My wife and I watched Wild at Heart recently on a recommendation from my past self. I remembered liking this film so many years ago, when I had first discovered the world of David Lynch. It was weird, surreal, and sardonic. A ride that pleased me but for which I had little recollection of.
On rewatch, however, this was not my experience, and I was a little embarrassed at having talked up this film to my wife. Wild at Heart is all over the place tonally. It zigzags from scene to scene, scatter-brained and without purpose. Many of the ideas in Wild at Heart are perfected in later Lynchian works, but in this package, they’re lost and half-formed.
The end of the film is supposed to tie an idea together, but it feels tacked on and cheap. This wasn’t the whimsical, Lynchian romp with Wizard of Oz themes I vaguely remembered. It was dishonest trash.
When I opened the draft of my robot novel the next day, I was taken aback at how unenthusiastic I was for my project. This wasn’t the whimsical science fiction romp with real-world themes I remembered. It read like drivel. The plot meandered. Certain scenes felt hokey and old-timey in a silent film slapstick sort of way. Sure, there were moments of brilliance, but these moments were rare.
Like Wild at Heart, my work-in-progress felt like cutting room floor tidbids I Frankensteined together. It was dishonest, and I couldn’t find myself staring back at me from the computer screen. I was a little embarrassed. This is what I had been spending so much time on?
Many writers like to talk about how writing soothes them, of how it’s a coping mechanism that lets them work through problems and emotions in beautiful, tragic, and enlightening ways. This has rarely been my experience.
I write when I’m happy. I write when I feel the sun on my face and creative juices surging through a body that’s been well-rested, well-fed, and well-exercised. There is no pain emanating from the clicking and clacking of keys.
When I feel pain, I recoil as far inward as I can. I watch classic films. I read comic books. I tighten my mouth, lock up my throat, and let my eyes study from afar —glazed over, distant, and cloudy. It’s a safety mechanism. It’s a way from keeping the public ever seeing me other than at my best. And it’s dishonest.
If I’m being honest, I write solely when I’m in “good-time Charlie” mode. And if I’m being honest, writing this way might not give me what I want. At best, I can hope to produce work that rises only to the popcorn flick level of entertainment. But like many writers, I fear being forgotten.
I want create a body of work that’s good enough to last the test of time.
This is why Rocket and H.I. 97 Destroy Everyone is taking so long. It’s funny, yes, and I laugh every time I read it over. But I want it to make someone feel… something. I’m not aiming to write the best book on the planet, but I want to write something that’ll resonate with at least one other human out there. That’ll make them laugh and cry. That’ll make them feel less alone in the world and inspire them to go out and take on the chaos.
I’ve rethought a lot of my characters lately. I’ve thought about what I should love about them and how I should resonate with them on a deeper, more emotional level. I’ve bled a little more at the computer, stopping myself at passages that disappoint me and really, truly thinking about what it is I mean to say.
I’m still happy when I write, but there’s also an urgency. If I died tomorrow, would I want this to be the work people remember me by?