What a wonderful dilemma with which to be faced. The blank page. (Stephen King, bestselling author, from his memoir of the craft: “On Writing”)
Stephen King. Love him, hate him, sneer at him all you want for being the sell-out poster boy of airport bookstore fiction but the guy is one of the most prolific writers of our time and has, arguably, almost singlehandedly changed the landscape of the horror fiction literary genre.
Being an avid film buff, I like some of his stories which have resulted in such compelling cinema as “The Shawshank Redemption”, “The Green Mile” or have simply freaked the bejeezus out of me, “Carrie”, “Misery”,”The Shining”, to name a few. Some of his books have a way of creeping under my skin and lingering, disturbingly, fearsomely, late, late into the night.
One night at a recent dinner with my brother’s family and their three little munchkins (ages 13, 10 and 7), my niece asked if I had heard of a scary movie called “It”. I replied that I hadn’t seen the movie but may have read the book (by Stephen King).
“Is it about a group of kids and…a clown?” I asked my niece. At the word “clown”, her eyes widened in recognition and fear. We both knew the story.
The other two kids at the table immediately clamored for a rundown of the story. I glanced at my brother and his wife, who nodded their assent, and I quickly sketched out a short synopsis – basically that of an evil spirit masquerading as a clown who preys on young kids and how a group of pre-pubescent misfits in a terrified town ends up in the ultimate battle against evil. Ok? Big mistake…
After dinner that night, apparently, all members of my young audience had been so spooked they refused to go to the bathroom on their own and had to be accompanied by their parents; the next morning, my youngest nephew reported that he had a nightmare involving a clown. I apologized profusely to my brother and his wife, as well as to the kids, who, of course, immediately asked for another scary story the next night at dinner.
A powerful, evil clown. A group of weak, loser kids. By writing “It”, tapping into every child’s beloved memory and twisting it with our deepest fears and insecurities, Stephen King demonstrates a classic example of the power of a simple idea grabbing hold of the imagination…and not letting go.
In his memoir “On Writing”, Mr. King muses on the power and beauty of ideas and how, when writing, we should be brave and free enough to go where ideas take us: “Some of this book – perhaps too much – has been about how I learned to do it. The rest of it – and perhaps the best of it – is a permission slip: you can, you should and if you’re brave enough, you will. Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink. Drink and be filled up.”
But what happens, Mr. King, when the well of ideas runs dry and we’re out of water?
This past week had brought us a flurry of personal distractions, e.g. a quick trip to the Philippines via Hong Kong and all that happily entails (family get-togethers and reunions with old friends), returning home to Guangzhou and settling back into our daily family routine (always amazes me how much household chaos one single husband can wreak on his week at home alone!), pursuing possible writing & collaboration opportunities in China and overseas, as well as being struck down by a series of debilitating migraines. All had succeeded in keeping me from my regular blogging schedule.
So it was with a sigh of relief this morning, that after conferring with our hardworking godsend of a household Ayi (Chinese for “auntie”, which in China can also refer to domestic household help) and obtaining her assurance that all was once again well in Casa Stiletto, I surveyed the rest of our home with contentment (yes, all was indeed spic and span and in its right place) and sat down with my usual cup of coffee in front of my laptop in our home office and prepared to write. Er….on what, exactly?
Oh, woe! Writer’s block had struck again! My brain had gone out for an early lunch and refused to return to the office. No magic water to drink here, Mr. King, no sireee. Eeeeek!
Thankfully, I’d already submitted a story to one of The Bamboo Stiletto’s distribution channels the night before, so admittedly, I had no looming deadline breathing down my neck. What was eating me up though was the fact that I’d been incommunicado with you, my dear Stiletto-istas, for more than a week. When I started this blog, I had made a promise to myself to be self-disciplined and post, if not at least three times a week as routine, then at least once a week during crazy busy periods. So, with my brain blanking out and still refusing to wake up despite the jolt of caffeine to my system, what to do?
Normally, I would’ve laced up my running shoes and gone for a short, bracing run to clear my head. For some reason, this always works and gets my thoughts going again. Thank goodness for the iPhone; I always use it as an iPod when running and when something pops up that I have to jot down, I can always use Notes! (at least it saves me from awkwardly bringing my trusty Moleskin along on runs)
But it was already getting late in the morning, the heat overbearing with the sun blazing down – I’d be stuck not just with writer’s block but with a severe case of heatstroke if I went out and exercised. So, the gym it is…
Before heading out to the gym, I thought I’d help out our Ayi with a few household chores. Water the plants, wash the dishes…and all of a sudden, voila! As I was elbow-deep in suds at the kitchen sink, my brain miraculously, slowly began revving up its engines and in between drying the dishes, I was tapping out thoughts on my iPhone’s Notes and, before long, my heart was swelling with relief and joy.
We’re back in the saddle again, my friends! Yipee kayey!
In closing, I return to Mr. Stephen King’s musings “On Writing” once again – or rather, to relish the unique delight upon the beginning of writing anything, a new idea, another story to tell: “What a wonderful dilemma with which to be faced. The blank page. Upon it lies a long road – and you’re paving it. One brick at a time. “