I’ve hit the wall. I know a lot of artists and tech assholes talk endlessly about the ether, that realm of creativity from which we all pull our greatest ideas. But there’s another realm I like to call the sludge. The sludge is where you go after you’ve exhausted your creative juices. It’s a spirit walk for hacks and college kids writing their first short story. It’s a realm of half-baked ideas and mum that you piece together when you find yourself desperately trying to find inspiration in those hours when you want to do something productive to feel like a writer but would rather lie on the floor watching the fan blades turn like Martin Sheen in “Apocalypse Now”.
The first symptom of the sludge is going back to the well for old ideas you’ve been meaning to work on since you were in college. These are the premises that cause friends and family to nod and say things like, “sounds interesting” and “maybe I need to read it to understand”. After spending a couple days poking through old notes and outlines that you swore were so sharp they’d require very little effort to exhume, you start to look at your old self the way Josh Olsen looks at anybody approaching him with a stack of paper. While feeling defeated you’re still spirited, realizing how far you’ve come in your craft since then, and are now more determined to sit down and think up a new idea.
This is the second symptom of the sludge, wherein your total lack of creativity sends you chasing a number of new premises that you work up “in the moment”… listening to a song, after you’ve just seen an amazing movie, or hearing some piece of drama on the news. It’s a broken moment of inspiration that passes as soon as the emotional trigger is removed. And like the film “Babylon A.D.”, lacks even the most basic elements of a short story, let alone 90+ pages of character development. You realize that all you had was one scene involving a non-descript character performing some act that was strangely like something you just did that day, but not as interesting because the new Arcade Fire is no longer playing in the background.
This leads me to the third symptom, which is naming shit you haven’t yet written. Once you’ve devolved into a pile of worthless ambition, you begin writing in reverse. You start building films out of titles and slogans, sure that with a title as sharp as “Max Muscle Meatdriver” the thing will just write itself. And who wouldn’t be curious to take a trip through “Death Mountain”? And why not try on some “Jackie Switchblade” for size?
This leads us to the fourth symptom, which is leaving a trail of .fdx files sitting on your hard drive. These are the Final Draft files you started, wrote one paragraph, saved, and never got back to. They’re like this blog post.