Today is one of those days when I feel discouraged to write, even if simply in response to a basic prompt as practice. What I should be doing is working on my project or at least expanding on my previous blog post with the level of characterization detail I had omitted the first time around. But I don’t seem to be, do I? It’s not standard writer’s block, though…my ideas for my project are there and swarming around and ready to be written…yet there’s this paralysis in me noggin induced by insecurity in the face of all that’s been written by all the writers out there.
Why does this happen? I throw the question out there because I know I am not alone in this. How do I know?
Well, before I answer that question, I think what first triggered all this today was reading Waiter Rant on the bus home from work. This should be a non-threat book in that it’s a nonfiction account of a guy’s experience waiting tables, something I should be able to read without comparing it to my own writing style and content (which has become a nasty occurrence whenever I read novels). The author is a good writer, though; he’s not just ranting and chronicling like it’s Dear Diary and he just wants to catalog humorous facts—he actually has a flair for descriptive and figurative language that illuminates the people and incidents involved to a very engaging degree, and he structures it effectively. And then suddenly it does become relevant content when he’s recalling a conversation with a fellow waiter who comments on his talent for writing, as evidenced by his blog of same name, the very one that eventually became the book due to its massive popularity.
Which reminds me of the close-to-zero viewership of my own blog, which then makes me question why anyone would ever want to read it . Nor my stories or ongoing book project. But it’s all fairly new and more for me anyway, so since when do I even care, right? Right.
With that assurance, I then come home tonight and happen to stumble on other blogs that truly reduce me to clearance at 8 cents per dozen. The cyber-smorgasbord of blogs to be had addressing the same content as both my professional and personal blogs is intimidating—all the creative talent scattered far and wide sowing their seeds so quickly and with such frequency and making it seem effortless. I automatically feel inferior again…
Seriously, it’s one of those days that feels like everything keeps coming back to reflection on the art of writing, but not in the empowering way.
And that was just today’s insecurity blast. At other times it comes on that occasion when my otherwise delightful immersing of self in a bookshop–a moment that is one of hand-clapping and salivating wonderment over all the literary possibilities my fingertips might fondle on those bookshelves–becomes instead like a swift slap in the face by every hardcover and paperback to be had there, taunting me from their holier-than-thou pedestals as if to say, “We made it up here. You’re still down there, and your writing is still just in your My Documents folder on a Mac.” (Yes, the books are quite bitchy when I’m in this frame of mind) Or I read the book jacket of a best-selling author’s latest novel and freak out that it follows a similar theme in a similar environment to the tale that I’m presently weaving, making me feel stupidly unoriginal and, even worse, like I’m crafting a version that could only be sub-par to this writer who has already had her first book adapted to a major motion picture.
It’s like looking at everyone else’s success as it accentuates my singular failure, and there is nothing more detrimental to the process of writing than letting that creep in and seize hold of your grey matter and squish it between its fingers.
So to get back to my earlier question of how I know I’m not alone in this—and, more importantly, that it’s okay—just as I’m revisiting Twitter tonight and esteem-crushingly marveling at everyone else’s links to genius, I came across this little pearl tweeted by Electric Literature, a blog post by Maud Newton. Posting this just yesterday, what she addresses is exactly what I’m talking about above—the crippling insecurity one feels as compared to their favorite writers. Oh gaawwd, I don’t even dare tread that path…it’s bad enough that I’ve come to measure myself against amateur bloggers…so needless to say, it’s very encouraging to see how this is a pervasive issue for writers, among both the published and the aspiring.
So I read this and I still manage to feel paralyzed, first looking at my writing project to see–if I’m not inclined to create new stuff–if I can at least read through what I did write over the weekend and revise it. Not feelin’ it. So then I click out of Word and onto this blog to either embellish on the character sketch of a real person that I initiated a few days ago or sketch myself as a character, as the next page of Room to Write directs. Yet, again…nothin’. With reluctance I then turn to the following page to just get the 3-Strikes-I’m-Out over with so I can shut down the computer and sulk behind a book to just leave it to the professionals and what they’ve already written when…aha.
Yes, I say to you that, lo and behold, page 13 is an A-Haaaa!! sort of serendipitous moment for me.
