Not There Yet

I’m still going through a dry spell–but it’s lasted so long, I’m beginning to think that I’ve just lost “it.” I’ve always wanted to be a writer, always thought I could write, but now I’m not so sure. I can’t seem to write about anything of consequence. I have a theory though. It’s about my mind. But it’s not at all comforting: I think I’ve talked myself into not using it fully.

I’ve just come through a pretty traumatic period of my life, so traumatic that I can’t bear to be reminded of it. I can’t stand the strong and negative emotions certain things evoke. I won’t listen to music anymore, which is a pity because I used to really enjoy it. I stopped going to church, something that once was very meaningful for me. Which is exactly the point: I don’t want to be reminded of anything that once caused deep feelings. So, how can I possibly write anything that touches anyone if I don’t allow myself to be touched?

When I do write something, it’s as an artisan, not an artist. I go through the motions, I employ the techniques, I churn out reasonably well-crafted words. But the spirit is missing. I’ve lost my ability to plumb the depths of my soul. And that makes for bland reading indeed.

I don’t know how to break through the walls that I’ve built in my mind. Maybe when the pain of not being able to write becomes greater than my fear of feeling. It’s getting bad, but I’m not there yet. I just hope that someday I will be.

Beware of Writing Teachers

Pat Schneider writes in her book, Writing Alone and With Others, that a good writing teacher will make you want to write and a bad one will make you feel like quitting. (paraphrased) That’s a little simplistic, but I think she has something there. It doesn’t matter what credentials your prospective teacher has, what matters is does she inspire and encourage you to write?

I took two writing classes when I was in college. Both were on writing creative nonfiction, but one was for beginners and the second was for those who had a little experience. I managed to get into the second one based on work I did in the first. I had a wonderful experience with the first class and the second one almost destroyed me as a writer. I’m still recovering from the damage.

Both teachers are published writers who have written several books, both fiction and nonfiction. Both are nationally known. Both were great teachers. But I reacted completely differently to each of them. At the end of the first class, I was eager to go on, which is why I applied for the second one. Little did I know that it would be my undoing.

The first teacher was a man and the second a woman. I don’t know if that had anything to do with it. But I do know that the second teacher caused me to make an emotional investment in her as a person and when I didn’t feel like she liked me that well, it felt like she was telling me that I was a bad writer. She had (has) a strong personality, scads of charisma, and a very personal way of relating to her students. She made you feel like she really liked you and cared about you–until something happened and she suddenly became cold. That’s when I felt completely undermined as a writer. I was like a little child who thinks she causes her parent to abuse her: If I was a better little girl (writer), she wouldn’t abuse me (shut me out).

Not that this teacher was abusive. She was always completely charming. She would sign her emails: Love, ______, and would tell you that she wanted to be your friend. Toward the end of the quarter she mentioned that she liked to get together with her friends, and somehow I got the idea that she might like to go to lunch with me. So I asked her and she accepted and we met a couple of weeks later for lunch. We were having a nice conversation on the surface, but I could sense that her attention was wandering. When we parted, she was fine, but didn’t say that she’d like to do it again sometime. That was fine, but when I sent her a friendly email later, she completely ignored it. I waited a while and sent another. I never asked her to lunch or anything. She ignored that one. I began to feel like a stalker. And I finally stopped emailing her; it was just to painful to be rejected.

On one level, this didn’t have a thing to do with what she thought of me as a writer. But the rejection of myself as a person translated itself into feeling rejected as a writer. Pat Schneider states that “A good teacher engages you with affection and keeps appropriate boundaries.” Perhaps my story is a good example of why that’s so important. I wasn’t in that class to make a friend; I was there to learn how to write. I ended up torn about myself as a potential friend and writer.

Writer’s Block

I’ve been feeling glimmers of wanting to write again. My novel, essays that I’ve started, etc. But just glimmers so far. I’m still struggling with self-confidence. The only writing I’ve been doing are my blogs. It seems like I’ve been doing less creative writing since I got the laptop. I’m not sure why. It could be coincidental. Maybe sitting on the couch isn’t the best place to write. It’s true that I’m not using the office anymore. But the desk there is too high, I think. And I like having the laptop with me at all times. Has anyone invented a laptop desk that can be used when you’re sitting on a couch or in an armchair? Are there lower desks that you can get for your office? But then that kind of defeats the purpose of a laptop, doesn’t it?

I think it does matter where you write, but I can’t seem to find my ideal place. My own office is a catastrophe. I keep meaning to straighten it out; I have papers stacked everywhere and my files need reorganizing desperately. But I just can’t make myself do it. I guess I don’t really like being in there. Maybe a writer needs a place that says to her, “This is your writing place.” Just like they say that you shouldn’t do anything else (watch TV, work at your desk) but sleep and have sex in your bedroom, maybe you shouldn’t do anything else but write in your writing place. That way when you go there, you associate it with writing and nothing else. Maybe that’s why I’m having trouble sitting on the living room couch. But I’ve done some of my best writing in the past in our laundry room, a corner of our basement bedroom (no windows) or in the aforementioned office. I don’t think it matters so much where I write but whether or not I have something to say.

I think that’s my real crisis: I don’t feel that I have anything to say. I suppose my life has been interesting, but I can’t think of how to write about it. I used to think that I had unique insights on things but now my thoughts bore even me. Is it my medication? But how could I be any more productive if I went off it and became a mess emotionally? There has to be a way around this. But all I feel is despair. I need a writing mentor or coach. But is there such a thing? I really don’t think that a writing group would do it for me. I don’t want to spend my time writing from prompts like the group I’ve joined (but never manage to attend) does. Although maybe I should. I obviously need something to inspire me. I have all these writing books, but none of them seems to help.

One thing I know I need to do more of is read good books. What I mean is, books by good writers. But then I think I have to emulate them and what I really need to do is find my own voice. That’s exactly how I feel: like I’ve lost my voice. I don’t like who I am right now—or what I’m doing—so I don’t like my own voice. Or maybe you don’t have one when you’re not being true to yourself. The only problem is, I don’t know what I should be doing. I feel like I need plenty of time to write, but then I don’t use it. I waste entire days writing in my journals and looking things that interest me up on the Internet. I bet I could wander all day at the library. I don’t want to give up the luxury of time that I now have to do things like that. All my life I’ve wanted time to write. Now I have plenty of it. So that doesn’t appear to be the main problem.

What do I love writing about? What do I feel drawn to? I love writing about my house—about all my houses. Maybe I should pick up on that idea I had of writing about all the parts of a house. But whenever I start to write something like that, I think, who’s going to be interested in this? This is too specific to me. Maybe I should stop worrying about who would want to read what I write and just write to please myself.