Sunday, June 15, 2008

Writing


Jack Kerouac's typewriter, from here.

Remember my awful infected tooth? That's a bit how my soul feels about not writing.

It's time for me to tell myself the story of what went wrong.

It's such a sore subject for me that I need to explore it, to poke my tongue into the painful crevices of the wound.

I had ambitious plans for the last couple of years. After Madam's birth, I discovered a clarity of thought and voice I'd never quite experienced before. All those dreams I had dismissed over and over as a girl and young adult, came back, with an added note of confidence and possibility. I could get through labor, nurse my daughter, survive two and a half years of broken sleep. And I found all of you, living out all sorts of fascinating artistic dreams. Seeing you gave me the everyday courage I needed to start this blog, to share my writing with strangers for the first time in years.

It was good.

And thanks to your generous feedback, I could see what worked and what didn't...I started learning to spot nuances in my own words, and how to tell stories about things that worked themselves deep in me.

But then, something happened. I started feeling a heaviness in my writing, a desire to make it RIGHT or not make it at ALL. I've always been compulsive about reading writing books and writing advice, but all of that well intentioned knowledge became a soup in my mind. I couldn't quite apply what I was learning...I could just recognize it well enough to see how wrong I was. Writing became frustrating in a completely new way. Despite all of my best efforts, I wasn't getting better. I was getting worse. And I couldn't fix it. Story ideas which had seemed so tantalizing now seemed impossible for me to work on. And I kept getting worse.

Somewhere, I'd always harbored the belief that if we work VERY hard at something, our progress would reflect that. Our jagged edges would smooth out. Things would become more automatic, and pleasurable. I thought A would lead to be B and out to a triumphant C, D, E.

And I kept getting worse. Now the joy in writing was also gone. I couldn't judge my own work, at all. I just knew the efforts of producing it felt abysmal and constipated.

Now, during this time, I was a member of an amazing, creative group of women committed to following our creative dreams. We spoke on the phone once a week every week, and shared our progress. We all did the exercises, and I watched their lives catch fire.

And I just kept getting worse.

Finally, I needed to acknowledge that my ambitious desires to write a Great Novel were probably going to have to be dismissed, at least for a little while. I put writing away in all of its incarnations (which wasn't easy—writing is woven into my day. I do morning pages, keep a journal, write this blog). It got to the point where the very sight of a book I might have once loved caused me to wince.

I returned all of my writing books to the library. I started avoiding bookstores.

Today, at lunch with a friend, I shared all of this frustration. I wish I could report that she had patted my hand, looked sympathetic. Instead, she smiled and said, “OK, that's learning.” She even acted it out a bit with the salt and pepper shakers and the ketchup (OK, maybe you had to be there for that one).

Something about her blasé attitude stopped me short. Is it possible...that I've been torturing myself, thinking that I was stupid and incapable of learning because...learning is not linear? Perhaps this is ho-hum common knowledge to you, but seriously, I NEVER thought of it that way. I honestly NEVER thought that sometimes...we get worse. And it doesn't necessarily mean we should stop.

Madam's speech therapist said something similar when she reminded me that Madam's speech would probably start to get MORE garbled as she learned new words, and started experimenting with sentences.

I still feel that lack of love for writing that frightens me. But maybe that, too, is part of the process—my grown up version of the tantrums Madam throws during her growth spurts.

Either way, I desperately want to try again. Garbled words and all.

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10 Comments:

Blogger Sacred Suzie said...

Interesting. I recently wrote about why I stopped writing during university too. It sounds as though you may have let your internal editor have too much control. That you started proofing your work as you were writing it which definitely will stop the process. In the book "Write like a pirate" she suggests doing exactly that first. Write without rules, conformity at first. Write dangerously doing everything wrong and then later, when your inner pirate is satiated, let your editor come out and take a look. That brings balance to the process and has helped me a great deal. I hope it helps you too!

7:53 AM, June 15, 2008  
Blogger Frida said...

