Nine: Truth, Lies, and Writers Block

It’s been a blissful weekend and it continues today. We will hike, eat, play games, and so forth.

Last night we watched Nine. The story is primarily about writers block, which is the problem writer/director Guido Contini faces as he tries to write his ninth movies. He’s had wild success but his last two films were flops. Shooting begins in a few days and he doesn’t have a script started yet.

Most of the movie is comprised of lushly-filmed, surrealistic musical scenes that move back forth between memory and the present, and are mostly in his mind. The movie is based on a film by Fellini, 8 1/2, which was about his difficulties writing his next film.

This is the second time I’ve seen it, the first was in a theater. Now, I am at a place in my life where I try to produce words every day and finish writing projects and after finishing my most difficult short story. My focus the first time was on the costumes and the dance scenes (which are amazing). This time the movie penetrated in a different, deeper way because it speaks to me about the difficulties of creation. And of the narcissism and self- focus that come with creation.

As just about every person who comes into contact with me in a writing context knows, I am terrified of offending people. This can be a great trait in business (as long as it isn’t taken too far). It’s deadly for a writer. Add the tenor of the times we live in where everyone has dialed their sensitivity meters to offense up to eleven and sometimes I want to hide under my bed until the parade passes.

A fair amount of writing is making a choice and telling the truth about that choice to the best of our abilities. Truth is always shaded by perception because we are weak humans that cannot know the entirety of truth, especially about complex matters. And that means offense is always possible But without truth shaded through perception and through character opinion, the writing won’t engage.

We all make mistakes. Sometimes our words hurt people or carry meanings we weren’t aware of. The problem with writing is that mistakes are memorialized for all to see. In business, I learned quickly to never put anything down in an email, report, or memo that could be wielded as a weapon later. In writing fiction, I must allow that vulnerability.

It’s not just about truth. Lawrence Block famously titled one of his writing books “Telling Lies for Fun and Profit” because that is what fiction is. It is a story that we tell that isn’t true. Combine the need to tell larger truths through lies, and collisions are inevitable.

Guido Contini gets caught up in his lies and in his narcissism in the movie until one by one the women he objectifies as his muses tell him that he must stop lying to himself and they abandon him. One arc in the movie is that Guido moves from spinning lies to living truth.

Right before I watched Nine with Steve, one of my friends said, “If you do your best to channel the Muses, the work will defend itself.” In the muddle that my mind is, his words combined with the beauty of the movie until I asked myself, “Carolyn, how is your fear of giving offense, your desire for everyone to like you, any different than Guido Contini’s narcissism and self-lies? Where does this lead? To writers block, clearly.”

Nine is a glorious movie for any writer to watch. The music and the costuming are also a treat. I recommend it highly.

I hope you are living truth, even if you are spinning lies. Be well, friends!

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