Writers Block or Not

I can’t really call it “writers block” since I just read a litany of quotes that deny the existence of such a malaise, for instance:

“I don’t believe in writer’s block or waiting for inspiration. If you’re a writer, you sit down and write.”

– Elmore Leonard

“I haven’t had trouble with writer’s block. I think it’s because my process involves writing very badly. My first drafts are filled with lurching, clichéd writing, outright flailing around. Writing that doesn’t have a good voice or any voice. But then there will be good moments. It seems writer’s block is often a dislike of writing badly and waiting for writing better to happen.”

– Jennifer Egan

“All writing is difficult. The most you can hope for is a day when it goes reasonably easily. Plumbers don’t get plumber’s block, and doctors don’t get doctor’s block; why should writers be the only profession that gives a special name to the difficulty of working, and then expects sympathy for it?”

– Philip Pullman

“I’ve often said that there’s no such thing as writer’s block; the problem is idea block. When I find myself frozen — whether I’m working on a brief passage in a novel or brainstorming about an entire book — it’s usually because I’m trying to shoehorn an idea into the passage or story where it has no place.”

– Jeffery Deaver
“Writer’s block is a luxury most people with deadlines don’t have.”

– Diane Ackerman

“Lower your standards and keep going.”

William Stafford

I love the last one from William Stafford mainly because, I can’t lower my standards much more than I have already. Then again, what are my standards? That’s a good question and one I’ve never given much thought. Sure, I would love to write that one great piece or that one great novel or poem, but do I really have the stuff, the inner smarts, to write like that? No matter what some may say, I believe that the really great writers have a skill that us mere mortals do not. Somewhere in the genes, in that magical mix that makes us human beings, the great writers got something else, a bonus gene that allows them to see the world through different lenses. Sure, many of us can describe a sunrise or sunset, a forest full of tall pines or the view of the ocean from atop a mountain, but can we see what’s underneath, the glimmer on the glass, the undulating waves, the various shades of green that fluctuate as the shadows of the clouds pass over the distant scene.

There is a sense of the magical, of wonder and desire that some people can easily write about. Love in it’s infinite ways of being, how it feels in the deepest parts of our souls, how just to look at one’s beloved brings a depth of feelings right into the core of who we are. No wonder we say, they are broken-hearted, for love can and does not only break a heart, it shatters the fragile flesh.

There I go again, off on a tangent not at all sure how I got to this point when the point was about writers block and my own style. Maybe, and this is a big maybe, it’s really not a block but a more of a drought. Ideas, ones you thought would make for a great story, once written down seem flat, dead and rather silly. Yet, each day I try to write, something. A small piece, a bit of poetry, micropoetry, something that forces me to dig below the surface and mine the richness that is waiting to be exposed to the light of day. That is if all I discover is a vein of fools gold, it looks all bright and beautiful but upon inspection and retrospection is found to be worthless. As I write this, I’m thinking, isn’t this all part of writing and wanting to write, the self doubt, the fear and wondering if what is written is any good?

I’m sure that most of this sounds familiar to many who have read some of my stuff, it’s become my theme and maybe my vocation. It allows me to express my doubts, fears and inadequacies and put it out there for all to see and read. I also hope that by voicing my own lack of confidence that it might just help someone, who has more talent, to go ahead and write that one piece that has been rattling around in their head for so long. As for me, I’ll continue throwing out the words that I see with my minds eye. I will continue to write knowing that I tend to jump from one thing to another in the most haphazard of ways and really, isn’t that the reason to write?

My 800 Words

 So, I started watching this Australian show on Acorn, the Brit equivalent of Netflix, about a guy whose wife has died and he moves himself and his kids to a small town in New Zealand. Called 800 Words, it centers on their new life and on his vocation as a writer, a cute show and I’m sure we will continue to watch it but what struck me was the way it treated writing. Now, I’m sure there are writers out there who can just sit down in front of their laptops and the words just spill out in perfect order and symmetry but for myself that’s not the case. In this show, the main character, a writer, does just that, sits at his laptop speaking as he writes with little or no editing. The reason the show is called 800 Words, is that is the title of the column he writes for a newspaper, as he limits his subject to just 800 words.  

When I write, it takes time and I’m constantly editing my work to the point of being a bit overly anal about it. Every word, every sentence, I try to make perfect and this coming from an English class failure. It’s not in my nature just to sit down and write straight out and if I do I’m consumed by doubts and fears that what I’ve written is just pure shit. Lately, I’ve tried my hand at poetry and that seems to go along okay, I’m no where near being a good poet since I have no idea what I’m doing, but it has caused me to reflect on my own style.
 Right now, I’ve got several pieces, of fiction and nonfiction all in various stages of the process. My problem is procrastination, my mind is a turbine of words and thoughts as I try to write, so much so that I tend to get lost in the spinning blades. The only editing the author in this show did was to eliminate one word to make his 800 word limit, I wish it was that easy. Here I am at over 300 words watching the word count meter ticking up as I write, having no idea where I’m going with all of this. 

 Am I a writer? That’s a good question and one I continually ask myself. Eson Kim, one of the instructors at Grub Street in Boston, has been most encouraging when it comes to what I have written, but then that little voice of doubt creeps in saying, “That’s her job. To make you think you can write, after all you’re paying for the privilege of indulging in your fantasy of being the next Hemingway.” Yes, I do have fantasies of being a decent writer, then I wonder if I have the discipline and smarts to be one. Writing daily so many words, tying each paragraph together, developing characters with some depth, the kind of people easily identifiable by the readers who come upon my hieroglyphics. 

