Writer’s Block

I loved writing stories when I was younger. I’d fire up my IBM-compatible 486 desktop computer, my eyes straining at the wash of white characters on the screen’s black background. I’d write stories based on a TV movie series shown on HBO, inserting myself and my friends into that world (these days that’s known as Mary Sue-ing, but I digress). Later on I also wrote fanfiction about The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest (you’ll find some of my work on Quest Enterprises) and had a short-lived stint as an aspiring fic writer for the anime Rurouni Kenshin (I’m on FanFiction.net for that).

Every time I tried to come up with an original story, however, I had problems with characterization and with location. Fanfiction lent itself to derivation because the groundwork for the characters had already been laid. An original work, however — one had to put a lot of work into who the characters are, what their motivations should be. As for location, most of the books I’d read took place in America or in Europe — places I’ve never been. Trying to set a story in the Philippines, I ran into language problems as well. How could I use English when most of what I knew passed for conversation took place in Tagalog? How much of Philippine social life did I know, anyway?

The more I thought about these issues, the more I couldn’t write. And the more I read novels that had been written with painstaking historical and technical accuracy (Michael Crichton, this means you!!), the more I felt my own incompetence. “Write what you know,” the ghost of Louisa May Alcott whispered gently to me. “I know nothing!” I cried, and clapped my hands over my ears. So I stopped writing, letting ideas fly over my head and leaving them to swarm elsewhere.

Lately though, the ideas have been buzzing like flies, landing, biting, whining in my ear, flying off and coming back again. The mere length of time an elevator took to reach my floor sent my brain into a creative tizzy about what could be causing its delay and whether a story could be written of it. Observing people around me, I began to create little stories about what kind of people they were and what kind of life they led. Reading more books only attracted more ideas, this time about building entire universes where the places, the people, the workings are strange so there would be no need to know much about the geography of the Earth, if I knew the landscape of my mind well enough to map it with my stories.

Now, my head is full of words. My notebook is empty of them. What’s stopping me from writing? I think I’m afraid of falling into the earlier trap, of being derivative and unoriginal or of not knowing enough about human nature to write about people. How can I know that my stories aren’t just some pastiche of the works of previous authors? Do I have a tale to tell uniquely my own creation? What about subtext, the tale between the lines? My imagination is bound by self-doubt and by my own education (or lack thereof). Simply put, I’m stuck.

So I’ll start with the smaller ideas. I’ll catch them and look at them and pin them onto the page with my pen and ink. I hope I’m onto something.

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