When I think about writing, I worry that my only skill is telling other people’s stories. I have a gift for seeing connections and uncovering what others have hidden in words. And I feel confident and capable when this is the task I’m faced with. However, I find that when it comes to writing my story, or writing from my own story, I hesitate.
First, I’m afraid I will write sentimental crap. My emotions, when driving my writing, care very little for craft. I know the familiar advice. Write it all out; edit it to loveliness. Write it, let it sit, come back to it. Write every day, then find your story. I could go on. I’ve done these things, sometimes with good result. They work best when I have a trusted writing partner to push me. No trust, and I can’t be vulnerable; no skill, and the feedback’s just for my ego. I need that sweet combination because I really have a hard time getting out of my own point of view in early drafts, and while writing is cathartic, I don’t really want to be responsible for adding more drivel to the world.
I’m also afraid of hurting people. If I dig deep, pull from the place that is raw, I will say things others don’t want to hear. No big deal, right? That’s what artists do. Well, I’ve spent a lifetime healing and building a healthy, safe existence for myself. When you’ve survived trauma, you don’t always want to open wounds for the sake of art. Is it really worth it? Is my delicate relationship with my mother, my brother, my husband, etc. really worth risking for that great poem, for that novel? I’m not sure. So I write cautiously. And cautious writing is never my best work.
And at the junction of these two fears, is the fear of getting lost in it all. When I’m in the mindset to write poetry, to write in the genre of my soul, I am a lightning rod. I draw in and cast out emotion as a natural force. All my senses pulse right under the surface of my skin. This makes daily functions difficult. For years, I had to choose: write or work. I couldn’t show up to teach inner city kids with the emotional constitution of threadbare and frayed denim. Now that my time’s mine, this is less an issue. But I’ve learned how to adult pretty well. And well, the me who writes poetry isn’t quite so orderly or reliable. I took a week to myself in November. It took me nearly three weeks to come back from there.
Yet, with all of this, I wouldn’t call it writer’s block. That would imply that I’ve insisted on taking a particular path in my writing and been stopped along the way. When one poem and I aren’t connecting, who says I have to stay there? I have an infinite pile of scraps I can edit through. And if not, there’s something else to read. I guess that’s part of it. I’m just open. Not seeking. And the inciting line? When it comes, it comes. That’s haphazard, and it’s probably never going to get me to write a novel from an outline. I also don’t know that that’s what I want to do.
Let me put it this way: I never lived my life looking for a lover, going from person to person asking, Will it be you? Will it be you? But when potential loves entered my life, each in his or her own time, I felt the connection, and I let the love grow where it would, feeding it and pruning it as my heart and the shape of my life allowed. I think writer’s block is very similar to what some people experience when they’ve set out to find the perfect mate – they know they are looking for just this and can’t see a way to it, so they are caught dead in their tracks. I just don’t function that way. It’s not part of my makeup. I recognize no, not this way and come a little closer, and in the meantime I have work to do. I try not to get too caught up in the result. I’m not participating in this group to get past writer’s block, but because I’m better in a community of writers, and because the prompts make it feel like someone’s asking. And that asking is enough for me to set aside those little fears and write for a while.