I hesitate to call this feeling writer’s block, but the effect is the same. I’m not sure what to do anymore. This always happens to me. I know where the story’s supposed to go, but I’m not doing a very good job of getting there. I start out strong, and then, within ten pages of an ending, I choke. Whenever a friend or lover has had a similar problem, my solution is, “Write—it doesn’t matter how bad it looks, just write. The hard part is putting the words on the page, and the editing is easy.”
But really, who can take their own advice? The words I put down are pretty weak (i.e. “He walked over to the door and then he waked through it and then he saw someone and he said, ‘Hey.’), and so I try to compensate by strengthening them a little (i.e. “He staggered over to the entrance, and once he propelled himself through it, his eyes were filled with the silhouette of a figure, to whom he spoke when his voice, husky from a half-decade of smoking, rang out with the following ‘Hey.’”) and kind of give myself a headache from trying too hard.
So I thought it would review the source material. This made it worse. It’s widely known that artists are their own worst critics. Even someone who thinks himself the finest genius the world has ever known (i.e. Quentin Tarantino or Pablo Picasso) will look at their own work and turn a rancid shade of green. The passage of time between the creation of said art and its reevaluation only makes the green greener. All we want to do is use the skills we’ve picked up since then to create what we had originally intended. Most artists can avoid this revisionism by unleashing their piece upon the world; an act that kind of freezes it in amber. Some artists (I’m looking at you, Mr. Lucas) have amassed enough power that they can continue to poke and prod their work until the world has come to an end. Either way, we’re a notoriously difficult bunch.
This in mind, I discovered in that the 1999 “Week in the Head” was a tiny, elegant piece of poetry. It was kind of a bittersweet haiku; five syllables of regret followed by seven syllables of delirious longing followed by five syllables of hope. The 2009 “Week in the Head” is turning into a sonnet of regret and longing, but without the hope.
Let’s be honest, this rewrite is some pretty depressing shit; almost Dickensian in nature (not the Christmas Carol Dickens, either. I’m talking about the Dickens whose original ending of Oliver Twist left the titular character frozen to death in a gutter). I should have called it “Bleak in the Head.” I had no idea how dark it was until I got about 75 percent through the rewrite. There’s a reason I didn’t notice, and that’s because everything the main character has experienced is some variation of something I’ve experienced. Having lived through these traumas, they don’t seem so bad. Hell, I’m using this story as a way of walking off some of the pain. My problem is that I’m not giving him anything to walk toward.
Originally he had been much more like me, a boy from a medium-sized town for whom New York was the Emerald City. To extend the metaphor a little, my last week in Hastings, Nebraska was my poppy field. As for the flying monkeys … well, there were a lot of drugs. I made it to my Emerald City because I knew that’s where I’d find my future; I’d have to be a grownup to make it there. Having tied the main character’s history to that place, I took away New York’s mystique and replaced it with dread.
And now, thanks to the magic of writing and rereading (specifically, writing and rereading this journal entry), I’ve finally realized why I’m having such a hard time with this ending: I’ve been missing the single most important ingredient. Now I need to figure out how to fold it into the mixture without disturbing everything I’ve posted online so far. This is going to be tough, but now that I’ve got an Emerald City of my own to find, I think I’m ready to move forward.
Thank you, blog!