Saturday, November 19, 2011

Nothing Scares Me

Until this month's burst of productivity (brought to you by NaBloPoMo--now you know whom to blame), I had been going through an extended dry spell in the writing department. Here on the blog, of course, the archives for the past few years are almost laughably sparse, with November consistently accounting for more posts than the rest of the year combined.

Off the blog--in my spiral notebook journal--things have been spotty as well--I have been working on the same single subject notebook (70 pages, college-ruled, but still) since January 2010, which is unheard of and especially troublesome since that journal has functioned not only as writing practice, but as a therapeutic outlet (the only one I can count on to be covered by my currently non-existent health care coverage) since a few days before my fifteenth birthday. 

In that third writing area, the one I don't talk much about here--potentially publishable stuff--the dry spell has persisted even longer. I have not finished, or even earnestly attempted, anything I intended to submit for publication since a piece that appeared in a literary anthology in 2005.

In the beginning of this dry spell, there were still ideas floating around in my brain, but I found I lacked the motivation* to do anything with them. I would sometimes pretend it was time and energy I lacked, but that excuse did not hold up when I considered all the time and energy I was "wasting" on things like Ghost Hunters marathons, futzing around on the internet, or even reading--which is a fine, and even necessary, pastime for a writer, but which defeats its purpose when it replaces writing entirely.

As the dry spell and its accompanying lack of motivation continued, it seemed the ideas began to dry up as well. I would think of a subject I might want to write about, but I couldn't think past the first line or two and the nothing that I assumed came after those lines terrified me so much I rarely got around to writing down even those first lines.

If I had, I might've remembered a core truth about writing. E.L. Doctorow said, "It's like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way."

It is not necessary to be able to clearly see your destination when you begin, your path will almost always be revealed to you as you inch along. If it's not, consider turning around, choosing a new route or asking for directions at that gas station you just passed, but whatever you do don't just pull off to the side of the road and wait for things to get better. Scary things happen on the side of the road in the dark.

There was a point during this dry spell that I began to suspect I had not only lost the ability to write, but the ability to think as well. Without the structure, revision and discipline of writing, I was finding it more and more difficult to focus my thoughts--they seemed superficial and fleeting, insubstantial and definitely not worthy of memorializing by putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, so I wrote less, which seemed to make me think less clearly, so I wrote less, and so on.

Joan Didion said, "I write entirely to find out what I'm thinking, what I'm looking at, what I see and what it means." Turns out, that's me, too. All this time I've believed I was writing what I thought, but I was really thinking what I wrote.

*This lack of motivation stemmed in part from the capital-F Funk, which was a combination of my natural depressive tendencies and life events.


  1. Good luck getting back in the habit. I think it might have been either Stephen King or Terry Pratchett that said writers need to write something every single day, even if it is just stream-of-consciousness stuff. I am trying to adopt this practice, but it can be hard, especially once you become a Mom.

  2. This is all totally what I was going to say. So glad I'm not alone in this. *sniff*

  3. Toss the car keys to your seventeen year old, give hubby the grocery list and attend a writer's conference or workshop. The comraderie will help get you going.
    Write on -Kelly

  4. I can identify with a lot of what you wrote- it's easy to forget that even stream of consciousness writing, if that's all we can manage some days is beneficial.

  5. Thanks for the comments--and the reminders about making writing (any kind of writing) more of a priority.

    Part of my issue, I think, has been that I feel so isolated--living in a rural area where no one I see or speak with on a daily basis has anything like the obsession I do with words (read or written). One of the great things that has come out of NaBlo for me this time around has been the reminder that there is a great deal of community, comraderie and encouragement to be found on the Internet.