Wednesday, March 5, 2014

I'm Not Quitting

Throughout the 12 years since I graduated from college I've held five different professional positions in four different - though related - fields. All required innovative thinking as well as resourceful and productive problem solving (anyone who has ever tried to provide community services on a nonprofit organization's budget understands), but in most cases, the creative work began and grew thanks to collaborative efforts. This worked out well for me because creativity has never been one of my strong suits. I stand proudly behind my planning, organization, and time-management skills (which allowed me to grow existing successes and turn failures around) but acknowledge that I rarely planted the seedling of an idea that eventually grew into a project, event, or program.

Knowing this, I assume you can understand why I write the way I do. I'm not a creative writer. Despite the fact that my high school creative writing class changed my life - for the better - more so than any other high school or college course I ever took, I hated it. I don't write poems, short stories, or novels. I don't develop plots or create characters. I can't imagine and put into words what a sunset looked like or a car accident sounded like or what a protagonist wore when she finally conquered her beast…unless of course I actually saw the sunset or heard the car accident or witnessed the protagonist during her proudest moment. So instead, I write about my life, my experiences. The stories I tell are MY stories, and I tell them well only because I lived them. (And because I have a pretty solid memory for details that don't actually matter, like what I wore on my 6th birthday or what it feels like to step on a buckeye.)

I panic when Will or Hallie asks me to tell them a story (instead of read them a book) before bed because I CAN'T DO IT. I end up telling them stories I already know but changing a detail here or there (a little mermaid named Ariel Muriel lived under the sea with her father, King Triton mother, Queen Brighton, her seven sisters brothers, and a crab named Sebastian lobster named Antonio), or I retell stories my dad told me and my little sister when we were little.

All writers experience slumps. Days, weeks, or even months when the creative juices - which when flowing smoothly inspire page after page of brilliant text - dry up. These slumps cause problems for any writer, but they're especially problematic for someone like me who isn't all that creative to begin with.

And that's where I find myself right now.

My heart is here, but my brain? Not so much. I'm distracted. I lack focus. I can't find the words.

No, seriously. Over the course of 30 minutes I wrote six versions of the extremely short paragraph above before I deleted all of them and left you with those five sentences. Argh.

In the past, three "cures" have worked in combination to pull me out of my writing slumps.

The first - and most frustrating - is time. And because I don't consider "just sit tight and wait for things to improve" an acceptable course of action when faced with a problem, I usually move on down my list of cures pretty quickly.

The second is to keep writing, even if/when I feel like everything I create, along with the laptop computer on which I wrote that nonsense, should be thrown into the fire. My seventh grade language arts teacher required us to free write - to write without stopping, or paying any attention to spelling or grammar, for a set period of time - at least once each week. Though the raw material produced during free writing wasn't useable in its initial format, it often inspired future stories or project/paper topics and helped break down some of the barriers we had to writing. I free write periodically, but because more often than not free writing turns into writing a to-do list, I move on down my list of cures once again.

If all else fails, she can start ghost writing for me.
The third is to read.

When you cannot think, write.
When you cannot speak, write.
When you cannot sleep, write.
When you cannot write, read.*

I love these words.

In the last six weeks I've finished Inferno by Dan Brown, Unwind by Neal Schuster, Maze Runner by James Dashner, and Legend by Marie Lu, and I'm midway through three more books right now. (I often read more than one book at a time so that I can switch back and forth between genres depending on my mood and attention span.) When I can't write, I surround myself with the words of those who can and hope their brilliance rubs off on me.

So I'm not quitting. I'm hanging in there, giving it time, continuing to write, and reading like my life depends on it.

Writers, any slump-cure recommendations?

Readers, any good book recommendations?

Help me!

*My apologies for not giving credit to whoever said this originally - I know it wasn't anonymous, but I can't find the author's name online.

1 comment:

  1. Erin, one thing I do on my blog when I am having a block is to Google News topics related to my blog (in my case, Disney and travel). Often times, I read a story or article that either plants an idea, or I can write about what I agree with and/or rebut in an article. I hear you on the blocks - it happens all the time for me!!