Hello again, dear reader. Last time we were together I wrote about writer's block, a subject near, if not dear, to my heart. As you can tell from the length of time between posts, its something with which I have continued to tussle over the last month or so.
The reasons why are myriad and personal, and are certainly too boring to do more than hint at here; suffice it to say that my living situation has changed recently, and I don't do change well.
But thinking about writer's block, and the way in which writer's block is treated in the horror (or horror-adjacent) genre has made me think about writer's block's equally evil twin, the perfidious bitch known as "inspiration".
Here is Merriam Webster's definition of inspiration: "a divine influence or action on a person believed to qualify him or her to receive and communicate sacred revelation". I am using this definition, where the word denotes a kind of almost mind-altering transportation. Not merely a good idea, but an idea which will not be denied. If you are a writer, you know the feeling. It is electric.
This kind of inspiration might seem like the opposite of writer's block but it is more accurate to say they are in league. What is writer's block, after all, but the absence of inspiration?
But there's the rub. Most of the stories I've ever written have been composed in a fit of something like inspiration. Suddenly, like a flash in the night, an idea would occur to me, and I'd chase it down and try to capture it. If I was lucky, the feeling would last long enough for me to get the whole thing out and I'd be left, after a few hours, with something nearing completeness.
The problem, though, is when inspiration fails to materialize. When you are hungry for it, but it's not there. It is in times like those that inspiration most resembles drug use. If you have ever had a relationship with a favorite drug (and I think the word relationship is apropos -- drugs are often replacements for people, and can be starkly intimate with their users) then you probably know the feeling of "jonesing" for it. And, too, the accompanying despair of uncertainty when you don't know where your next fix is coming from.
Not to belabor the drug metaphor, but when it comes to inspiration you're dealing (or at least I am) with an inconstant, very unreliable dealer. As a rule, whenever you want to reach him, he's nowhere to be found. And no matter how long you sit in his living room watching him play FIFA on PS2 or compliment his taste in incense, you're still waiting for him to just fucking deliver.
Though I don't want this to turn into an anti-drug screed, it might bear pointing out that your humble writer is, even now, trying to give up my favorite substance. And that, furthermore, I have often relied on said substance to deliver inspiration. So, like, bear with me, dude.
But enough about me. Lets look at a horror (or horror-adjacent) films that deals with drugs, but we'll read those scenes as if they are really about inspiration. Which in some sense they are.
To begin, put this in your pipe and smoke it:
In Naked Lunch, David Cronenberg's hallucinatory anti-adaptation of the William S. Burroughs novel, Bill Lee (Peter Weller, playing a stand in for Burroughs himself) meets his new "case officer", an insectoid typewriter with strange appetites. Lee is to instructed to make "reports" on the instrument while the bug, trembling under his touch, moans in ecstatic pleasure. But before he'll cooperate, he needs just a little taste of the poisonous "bug powder". Bill, an exterminator by trade and an addict by occupation, obliges, causing more rapturous gibbering from the bug.
Bill is told that he is to use the bug to type reports which will in turn be forwarded to Bill's "controller". We never know for sure who the "controller" is, we are probably safe in assuming that the "controller" is heroin itself, under which control Bill spends most of the film.
Bill's creative impulses are, in fact, profoundly mediated by things which, far from being under his control, actually control him.
Eventually, Bill's bug is broken when another writer dashes it to bits. Bill is told by a friend and fellow addict to take it to an artisan which will forge the tool anew. Now his new and improved typewriter takes the shape of a "mug wump" head, an alien-like creature that dispenses its own intoxicant from phallic tubes protruding from his head.
"Not bad, not bad," Bill says in admiration after a few minutes with his new machine. Its very much like the old one, only instead of having to get it high, it now gets him high. Here, too, is the erotic undertone (or maybe undertone implies a degree of subtlety not applicable in this case) as the mug wump's phallic head growth secretes a squirt of seminal ooze.
And, just in case the sexual subtext is still lost on you, here's one more typewriter scene, in which Bill and a woman who looks much like his dead wife try out an Arabic typewriter:
Because, really, there is something erotic about giving in to inspiration, just as surrendering to an addiction has a hedonic, sexual component.
None of this is to suggest that inspiration is bad. Nor is it to suggest that its bad if you like to partake in something now and then. Life is tough, and we all need a balm now and then. But in my own experience, relying on inspiration has done nothing to improve my own writer's block. The trick must be to work through it, rather than wait for it to (maybe) come. Again, this is doubly not to suggest that, should inspiration come you ignore it. If inspiration comes, I implore you to rub its glands with bug powder and put your hands inside it's keyboard-sac.
But when its not there, don't pine for it. Don't lie in bed wishing it would come. Don't call your dealer and ask for just a little bit, come on, just to get you through.
David Lynch is America's best purveyor of films which are at once scary, funny, and trippy. He is the man responsible for some of the scariest films ever made, even if they are not typical horror films. Surely Lynch needs drugs to think up scenes like the one below, right?
But in fact Lynch is not a drug user. In Catching the Big Fish, his appropriately strange little memoir of his experiences with transcendental meditation, he writes,
"We all want expanded consciousness and bliss. It's a natural, human desire. And a lot of people look for it in drugs. But the problem is that the body, the physiology, takes a hard hit on drugs. Drugs injure the nervous system, so they just make it harder to get those experiences on your own. I have smoked marijuana, but I no longer do. I went to art school in the 1960s, so you can imagine what was going on. Yet my friends were the ones who said, "No, no, no, David, don't you take those drugs." I was pretty lucky. Besides, far more profound experiences are available naturally. When your consciousness stars expanding, those experiences are there. All those things can be seen. It's just a matter of expanding that ball of consciousness. And the ball of consciousness can expand to be infinite and unbounded. It's totality. You can have totality. So all those experiences are there for you, without the side effects of drugs."
The same is true of writing. Though it can be hard to remember from the depths of a nasty block, the kind of flashy, transporting inspiration that we desire is not what we need. As intoxicating as such experiences are, they are all too few and far between. We can't rely on them any more than we can rely on a drug dealer to just give us the shit without making us watch ESPN with them.
So stay clean, friends. Or if you can't stay clean, keep writing.