 I know I have a story to tell, it may not be the rags to riches fare, or about lifting oneself from the depths of poverty, despair or some other great tragedy, but there is a story to be told. Is there an audience that will read what I write? Is that really the question I need to ask, is that the only reason to write to find an audience, to be published? It was Eugene Peterson, a writer and minister who I admire, who wrote that he writes because of a deep need to do so, whether or not he has any readers is not the point. I guess that being an Episcopal priest and a person of faith, I should just allow myself enough slack to write and let the words fall where they may. Whether it is poetry, prose, fiction, nonfiction, memoir or just my own reflections on what I hear and see going on, I need to write. 

 Too much is bubbling up inside and like a volcano where the magma has been building up over years, the lava of words just need to be released. It may be messy, incomplete, full of nonsense or just plain nonsensical, but these are my words and my thoughts. 

 So I will plug along, slowly like the tortoise, I’m too old to compete with the young guns out there but each day I will challenge myself to write. Maybe this will eventually become my version of the 800 words. Not a daily write but maybe an occasional reflection on what I see in the world around me. For those of you who have volunteered to ride along on this train, beware, it’s going to be a bumpy ride. My word count is now 795, time to stop writing. 

One Day

One day,

I will not be here

but not today.

One day,

I will not feel the rain

or know the wind

but not today.

One day

I will not feel

love or pain

but not today.

One day

I will not hold my lover

in the darkness

but not today.

Today, 

I will live,

Today,

I will love,

Today,

I will feel,

Today,

I set my heart

to look forward

Today,

I hold my lovers hand

as we kiss,

Today,

I will live fully,

in the beauty

of God’s world.

Fog

Fog slowly rolls over the hills,

it’s mist settling into the valley,

trees are engulfed in the haze,

losing their identity in the cover.

No longer recognizable,

becoming mere shadows,

that seem to ebb and flow,

as the fog begins to take hold.

What was once solid,

is now permeable.

The vision once clear,

slowly becoming indistinct,

time eroding what little is left.

The corridors of the mind,

narrowing under the weight,

as air becomes heavy with dew.

Peering into the thick mist,

trying to see the edges,

groping along the path,

that disappears into the forest.

An Old Man Writes

I’m in deep,

not sure,

about self.

All the old doubts,

old voices shouting,

my own heart,

quivering.

I’m not smart,

the voices shout.

Now, I hear the muse,

as I enter,

the tunnel,

the voices are heard.

Why, I ask,

why now,

as I grow weak.

This is for the young,

the smart,

those afflicted with doubt.

Yet, here I stand,

writing nonsense,

the bane of old age,

never knowing,

ever seeking,

an old man

writing about love,

in the dark corners,

behind closed doors.

Being 64

I sit here, wondering,

I’m 64 and still not sure.

My mind is awash with thoughts,

they swell up like high tide.

I’m Canute trying to ebb the flow,

but it’s relentless,

there’s no turning back.

So I write,

everyday,

every thought,

every feeling.

I write, it’s a flood,

of a pent up life.

Of not being smart,

of not being a star.

Now, I’m breaking free,

from the bonds of opinion.

My words are mine,

incomplete as they are,

a vision of the dreams,

unfulfilled by the fear.

So here I sit,

I’m 64, no longer willing,

to be silenced by old nightmares.

I write,

imperfect as it may seem,

but I write,

I’m 64, there’s is so much more,

to life, to love, to be.

Precious Things

They are nothing more than some old, yellowing pieces of paper so fragile that the wrong touch might just destroy them. For many people these pieces of paper would mean nothing at all and would have probably ended up in some recycle bin a long time ago. They hold no real value and wouldn’t even be given an honorable mention on Antiques Roadshow, but they are, in their own way, priceless.

These pieces of old, yellowing, cracking paper are the records of my own family, the marriages and births of those whose DNA I carry with me today. To read these is to read a story of family, where we came from and what has shaped us into the people we are and what we have inherited from the past. I look upon them and see a young couple in their twenties, my grandmother Emily Violet Travis aged 20 and my grandfather Percy Roberts aged 21, just starting a new life, a whole world opening up for them. I wonder how they met, fell in love and decided that they were meant for each other. My grandparents as young people, ready to tackle life together, to share in both the joy and the heartbreak that life brings. It’s funny to read these certificates from England where a young, unmarried woman was called a spinster and the young man a bachelor, I always wonder what she thought or did not think of that descriptor.  

I see the signatures of my great-grandparents, witnessing the next generation taking their place in the world. Venturing forth to start a new family, blending their traditions as they create new ones to pass along to their children. 

Sometimes, we think that it is the material things and keepsakes that hold sentimental value, and they do, but what I cherish is what has been handed down, a sense of connection to a living past. I look at the old photos and they are no longer ghosts of a long forgotten time and place but they are living, breathing people who laughed, loved and grieved as we all do today. 

Soon it will be the 94th anniversary of my grandparents wedding, in that time families have come and gone, the world has changed and no longer do we call young women, spinsters. We hold in ourselves the remnant of those who have gone before and we look with hope to the future as we see another generation taking their place and creating their own distinctive mark on this world.