Horn players call it their embouchure. Practicing every day keeps their embouchure strong. If they don’t, mastery of their instrument starts to slide and they have to build up to that level of excellence all over again.
My embouchure is pitifully weak at the moment. Seeing as this blog sometimes acts as my Jiminy Cricket, getting all of this out of my head will keep me honest and maybe even stick a much-needed foot in my ass.
My writing at the moment feels flabby and dull. It’s not writer’s block. I have no problem getting the words out. It’s just that they all seem so lacklustre, as if everything is stuck at the level of a first draft, and I don’t have the magic dust in my arsenal of tricks to bring the words to life.
January zipped along in a tumult of flailing fingers as the writing ticked over nicely, and I made strong and steady progress on my long-gestating screenplay Rotten Timing. Unexpectedly, an opportunity came up that was too good to dismiss, and I shifted my brainspace over to something else and started banging together a proposal for a non-fiction book.
Since that was sent off, I’m having trouble reclaiming the part of my brain that was preoccupied with it. I’ve been doing what writers should never, ever do. I’ve been giving my proposal a messy autopsy, violently slicing into it and thinking that “I should have punched that section up a bit” or “Damn, I shouldn’t have put that in there”. And it’s all futile, because it’s out of my hands now, and I should just forget about it and move on to the next thing. If the book gets picked up, great. And if it doesn’t? Well, shit, at least I rolled the dice and gave it a shot. (Of course, if the proposal is rejected, this is probably the last you’ll ever hear about it).
Another thing I’ve been doing (and I am positive that all published writers with a tantalisingly open web browser do this) is googling myself. It’s odd to discover that something I wrote is considered to be required reading on a variety of Asian Cinema Studies courses at prestigious London and American Universities. Kind of blows my mind a bit, to be honest. I’m no fool - I’m not the leading anything in any field. Nevertheless, it’s flattering and motivating and at least I know my words are reaching people.
But it also leads to a weird disconnect between differing realities and conflicting perceptions. Here I am struggling to squeeze words into meaningful sentences, convinced that I am creatively barren at the moment, and elsewhere I’m held up as some kind of authority on something. It’s fantastic, but it’s also confusing.
I don’t know what I’m trying to say. Maybe all writers are always painfully self-critical and dissatisfied with their efforts. Maybe I’m trying too hard to write my way out of an illusory slump. Maybe life is like a school report card, and I keep seeing the words “Must Try Harder” burnt into every page I fill. Maybe it’s OK to try your hardest and do your best, whatever the results, as long as you really are trying to do your best instead of just half-heartedly chipping away at something.
Anyway, enough of that. I know what I have to do. I’ve known all along. Must Try Harder.