To be a writer you have to write. It’s that simple. Or is it? For me it hasn’t been that simple. I’ve enjoyed writing since I was old enough to pick up anything to write with. The concrete nature of thoughts on paper was, and always has been, for me an incredible rush. I’m not writing so much anymore, though, and I don’t know why.
I used to revel in the muse. I would get an idea in my head and sit down and pound out a story or an article or an essay in an hour’s time without even stopping. It was so incredibly easy. I must be a writer, I would tell myself, because words came so easy to me. And, my parents told me, I was good. My dad still says I’m a good writer and will often ask me to proofread a business letter or a contract for him.
It’s been a cruel joke lately that the desire to write has become so strong, yet the muse has been so distant and unattainable. So has the motivation, the drive, the time and the energy. I always feel like I have to have certain things done before I write. Such as, my desk needs to be clean. The laundry needs to be done. The dishes unloaded and the dirty ones loaded, the yard mowed, the bills paid, and this list just swirls in my head like a vortex, clouding up my thoughts and snuffing out any desire I have to write in the first place. It just seems like one more thing I have to do. And then when I do write a paragraph or a sentence, I look back on it and I tell myself, “it’s crap.”
I know that I have to clear the clutter from my head and not let things interfere with writing and set some strict writing guidelines for myself. Setting up a daily writing time and sticking to it would probably help. I have to get into the habit of showing up for myself. It’s just like getting in shape which I have just made a commitment to myself to do. Whether I feel like it or not, I have to show up, work out and be done with it. I read somewhere that if you make yourself stick to a schedule that somewhere along the way, something clicks. It becomes such a habit that if you don’t do it, you yearn for it.
My questions is: how do I write when nothing comes to mind? The flow of some of my thoughts to paper only reach two or three sentences and then it stops. I can’t keep the ink flowing like I used to and it’s discouraging. And I call myself a writer!
Do you have to actually write to be a writer? Well, probably. But more than that, you have to have the ability to put thoughts into words and the desire to be a writer. I have always had this romantic view of “myself as a writer” and now, at age… forty-something, I don’t see it ever happening if I don’t get off my butt (or on my butt in front of the computer, as it were) and make it happen. But is my vision of what a writer’s life is like realistic for me?
I see writer’s rising out of bed by 8 or 9, getting a good cup of coffee or tea or whatever, sitting down at their computers and with the ease of a magician pulling endless handkerchiefs out of their sleeve, putting eloquent phrases and thoughts down on paper for a couple of hours. Then, turning the computer off to have the rest of the day to return phone calls, talk to editors, edit or just go to the park if they want. They can wander antique stores to find that perfect entry table they’ve been looking for or go to the store for that new craft they’ve wanted to try or take a drive to the northern part of their state for some fried pies and fresh apples that are so well known up there. Occasionally they will have to make an appearance at a writer’s conference or speak on a panel or do book signings or something but that sounds, to me, as much fun as going to the antique store. Someone pays them big money for this. We’ll maybe not big money, but money nonetheless...HA! I know it's all a load of crap, but a girl can dream big, can't she?
Do all writers see life in cleaver analogies and metaphors that when I read them, I just say, “yes, just the way I would say it if only I had come up with that combination of words.” Good writer’s all seem to see life somewhat askance and with a poetry that defies my belief and creates insecurity in me I cannot shake.
I belong to a writer’s organization and the contact I’ve had with my fellow writers, (there I go, calling myself a writer) is that they just sit down, do some research and write a book. There is no talk about the enormous amount of work, sweat, worry, writer’s block, sacrifice and loneliness that go into putting together a publishable piece. Even the speakers we have at the meetings don’t address much more than what to do after your book is done. Is it because these people are beyond the struggle and I’m just way behind? If that is the case, what am I doing in a group where I don’t fit in?
At our last pre-meeting workshop, members who wanted to take part talked about the future of our organization and what we would like to get from Georgia Writers, Inc. Some of the topics included more professional volunteer recruitment programs to get more people involved in staffing our events, the connotation of the word “pod” versus "chapter" or satellite meetings for affiliate groups not in the metro Atlanta area and the importance whether putting our newsmag online would compromise the integrity of membership to our paying members of which the newsmag is a benefit.
I piped up and asked that there be more information about the process of writing. Is it this hard for everyone? And I need more than a stat answer of “yes”. I need to get a clear picture from these people that they are struggling with the same time constraints, lack of creativity and difficulty in motivation. I need to hear from an accomplished writer that he or she struggles with insecurity every day and fears whether they’ve run out of words or not. Because the way I see it in this organization, writers make a decision to write a book and bam, it’s done. I started a novel more than ten years ago, got halfway finished and put it down. I haven’t done much with it since except pull it out of it’s dusty bag and look at how much (read overwhelming) work needs to be done to it. I’m really not that interested in it anymore. Maybe I just need therapy.
I’m reading a book right now called Unstuck by Jane Anne Straw and it theorizes that people who consider themselves writers, but have so much trouble completing a thought on paper let alone write a book, are people who got stuck somewhere along the way by an overly critical teacher or parent or critique group member. I know about when I quit working on this book and it was right about the time a critique group I was in, and one particular member, was nitpicking and disparaging about my writing under the guise of being “helpful.” I’m sure she was crass about everyone else’s writing too, but I only remember me, as victim. I also remember entering the high school teaching profession at that time. That's crisis enough right there!
Now, so you won’t think I’m a complete idiot, I realize that the nature of a critique group is not to improve your writing by getting slovenly praises all day long for your uncanny ability to write better than any of us and, why are you in the group anyway? But I’m a sensitive person. I’ve always been a sensitive person and I think many writer’s are. They see life as a series of events that shape the world and they feel life, not just watch it or ride in it. They are compassionate and empathetic and I think that’s what makes a good writer; the ability to feel and feel deeply. So, the dilemma is how does a sensitive, thin-skinned person take part in a writer’s critique group or even survive in this business with all its rejection and still come out feuling the desire to write? Writing by its very nature is like putting your heart on a table and passing it around for everyone to palpate, peruse and poke. They turn it over, roll it around in their hands and lift up parts of it to peek under each nook and cranny, looking for flaws before putting it back in your chest with a sneer and a shrug and expecting you to be better off because of it.
Some people would say, “get over it and start writing”, “you’ll never make it in this business if you’re this sensitive”, or “ignore all the naysayers and write anyway.” But I can’t help but hear my inner critic telling my motivation to “beat it, punk or I’ll beat the crap out of you” and stealing its lunch money. Maybe my motivation has been smart to walk away from the fight, but it has had enough and is now going to fight back. Despite the bruises it will endure. Way to go motivation! There will be times where I’ll have to coach it from the corner of the ring and wipe it down with a cool rag and say to it, “get back in there and show him who’s boss. I’m right here beside you and you’re getting bigger than him.” You ARE a writer, you just have to work harder at it.
Wish me luck.
Causes Lisa Heeren Supports
Best Friends Animal Sanctuary