The world would not be complete without Jeeves and Wooster.
Most of you know Hugh Laurie as the irascible Gregory House, doctor extraordinaire, human being just barely. But years ago he and his best bud and comedy partner Stephen Fry played the leads in A&E’s televisation of some of P. G. Wodehouse‘s Jeeves and Wooster stories. Track them down if you like a good story and some 1930s English wit.
In one adventure, Bertie (that is, Bertram Wilberforce Wooster, whose last name was, in the mists of the distant past spelled “Worcester” like the shired sauce you put on your burger) and his greatest detractor, Sir Roderick Glossop, are both in black face (as in, we were going minstrelling down the pub with Al Jolson) hiding in the shrubbery outside Glossop’s own house, tearing and dirtying their formal dinnerwear (that would be tuxedos.)
Emotional writing connects with readers. But you’re not going to produce it simply by trying harder or longer. You can’t will yourself to an emotional outpouring. I’d like to chat more about ways to increase the amperage in our writing, but I’d like to be sure you understand that “trying harder” isn’t one of them.
Here’s your homework: read any or all of these fine articles on the limitations of willpower, and understand that this is how your brain is wired, not some failure on your part. While these articles are, in general, talking about persistence, problem-solving, and self-control, the principles affect your efforts to produce emotionally evocative prose.
What about pausing when the writing gets hard? Ah; this is a place for nice judgment and some brain science.
When a mental project such as solving a puzzle or overcoming a design challenge becomes difficult, there are two options: push through, or take a break to allow your unconscious to gnaw on the problem without your pesky conscious mind interfering.
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. It can make writers collapse in a gibbering heap in the corner, which might also be dull.
Yesterday I was telling you to keep your momentum. Today I’m telling you to take a break. Coping with conflict is part of the writer’s life. Here’s my perspective on how to balance these opposing needs.
Most folks dislike being interrupted. Finding your place in that column of figures you were adding. Wondering whether you were just about to add the salt, or just added the salt. Might as well start the joke over from the beginning because you aren’t sure where you left off.
With a non-fiction book, momentum is a good idea. With fiction, it’s vital. One reason to write every day, even a few sentences, is to keep the story rolling in your mind. The thread of story, the creative process, is tenuous at times. We’ve all experienced the brilliant thought we were sure we’d remember but which evaporated, leaving only a stain.