Breaks from Writing

March 30, 2013 § Leave a comment

Can't Write

Photo credit:

I’m studying in Dublin, Ireland right now. Everything has exceeded my expectations–the surrounding scenery, the literary cultural legacy, and yes, the Guinness. I’ve been pretty happy here, with the exception of my most recent funk, where my brain became a foggy cloud and I felt like I existed behind a veil, where everything and everyone else seemed far away. They happen to me often enough, these funks, but every time they come around, it’s like a smack in the face I never see coming: Hey, did you seriously think I left? I’m always going to be here, and don’t forget it.

I try to wait them out. I try to stay busy and go for walks and laugh with my friends and not feel myself slipping away. And, enough of the time, the waiting out works. But this most recent time, my funk made camp. He slept beside me and watched me walking to school and whispered to my ear when I found myself alone in the house making lunch.

And it depends on the nature of the particular funk, but sometimes all those whirling emotions provide great inspiration to write. I’ll throw myself at the computer and it all comes spilling out and (somehow) formulates itself into something logical and true. And perhaps that’s the silver living of those funks. But then there are the others–when no words come at all, and I’m like a stopped drain. It’s all building up, but there’s no mode of expression anymore, no release. Someone’s blocking the door.

That was this latest funk.

And truth be told, it wasn’t just this past three or so weeks. I have written practically zilch my entire time abroad (about three months now). Despite knowing Oscar Wilde lived down the street and James Joyce wrote about my walk to school, and seeing rolling green hills and old men sip Guinness at the local pub as if they’ve been sipping for a thousand years-nothing. No motivation, no drive to write, except to record some of my touristy experiences for posterity. And true, I’ve been busy, particularly recently with final exams and essays. There’s been meeting new people and going on pub crawls and visiting a thousand year old crypts beneath ancient churches. But every once in a while, buzzing with wine at 3 in the morning in the city centre or sitting on a park bench in Merrion Square, I’ll feel a nudge. Why haven’t you written? What’s wrong with you? This should be the most inspiring time of all!

So here’s what I think: sometimes, we, even as writers, can’t write. It can be because we’re depressed. It can be for no reason at all. And what we have to do first is forgive ourselves. There are quasi-manic episodes where I’m outputting pieces on the daily, some good, some not so good. There are less sporadic time periods where I’m working on one piece consistently, or writing a few little things every few days. And then there are times like these–empty, blank slates. Black holes. Nothing at all. And we need to be reasonably okay with all of these. We need to not get down on ourselves when we sit and stare at a blank piece of paper. We have to say, this isn’t forever. I don’t hate myself for this.

That being said-we do have to give ourselves a little push. Sometimes we can wait for it to pass, and other times action is required. It can be unrelated to writing; read something; go look at some art in your local museum. Walk to the park, sit on the bench, and write a description of any person you see. It doesn’t have to be profound. Just: A woman in a flower skirt with a little boy in stained overalls, with big blue eyes and one little tooth that drools.

One step at a time. And it’ll come back to you.


How can I know …

March 29, 2013 § Leave a comment

“How can I know what I think until I see what I say.” -E.M. Forster

Saying What You Mean

March 21, 2013 § Leave a comment

When I present my writing to others, the feedback somehow always seems to come round to the piece’s perspective. It’s very detached, they say, these people, these close friends or random men with square glasses I meet on park benches. Very observational. Isolated. Kind of lonely, actually. And they don’t mean anything bad by this criticism, these people, just notes, observations.

But this criticism bothered me. Drove me crazy, really. Because in the one sphere where I felt in control, I had rendered myself alone. Again. So I tried new things. I came up with more characters, forced interactions, made them have a jolly old time. More dialogue, less reflection, and overall a lot less aloneness. I refused to let my characters have that right. They were utterly unalone, surrounded by people they felt connected to, and content within their worlds.

And none of it worked.

Sometimes I experience physical feelings while I write. The incredible rush of that almost larger than life flow state, the aching pit in my soul that says yes, yes, that’s true, that’s real, and then the grinding halt of a coughing, trudging piece I’m forcing onward like a dead horse. That’s what these pieces felt like. Each word had to be forced out, whole sentences sagged, and the entire thing just begged me, the merciless slave driver, to stop.

So I did.

Because here’s the thing: it’s great to experiment with your writing style. Perfectly fine, healthy even, to step outside of the little box you’ve created and take a look around, see what else is out there, and also get a good look at what exactly you’re doing. By pushing myself into that uncomfortable place, I realized more about my own style, and that, yes, maybe I could stand to switch it up a bit. But that’s also my thing. It’s what I do. At least for now. My writing comes from an observational stance because that’s how I often feel like I take in the world. It can be lonely because I’m lonely, or because what I’m trying to say reflects the loneliness of human life. My style does what it needs to do: it communicates truth, something that can be lost when another style is forced. You’re doing more than missing the point. You’re betraying yourself.

So if it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. Your readers deserve more, and so does your piece. Say what you mean, not what you think your writing should sound like. Because when you do that, you’re not really saying anything at all. Just noise.


Where Am I?

You are currently viewing the archives for March, 2013 at thesecretmermaid.