Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Why a boy helped me get over my writer's block

Though I am a blogger (a fact I will admit only in certain company), I cannot in good conscience call myself a writer, although it's the one thing I've aspired to for probably the last twenty years or more. I think I started blogging as an outlet, sure, but also as a way to mosey up to that hazy and mysterious activity I called "writing." Over two years later, and it's been both more and less than I thought that it would. I have outlets galore, every new entry an opportunity to splash blood, tears and gut-churningly raw emotions all over the computer screen. I have nearly instant feedback from some of the most lovely and discerning readers on the Internet. But when it comes to writing, I think my blogging has forged an asymptotic relationship at best, doomed to forever approach closer and closer without ever reaching the status of what I consider "real writing."

To me, writing means fiction. It means creating something from nothing. And though I am able to create small windows into my life through blogging, writing about people and places I don't know was the one thing I had never managed to do. It wasn't that I thought I was incapable; in fact, I hoped (without being certain) that I might have a knack for it. Rather, the problem was that I lacked inspiration, or that was what I told myself. At some point I realized the problem may be less about inspiration, and more about motivation. And then, finally, it was about having no idea at all where to start. I tried to orient myself, I tried to find guidance. I checked a copy of The Artist's Way out of the library and faithfully wrote my "morning pages" every day, half-heartedly performed the daily affirmations, skipped out on the weekly "artist date," and got bored of the whole thing just about the time the book was due back at the library. This year in Paris I excitedly shelled out a chunk of baby-sitting money for a writing workshop taking place weekly in the Shakespeare and Company Bookstore. I only made it to about four of the seven meetings, and was beyond disappointed to discover that instead of writing exercises and creative brainstorming, the two hours each week were spent listening to and critiquing other participants' work. Which would have been great had I been able to participate, but the problem was that I wasn't writing in the first place. And thus my creative writing block remained firmly lodged somewhere between my gray matter and my increasingly antsy fingertips.

It is with this background in mind that I am proud to announce that during the last several months I have made my first tentative, tottering baby steps into the world of short fiction. But how did this breakthrough happen, you ask? What inspired me where books and workshops and self-motivation failed? Well, honestly, I have to say that most of the credit has to go to Hervé. Though he teaches social studies and economics, he has dabbled in some creative writing himself, publishing a book of poetry when he was only 22 years old, and then publishing another on the Internet. When I first shyly admitted my interest in writing, he asked me what I would write about. "Well I do have this idea for a short story," I told him, "but I don't know how it ends." And as I told him my half-formed idea, and as we discussed it together, suddenly it all became clear. "Of course! That's how it ends!" I said. Then we talked more, and suddenly all the tiny details necessary to form a convincing narrative started falling into place. By the end of our discussion, he had an idea for a short story, too. Now, I have an outline for an entire short story or novella, and I've written the first one and a half chapters. Hervé has also been busy, and has written the first few chapters of his story. I've read a couple of them, and he's due to send me more by e-mail soon. I suppose I don't need to mention that they're good. What's more, we would write together. Where the writing workshop failed me, Hervé picked up the slack. We would spend evenings together, playing word games with friends, or making up writing exercises for each other. I would write in French, and I hated the frustrations of it, my limited vocabulary, and at the same time I loved the challenge.

And now those days are over, of course, and I am back at my parents' house and stagnating. And it seems so futile, because here I have all this time, limitless time to write, and instead I feel oppressed by these small town confines and my parents' constant presence, and my hands are still. Soon I will move on to something and somewhere new, and my time will be occupied by work and the effort of settling in to a new place and forging a new identity for myself. I hope I will continue to write, and I hope I will finish the story, but I'm not sure that I will. But for now it is enough for me to know that once I caught a glimpse of what I am capable of, that at one time, I wrote something. It makes my time with Hervé that much more special, and it makes me think of him with just a touch more fondness. It makes me hope that maybe, someday, we'll work on something together again.

Tomorrow I'll post some of the writing exercises I worked on with him, if you promise not to make fun.


  1. Fact or fiction, you're a damn great (not good; GREAT) writer.

    You spin a tale -- even a true one -- with so much heart, so many wonderful turns of phrases, and no meaningless sentences, that your readers FEEL the story and don't want it to end.

    That's a real writer. That's what you are. Don't ever think you're not. You've got the gift, and thank you for sharing it with us.

  2. I agree with Dawn. You are a wonderful writer. And memoir and blogging are two sides of the same coin sometimes. I think you're definitely a writer when you talk about your life.

    I also definitely sympathize with you that having someone else who is a writer around you can really get the creative juices flowing. I was a Creative Writing minor in college and totally fed off of the workshop experience: writing exercises, reading other people's stories, hearing critiques of mine from fresh eyes. It's all very helpful and inspiring. There are some Writing groups in the DC area and some formal classes that you might enjoy. I think that you could try out is a good place to start :). Good luck!

  3. Ditto! I think you are a wonderful writer too. I look forward to reading your short story. :-)

  4. thank god i thought this was going to be about bean boy!
    you know you are a writer, now get going!