by Warwick Downing
What do you do when you are faced with an essay deadline, and you have a great idea so you aren’t worried about getting it done, until you start writing the piece—and the great idea you had goes south?
Let me give an example.
I belong to the Wild Writers, having been “grandfathered in,” one might say: a term that may require some explanation. “Grandfather” is a noun, but “grandfathered” is a verb. It refers to such things as land uses that have been “grandfathered in,” in spite of zoning restrictions that might otherwise prohibit them. Skunk works can illustrate the point. A skunk works out in the prairie is a legal land use, in spite of the fact that one might think a skunk works should not be allowed ever, under any conditions. However one of the vagaries of our law is the notion that if I own it, I can by God do whatever I want with it.
Let’s assume I started my skunk works before a government adopted zoning laws that would have prevented it. Let’s also assume that a nice residential suburb grows out into the prairie all the way to my skunk works and surrounds it, and the residents of that nice residential community don’t enjoy having a skunk works in the middle of their neighborhood. Can they force me to close down my skunk works? The legal presumption is that they cannot, because my use of what had been prairie has been “grandfathered in”—although if they raise enough money and get a good lawyer, or mount the political muscle, they can get around the law and force me to close it down, by going to court in order to enforce their rights to good air by depriving me of my right to a skunk works.
So the question has now become, how can a nice bearded whisky-soaked bleary-eyed old presence such as a typical grandfather be converted into a word that refers, legally, to land use? Or, when it comes to the wild writers, what is it that compels them to tolerate one such as me?
I’ve been “grandfathered in.” Meaning I became a member before the group developed the standards they’ve since developed, which are high. Now that I’m in, I may be an embarrassment, but I’m still a member.
One of the benefits of membership is that I get to write the Wild Writer blog, which I’d been looking forward to because I had a great idea and knew it would be fun to write and entertaining . . .
Until I started to write it. Naturally I waited until the deadline loomed up like a huge wall, because as a grandfather, I’ve lived long enough to know that one never does today what can put off until tomorrow. So what did my great idea do when I started working on it? It drove off the page.
The title to the piece I’d believed in with such intensity was Better Than The Alternative. That sentiment commonly refers to the difference between life and death. Although it doesn’t universally hold true, because nothing does, most humans believe it’s better to be alive than dead. My idea was to use the expression to give inspiration to older writers especially—in some way or another—and that’s when it went south.
Don’t misunderstand—too much. I love writing, but the act of writing isn’t a matter of life or death. In the imaginations of some of the members of Wild Writers, the dead do actually write. But the likelihood is, they can’t. I meant by “the alternative” to suggest the pure desolation that would visit me and many others if we were denied that privilege, and then to segue into how fortunate I feel, as old as I am, to have a reason to get up in the morning, other than to relieve myself.
But as a blog topic? There isn’t enough meat there to chew on.
The blogs in the series on this website have—until now—been wonderfully helpful and full of good suggestions. This one kind of blew up in the barrel, in a manner of speaking. But having posed the problem, I’d like to offer a solution.
Again the problem. What do you do when you have a writing task of some kind that has to be done now, but you aren’t worried because you have a great idea and you know it will come flowing out like water out of a spigot, until you start it—and someone shuts off the spigot?
This is a suggestion that can be applied to many different writing situations, perhaps. You have a character that suddenly must do something totally out-of-character. Or some action that has to take place, but for reasons obvious to you, you know it can’t. How do you handle such situations?
I’ve had a lot of experience with such disasters, and have one very practical suggestion with writer’s digression.
Turn the screen off. You can no longer see what you are writing. Now vent.
Get it out. Now turn the screen on and find out how bad it is. Every now and then, you’ll be surprised.
Well shucks. I’m not surprised.