Do it better
Eyes watering, lying on my back, I stared into a fluorescent light. Metal scraped against my teeth, the taste of plaque cascading across my palate. I thought about how fitting it would be to write about how much I hate the dentist – how it’s both cliché and intensely real; a necessary evil that we’re all forced to live with in order to keep, you know, chewing things.
And then I got to work. I started to type. Something hit me.
I’ve already talked about this.
”Intrusive. Awkward. Banal. Antisepticised and stretched taut with rubber.
Have you ever chewed on your fingernails? You know the taste you get, like a grinded piece of old plastic, dark and deep yet earthy and natural?
Mix that taste with cinnamon, then scrape at your eyelid.
That, to me, is the dentist.”
With over 1,000 posts in the backlog of Black Marks on Wood Pulp, I’m finding it increasingly harder to find topics I haven’t already written about. And at work, after only three years of writing copy, I’m discovering a newfound mental block, where the only ideas I can come up with are old ideas.
It’s not writer’s block – that would assume I can’t think of anything at all. It’s more like writer’s blockage, with thousands of previously written ideas are flooding back at once, blocking the progress of anything new or creative.
When this happens to us – in any form of creative work – it’s easy to give up. To say, “Oh, all of my ideas are dry,” and move along with something trivial, or accept a less than stellar idea in the name of Getting Work Done. We are led down the simple path. The path to hackdom.
But it’s important to realize that, indeed, thoughts are rarely original. Except in the case of new forms of media, everything’s been done. Creativity isn’t coming up with new ideas – it’s taking the existing ideas and mixing them in a way you don’t expect.
There’s a quote from director Jim Jarmusch (which I discovered just a few weeks ago on Please Feed the Animals) that sums this up:
”Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination.
Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic.
Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery – celebrate it if you feel like it.
In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: ‘It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to.’”
So I can write about going to the dentist again. Or, I can write about writing about the dentist. Or, I can forgo the dentist completely and talk about what would happen if I didn’t go. I can write an ad for a dentist. I can look for anagrams. Describe my walk from the car to the dental office in the same vein as an executioner’s walk. Speak from the vantage point of my teeth.
It doesn’t matter if it’s been done. It matter if it’s done well.