How I persevered through a serious case of writer’s block
My task today was to write an essay for this blog that is inspiring, honest, vulnerable. Instead of meaningful content, I have a headache and a bunch of nothing. Do real writers feel this stress? Am I doing something wrong? Why do I struggle?
I do not know what it means to write well, but I know I am falling short of the mark.
Blogs are supposed to be instructive, stories of success and inspiration. Today, my only success is that, four hours after I sat down to write during which I ranted and raved and cried in a Starbucks bathroom, I am still here, still writing. It would have been easy to give up hours ago, to conclude that today is not the day to write. To blame a break in routine, or allergies, or hunger, or exhaustion after a week filled with paying taxes, finding my birth certificate and navigating through the bureaucracy of the DMV. I had my choice of excuses.
Instead, I set my timer (and reset it, and reset it again). And I wrote.
None of what I spewed onto the page during these hours is reprintable. Most sentences do not read completion and I changed subjects too many times to count. In the spirit of transparency, however, the highlights are below.
Five Things I Learned While Trying to Rest
I have long been frustrated by my inability to relax. My compulsive need to create means that even activities I enjoy -reading, brainstorming, non-directed thinking - are tinged with anxiety. I often find that I rate the happiness of my days by how much I have accomplished. It is easy for me to tailspin into despair at the thought of an unfinished to-do list.
This need to complete (paired with the frequent stress brought on by not finishing a task or missing a goal) prompted me to complete Matt Frazier’s goal setting program in January. I had struggled to make writing a priority and, as a result, I was prone to spontaneous fits of crying. I was not accomplishing my goals and the stress surrounding achievement (or the lack thereof) was making achievement impossible. It was a vicious cycle but Matt’s clear writing and accessible techniques gave me hope that one day I would be able to declutter my mind and my lists, and write consistently.
My success continues to dumbfound me. I now crave writing and always have time to scribble even a few notes. I am still far away from my ultimate dream of being a full-time writer, but that is now an in-sight possibility and not just a young-girl fantasy.
Still, it is possible to have too much of a good thing. In the past few weeks, as I feel urge to write grow,I have toed the line on of excess. Dizzy with my success,I have not given myself a moment to breath. And so, after reading an article on the importance of rest by Nicole Antoinette of Life Less Bullshit, I decided to take several days off from my two-hours a day writing routine and dedicate my designated work time to reading and creating ideas.
During this period of pause, I discovered five important things about myself and about the importance of both goals and rest.
Mental Illness, socioeconomic status, and the importance of stories (Free Write Series, Part 2):
I had hoped my writing today would effortlessly flow. Nothing ever flows effortlessly, at least not with a lot of work, so I don’t know what I was thinking. But I would like to write something, and I think that this piece is an important one to share. This will be the second essay in my series of stream of consciousness pieces written during the six week course, “Storytelling Through Poetry and Photography”, that Ilana and I taught last summer at Mercy Housing. As I alluded to in an earlier post, these essays are my way of revealing the parts of myself that I usually keep carefully hidden under layers of assumed confidence. Sharing these words is my way of becoming vulnerable.
The theme is “Home”.
I have never felt like I blended in with my neighbors around me – always an outsider even among friends. I never connected. Was often bored, even when playing and so I decided I preferred to be alone, although I knew that wasn’t true. I longed, as a child, for a true friend who understood me, who wouldn’t judge me and who would love me. In whom I could confide and with whom I could feel comfortable. Even though I could not articulate these desires well, I know, looking back, this is what I wanted. And so I was often unhappy because I never felt a connection to a relationship. I made things work, but always with fear and dread of the moment when my friend chose someone else to be their best. My best friends came and went with bracelets and necklaces as proof. But the friendships I saw between others, read about in books, never came.
Flannery O’Connor, born on this day in 1925, on storytelling and why the grotesque appeals to us.
"For what it’s worth: it’s never too late to be whoever you want to be. I hope you live a life you’re proud of, and if you find you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start over again."— F. Scott Fitzgerald
Running in the spotlight
I took a plunge last week and shared with my writing group an essay about running. This topic might not seem shocking –hundreds of people make their living writing about running –but coming from me it was a newsworthy choice. In the sixteen years that I have been a runner, I have shared exactly one running-related essay (a reflection on the Boston Marathon bombings) with anyone other than my mother. Running is the time when I work out problems and in writing about it I often reveal my most intimate anxieties. Running is my private topic.
But, as a result of the tangled mess that has recently constituted my thoughts, I have not produced meaningful content about Uptown. I contemplated skipping my writing group and hiding the essay about running in a file on my computer while I waited for my ruminations about Uptown to codify. In a moment of weakness (or courage), however, I uploaded the piece to the group message board.
As the critique began, I realized that the reason I had been hesitant to share this piece was not its theme but its subject. I was at the center of the action and the criticism.
When an essay about Uptown is sloppy, I can hide behind the content. I can tell myself that my subject matter is difficult; that I cannot be expected to handle the intricacies of someone else’s story well on the first or second or third attempt; that the piece, not my writing ability, is to blame for my struggles.