“All men must escape at times from the deadly rhythm of their private thoughts.”
—Raymond Chandler, The Simple Art of Murder
Today was one of those days when I had to get out of the house to get out of my own head. I packed up my notebooks, a short story in progress, a fistful of pens, and I took refuge in the local library.
(It’s a sad state of affairs when the local coffeehouse holds more peace and quiet than the library does.)
I wanted something to read, something that wouldn’t tax my weary attention span, yet something that would nourish my writing mind and maybe even get me fired up again.
I roamed the Mystery aisles, where I found The Simple Art of Murder. The Preface is in fact the eponymous essay written by Chandler that appeared in The Atlantic Monthly. If you have anything to do with the writing life, you’ll enjoy reading that essay.
The above quotation, taken from the essay, struck me as being a profound truth. Chandler said it in the context of explaining why “escapist literature” has just as much right to exist as what critics consider the more high brow type of literature. My preferred leisure time reading is a good mystery. Getting caught up in the puzzle and the characters takes me away from the stress of my every day life and whatever burdens are weighing on my mind.
Being trapped in “the deadly rhythms” of my private thoughts can trigger my depression or be a symptom of it. Writing in my personal journal isn’t much help then. This is when I need to plunge into the mind of a character. Sinking down to the bone deep level of want and need in someone I’ve created lets me engage in what I think of as primal scream therapy on paper.
There’s a lot of advice out there about how you cannot wait until you’re “in the mood” to write. That’s true. Take the mood you’re in and squeeze it for all it’s worth. Anger. Hate. Grief. Frustration. Despair. Negative emotions tend to be the ones we hold back, so they’ve already built up considerable pressure inside us. Cut the brake lines and ride that emotion down the mountain to whatever head-on collision awaits. It will be messy, but it will also be worth it.