The Creative Process: Or How I Stopped Worrying And Learned To Love My Thesaurus

by Bill Ashwell

photo by Marcie Schwindt

Many of us who consider ourselves writers, scribes, or poets have at one time or another had to face down the demons of procrastination, writers’ block and a lack (or in some cases, an absence) of inspiration and motivation; when we’re just not getting the proverbial it.

There comes a time in a writer’s life, however, when it does come together, when those great cosmic forces of creativity, perception, introspection, laws of grammar, and that great warm tidal wave of inspiration all converge in time and space, and the writer…gets it.

Picture this, if you will. It is 3 a.m. and fuelled by glacial day-old coffee, Our Struggling Writer sits alone at his writing table, illuminated only by the anemic glow of the desk lamp. He slaves over a hot keyboard, awash in great, chilly puddles of flop sweat as he struggles to compose that Great Canadian (or American) Novel, that next award-winning screenplay or best-selling volume of poetry. And yet, nothing.

He stares down the blank sheet of paper in the typewriter and loses (he is, after all, a traditionalist, eschewing the seductive siren call of the computer and enticed by the redolent perfume of correcting fluid). It taunts him, mocks his creativity. Its blankness is an artistic black hole, a thumbed nose, a schoolyard gibe.

He reaches for the coffeepot, its stale contents as cold and forbidding as a rejection letter, and pours himself a stiff one. He prays to the spirits of William Shakespeare, Ernest Hemingway, and Barbara Cartland for a breakthrough. For a split infinitive, a subjunctive clause, anything.

Then it happens. It comes to him like an exclamation point in boldface type, a creative taser hit, a metaphysical fist in the face, or maybe just a simple, sudden clearing of his fog-bound mind. In any case, he begins typing and quickly, word after word, line after line, character nuance after character nuance, fills the page.

Pages, hundreds of them, each appropriately formatted and numbered, pile up on the desktop and before he knows it, his masterpiece is complete and once again all is good and right with the world. A triumph of creativity over the baying hounds of writer’s block.

It might all begin with the opening sentence; “It was a dark and stormy night.” “They call me Ishmael,” “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times,” or “That Sam I am! That Sam I am! I do not like that Sam I am!” This epic journey of a thousand pages, Volume One, begins with the dropped cap of the opening sentence.

It might even come together in the middle. Our Struggling Author, after taking a short break (remember, he did drink all that coffee), returns to the typewriter and hammers out; “Buffy’s fingers quivered as she fumbled with the buttons on her blouse. Her breath came in shallow, passionate gasps as Beauregard, his chiseled features aglow in the moonlight and his eyes aflame with lust, slinked (slunk?) towards her. ‘Hellooo Bayyybee,’ he rasped.

Hey, that’s not too bad.

It may even come at the end, the old …and-they-lived-happily-ever-after gambit: Having won the big game at the last minute, defeated the forces of evil, or saved the plantation’s cotton crop from a plague of boll weevils, Our Fearless Hero and his woman ride, walk, crawl, flutter, sally forth off across the endless sands of the Sahara, the moors, into the sunset, the White House, or a tropical island aboard his trusty steed, motorcycle, skateboard, private jet, Model T, whatever.

Then, and only then, when Our Struggling Author adds that final period and the words, The End, can he sit back, crack his knuckles in satisfaction and bask in that warm afterglow confident that, yes, it did all come together for him and that he, the author, this bright, shining light of the literary world, this Man of Letters, has finally gotten it.

Me? I stare at the blank computer screen. No story or poem has written itself. No epic discourse on the Human Condition has oozed out onto the screen; the creativity elves are on sabbatical.

My mind is an Old West ghost town; tumbleweeds drift on the breeze across a dusty, desolate, empty street; shuttered, weather-beaten buildings creak and moan in the gusting wind; that eerie, melancholy theme from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly whines from somewhere offscreen. Nary a soul, character, idea, or notion is stirring. Not even my wireless mouse.

Nope, it’s just not coming. I haven’t gotten it, but that’s of little importance right now. I’m going for a coffee, a hot coffee. Period. The End.

A Cambridge native, Bill Ashwell has been a CWC member since 1995.

In 2007 Bill was awarded the City of Cambridge’s prestigious Bernice Adams Memorial Award for Communication and Literary Arts. His poetry and prose have been published in several editions of the Writers Undercover Anthologies, The Cambridge Wartime Scrapbook, and most recently, for the Cambridge Libraries’ 2011 Poem-A-Day Contest. In 2001 Bill published Moments of Clarity, a collection of his poetry.

Bill also volunteers for many community Arts organizations, including FM 98.5 CKWR’s Monday Night with the Arts radio program, and the Cambridge Arts Festival.

3 responses to “The Creative Process: Or How I Stopped Worrying And Learned To Love My Thesaurus

  1. Great blog, Bill!! Fantastic!!

  2. I enjoyed this Bill.

  3. Loved it!

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