Learning in my life is not linear at all. What drives me crazy is that it seems circular, I seem to keep coming back to the same old places ('problems') but a wise friend always tells me "you can never step in the same river twice, because it is never quite the same river and you are never quite the same man" - I know, he doesn't even bother to change the gender for me, but I forgive him his sexism in this instance because he is right. Learning and life are not at all linear and maybe the worst torture is in feeling that we are going backwards, when we are actually moving through the cycles.

Another thought - you saw that your writing was getting worse because your 'judgement' was becoming more refined? See the Ira Glass video on Blue Poppy's blog on that point:
http://bluepoppy.omworks.com/?ty=2008&sid=668

9:18 AM, June 15, 2008  
Blogger Melba said...

I miss you. and think of you like every day and should have emailed you sooner.
But I am glad to hear you here today. I want to know more. Please do email me and tell me more. I know a bit from J, but I hope all is well. all around the house with such and such.

and yes do watch that video someone suggested and the other speech linked to on blue poppy's blog from JK Rowling. Failure is so so important it just sucks when we are going through it.
Love you.
XO,
Melba

11:52 AM, June 16, 2008  
Blogger Earnest and Game: Heather said...

Thinking of you and sending hugs. Deb just came and visited from Chicago--it's been so long since you came and visited in Portland--remember how you made your way 'round town? Powell's City of Books, of course. xoxo, Heather

1:22 PM, June 16, 2008  
Blogger Deirdre said...

There is, in the growth process, that long moment when nothing makes sense, when everything sucks, when you know absolutely nothing. And then, somehow, it clears and you become so much more than you could have imagained. I think you're there.

It's good to tread lightly ... but tread. Write. Let words come out onto the paper that make no sense - sort it out later.

I'm glad you're back. xoxo

12:07 AM, June 17, 2008  
Blogger Lisa said...

Paralysis by analysis...

I am at my worst when I'm thinking too hard, paying too much attention to what other people are doing and saying. It's like I lose myself and lose my voice.

It's definitely not linear for me. Sometimes I'm excited because I think I've had some kind of epiphany and I finally "get" something that's been eluding me.

And sometimes I feel completely worthless -- like I couldn't write good copy for a business card.

I'm learning to let it go. I don't write when I don't want to and I don't beat myself up over it anymore.

Well -- not this week anyway :)

12:52 AM, June 17, 2008  
Blogger Amber said...

*sigh*
I missed you with all my heart.
Now get out of my head.

:)

11:43 PM, June 17, 2008  
Blogger Alexandra Saperstein said...

Your words about getting worse made me think about my own therapy process and how sometimes as I work on an issue I feel so much worse for awhile before I feel and get better and see movement. It is SO GREAT though M to see you dialoguing with yourself about your relationship with writing and opening up to new possibilities for yourself. You are such a fantastic, soulful writer who I cherish. Lets talk very soon if you have time- my new email is leapandlearn@gmail.com xo

2:05 PM, June 18, 2008  
Blogger bella rum said...

Frida is on to something with the circle, and not stepping in the same place twice. Someone once used a spiral as an analogy for me. The spiral is not on it's side or straight up and down, but slanted upward like stairs with the wider end at the bottom. As you climb, you are sometimes at the top of a spiral and then the bottom. So you sometimes feel like you're backtracking, but, in reality, you are always moving forward and upward. Good grief, I hope this makes sense, but even if it doesn't, I really hope you keep writing.

2:34 PM, June 18, 2008  
Blogger Jessie said...

it's amazing how we can distort our perceptions of ourselves in times of such psychic trauma. i'm not sure if psychic trauma is a real term--but it seems to describe what is happening when things get so incredibly difficult over something you love so much. i know this feeling because of my thesis.

you know when you get the flu and then when you finally feel better you feel REALLY better? well, i think it's like that with this psychic trauma "flu." you are gonna bust past this one day--unexpectedly, without any warning--and when it happens you will fall in love with writing all over again. except that time around your love will be deeper, richer, and even more meaningful--because you and Writing have already been through a lot together.

i love ya.

8:24 AM, June 19, 2008  

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