In August 2013 I was sitting in a friend’s guest room in Portland, Oregon. My oldest son had just been diagnosed with blood cancer, lymphoma, and I had come to Portland to help him and his small family in any way I could. A friend opened her heart and her home to me, a lovely gesture. I was there for two weeks. At night after a long day of visiting my son, doing grocery shopping and misc. errands for his family (they were staying in their RV on the OHSU campus), taking my 2-year-old granddaughter for a few hours so his wife could spend time with him, I came back to a small room in my friend’s home in NW Portland.
It was hot. In August, Portland was in the 90s – five to ten degrees warmer than Seattle. I was on the second floor (no air conditioning), I’d open the windows at night and hope the cooler air would eventually come into the room. Sitting at the little desk in my friend’s guest room, in the middle of my master’s program in creative writing, I had assignments to complete and packets to send. I didn’t mind the writing work; it took my mind away from the awful realization that my son had cancer and that our lives had changed forever.
But – I had writer’s block. I would open the laptop screen, rest my fingers on the keyboard, and . . . nothing.
Yes, my son had a major illness. My life was in turmoil. I was out of my natural element, in a different city, in someone else’s home. I can say now, also, I was in shock from the entire medical situation and the threat to my son’s life.
But – my private secret was that writer’s block had been my personal struggle for many years, for my entire writing life. I got stuck 60 pages into a novel – twice; this after completing two novels (unsold) and having several of my short stories get published. Countless short stories had been abandoned. There had been months, or years, when I had stopped writing, unable to create the kind of work I dreamed of. It’s immensely painful. It always makes me feel like I’m a failure. No matter how much success I can point to,that blank screen or sheet of paper, with no (good) ideas coming to mind, would send me into despair.
In desperation, sitting in my friend’s upper back bedroom in Portland, I opened Victoria Nelson’s On Writer’s Block and started to read. Maybe somehow this book would finally help me to overcome the persistent, pernicious writer’s block that kept me from producing the writing I knew I wanted to create.
What did I read? Don’t berate yourself over not writing. Your block is your creative self saying, hold on! Something’s not right here. Let’s go back and figure it out. And, Don’t bludgeon your creative self into writing what you want to be written. Ask your creative self what it wants to write. Invite it to the writing. (paraphrasing)
I took out a yellow pad and my Waterman fountain pen; I started a dialogue between my “organizer” self and my “creative writer” self. (I call these two personas “A” and “B,” which is dull, but served my purpose.) Writer A, the organizer, asked Writer B, the creative self, what it wanted.
To my surprise, Writer B said, You’ve been promising me that blog. How come you haven’t set it up yet?
Oh my gosh. The dialogue continued:
Writer A: I didn’t know you wanted it so much. I thought it was a kind of “perk,” something optional, when we got around to it.
Writer B: You promised you would start the blog. Why haven’t you done it?
Writer A: I’ll do it. Sure! Thanks for letting me know.
That night I set up my WordPress.com blog after several weeks of putting it off. I started with little fiction snippets using the Daily Prompts. I wrote a blog post every day for five months. Blog post became my warm-ups. They helped me learn more about how to develop characters, about dialog, about working out story arcs. A little poetry. Eventually I stepped back from daily posting to a couple of times a week. I’m excited to announce that it’s been four years this week. And now I am delighted to say I have become part of a community of writing bloggers who inspire my creative process and who help me to become a better writer.
(As a side note, I still do check-ins with Writer A and Writer B whenever I get stuck. I have learned from Writer B what it takes for new and inventive ideas to take shape. Whenever I’m feeling stuck, doing a dialogue between “A” and “B” helps me work out what’s holding me back and what direction I want to go in next.)
This week, as I celebrate the four-year anniversary of my Lab Notes blog, I would like to go back in time to share with you a posted story from that first week, one that I think you will enjoy. I happy to see it is very like some of my best work today. It’s called “Missing Person’s Report” (posted Aug. 15, 2013):
Delia Swan disappeared into the crowd on Saturday morning, August, 17, 2013. She walked out of her Brooklyn brownstone, headed for the gym as usual, when a crowd swept by and picked her up . . . (read more)
Here is a photo of my son in Aug. 2013, under treatment at OHSU. The purple knitted cuff was done by my daughter, at his request, to cover the PICC line they had installed for injections. Only a few weeks into the treatment, he was on Prednisone, which gave him a lot of energy. He still looked very healthy (as you can see). I miss him.
About blogging and writing!
How did you start your blog? Do you ever struggle with Writer’s Block? If so, how do you try to overcome it? What advice would you give your earlier writing self?