I am an avid observer of coincidence who becomes increasingly convinced by the day that there is, in fact, no such thing…so imagine my inner gasp when I see that page 13 of Room to Write involves confronting our CRITICAL INNER VOICE. As Bonni Goldberg says here, “A critical inner voice taunts you as you create. […] The best that most of us can do is acknowledge it and keep writing anyway.” Folks, I will delve into this today as an exercise/exorcism: exercising my creative confidence as I exorcise the demon of doubt from my psyche.
Page 13 of Room to Write, then, asks us to convert our inner critic into a character. Consider its gender, appearance, smell, and favorite writers (if it doesn’t think that we‘re good, who is?).
My inner voice is female. At the risk of stereotyping (for the record, I’m a female, so reserve the right to generalize my kind based in my own observances of self), I say this because she has bitchy tendencies to coincide with her vulnerable questioning of me. She needs me to be secure, support her, and in this need comes a desperation and doubt that I can. So, instead of inspiring me, she tears me down, tries to hurt me to make her seem stronger, smarter. Classic insecure female, in my opinion. Next, she’ll be asking me if I think her ass looks fat in those jeans. Well, it does. She is pale and sweaty and pimply with puss oozing out and her posture is horrendously arched. She quivers like a nervous over-bred lap dog and would jump at her own shadow if she ever did dare step into the light. She yanks on my sleeves to pull my hands away from the keyboard and dangles carrot-shaped published works within my vision but outside of my reach to reinforce that which I cannot have. She is bug-eyed in Coke-bottle thick glasses, deteriorating my sight with her own myopia. Her mousy brown, thinning, yet wiry tresses with the texture of pubic hair strike like foot-long lightening away from her head, and I can smell the swampy sourness of her body odor when overactive glands from overactive pessimism spit out their secretions to moisten her dirtied linen blouse. Her preoccupation with bullying me absorbs her time away from tending to herself, though when she does indulge herself with her books (storing up on intellectual ammo to pierce and puncture me with later), among them are Fitzgerald, Dickens, Austen, Hemingway, Rowling, Niffenegger, Maguire.
Ick. Nasty little broad, isn’t she? Well, that felt good. This feels better. I just described someone I loathe and would never aspire to be, so why should I be so concerned about what this chick would think of me? She clearly has more problems of her own. So step off, ya floozy, and leave me be with my writing.
With that activity and brief reflection complete, I’d like to close this post with 2 points of inspiration that Maud Newton’s blog directed me to. First, in the post itself, she gives a precious word of advice—basically, keep a crappy novel that you’ve read nearby, always, so just when you’re feeling down, you can skim through it and remember how crappy that book is that still managed to get published. Second, her post provides a link to an LA Times article, which in turn quotes Ted Solotaroff from his essay, “Writing in the Cold: The First Ten Years”:
“Writing itself, if not misunderstood and abused, becomes a way of empowering the writing self. It converts anger and disappointment into deliberate and durable aggression, the writer’s main source of energy. It converts sorrow and self-pity into empathy, the writer’s main means of relating to otherness. Similarly, his wounded innocence turns into irony, his silliness into wit, his guilt into judgment, his oddness into originality, his perverseness into his stinger.”
Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Inner Critical Voice.
February 9th, 2010 at 10:56
An Addendum: So after last night’s Writer Rant, I continued reading Waiter Rant on the bus to work this morning, and guess what the author, Steve Dublanica, happened to say in the current chapter:
“Ever since Waiter Rant became popular I’ve toyed with the idea of becoming a writer. […] Now, out of the blue, I’m presented with a chance to do something many people only dream about. It’s a great opportunity, but I’m frightened. Can I actually write a book? Will I fall flat on my face? Despite my excitement I feel the shadow of failure wrapping itself around me.
But reading [Raymond] Chandler’s work gives me hope. I’m not comparing myself, but if Chandler’s writing apprenticeship was in the pulps, maybe mine was on the Internet. We’re both self-taught writers, and damnit, if success could happen to a forty-five-year-old man desperate to change his life, why can’t it happen to a thirty-eight-year-old waiter trying to change is?” (p82)
See? Not alone. The very object of my most recent envy has doubted himself too. The serendipity pooling together the forces of the cosmos to teach me this large lesson in little ways is rather sweet, and I’m much obliged 🙂
October 10th, 2010 at 06:44
Well it’s glad to know that I’m not alone! Thanks! 🙂 Great post.
December 1st, 2010 at 00:26
[…] down to it, so hopefully I fared okay on the latter), and rather than dwell on the negativity my Inner Critical Beeyotch will eventually spew, what I know right now is that my manuscript in its present incarnation […]