though her character in my story is dead, she’s not forgotten.
Instead, she propels the story forward. And not just this story, but every story that I’ve written ever since I remembered exactly who it was I was writing for.
It was never for the actors, the so-called muses. It wasn’t to inject myself as the heroine, as some people scoff is what writers really do (and even if we did, they’re just jealous we can plant ourselves into our worlds). It’s not even for money since I haven’t made a dime .
I write for me – and because of Pam, the real muse.
Do you thrive under pressure or crumble at the thought of it? Does your best stuff surface as the deadline approaches or do you need to iterate, day after day to achieve something you’re proud of? Tell us how you work best.
Photographers, artists, poets: show us PRESSURE.
Inspiration does not come to me
till that final minute before
everything goes to hell and
panic sets in, digs in,
blooms where there was once
nothing but din,
till the light
*A nonet is a nine line poem. The first line containing nine syllables, the next line has eight syllables, the next line has seven syllables. That continues until the last line (the ninth line) which has one syllable. Nonets can be written about any subject. Rhyming is optional.