The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Monday, October 09, 2006

Ennui and the Blank Page

By Tamara Lee

I love ennui. Not the feeling, but the word and the way its syllables seem to get stuck in my nose. I love the way the word conjures images of leisurely women lazing about on divans, half-heartedly eating bonbons. It’s a word too glamorous and full for such an empty feeling, but maybe that’s the attraction.

Last month, for 12 days, I was on a restricted diet, and for the bulk of that time I was filled with ennui, while temporarily restricting consumption of certain culinary pleasures and gagging down handfuls of herbal pills. It may seem like a crackpot thing to do, but in some circles, it is a heralded annual event akin to buying a smashing new coat for the season. It’s rather an investment, but it can also cure what ails you.

This was my second go-‘round with the regimen, and it was a lonely endeavour. Afraid to go out with friends lest I be tempted to eat the unholy foods, and a little too lethargic to get much else done, the first week was a tough one for me. That week of ennui was like a lifetime. Not my lifetime, mind you, because quite frankly I’ve been blessed with a pretty eventful life, but someone else’s life, someone much more bad-tempered.

The first week saw me bitching at neighbours about decibel levels, and getting testy with co-workers about incompetence. And the things I said to the poor, hapless telemarketer, so clearly just out of high school. Crimey. Sure, the no sugar/no dairy/no flour diet rids you of all the bad stuff, but waiting for the good stuff was like a believer waiting impatiently for passage to the holy end.

So why on earth go through it? Well, by day 8 my energy finally started to return, my nagging skin problems showed promise of clearing up, my arthritis and other joint ailments lessened. Nice payoff, for a week of sacrifice. Too bad I didn’t get much writing done with all that spare time. Seems my creative energy was sapped, as well.

But with the physiological breakthrough came the creative one, and by day 9 random story ideas began to take form. Psychological and physical traits in people, and art and music, prompted new story ideas. I bought art and photography books, and downloaded random music. Inspired by new sights and sounds, my spirits were lifted in the way that only a personal achievement can lift them. Now, three weeks later, I’m still energized and hopeful, with ideas coming at me leftrightcentre.

Having once again successfully completed this 12-day programme, I wonder how I’ve managed to convince myself I am not capable of real commitment. Least of all, say, committing to an intense project like writing a novel in 30 days during NaNoWriMo. But this is just what I’m gearing up for.

The ideas for the novel have been evolving for some time, but my fear is so much bigger than my ideas sometimes. My stories generally don’t grow larger than 3,500 words, so the thought of 50,000 seems colossal. But I’m now realising I have committed to, and accomplished, much more difficult tasks before this one.

The trouble is, the only times I’ve ever achieved something really big have been events approached on the sly, when I didn’t over-think the idea, and just up and did it. My decision to return to university, both times, was simply announced after I had secretly applied and received my acceptances. And when I quit smoking, I just told people I ‘wasn’t smoking much these days’ until one day I said, ‘No, I don’t smoke.’ But these and other big decisions have one small thing in common: They all came after a brief yet significant bout with ennui.

So why now announce my intentions? Am I jinxing myself? Setting myself up for certain failure?

In spite of my two previous failed attempts at NaNoWriMo, I've been pondering this third attempt for months. Now others in the CWC here are planning to NaNo, too. And so, with such a spirited force of brave souls with me, I feel emboldened by their energy. These are the same folks who were so encouraging with this blog-project: Safety in intrepid numbers.

I am also hoping that revealing my secret intent to write a novel in 30 days will prompt folks to follow along, while some of us force ourselves to hammer out those 50,000 words in a month and live to blog about it. If that sounds like a spectator sport only a little more amusing than watching bowling on TV, then why not join us? There’ll be a nice payoff for the month of sacrifice, meanwhile commiserating with others as we cleanse ourselves of novels not-yet-written.

Be a sport, or be a cheerleader. Either way, during the notorious month of ennui, this NaNoWriMo project is sure to cure what ails you, and you won’t even have to give up white flour.


Blogger Steve Gajadhar said...

Good luck! I'll have to pass on NaNo this year, but who knows, maybe next year.

Mon Oct 09, 05:45:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger J.A. McDougall said...

I can relate as I've been on my own restricted diet as I try to shed those summer camping pounds. Hopefully our new selves will be in fighting form for November!

Mon Oct 09, 06:34:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

I have been known to have weeks of ennui and you're right -- plots are percolating under that indolent surface all the while. I admire you for tackling a novel in a month. May your ennui be far away.

Tue Oct 10, 01:18:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Patricia said...

ohhhh ennui, god, that's what it's called!!! and yes, nanowrimo is approaching fast, just write, and write, let the words come, they will..and, most of all, have fun!

Tue Oct 10, 12:36:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Patricia said...

ohhhh ennui, god, that's what it's called!!! and yes, nanowrimo is approaching fast, just write, and write, let the words come, they will..and, most of all, have fun!

Tue Oct 10, 12:36:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Patricia said...

and not coming up with 50,000 words does not mean you've failed, it means you have fewer, better, words..xo

Tue Oct 10, 12:38:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger tamara said...

Thanks, gang! I'm still stoked and hoping I can maintain momentum. And you're right, Patricia, even if I don't make it...

Wed Oct 11, 03:08:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger MelBell said...

I am so psyched for NaNo!

Thu Oct 12, 12:15:00 pm GMT-4  

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