I just clicked on a blog post for writers wherein the author listed the most popular books to read if you want to write. Scrolling the article, my mind responded to each suggestion as follows:
Just bought it. Returned it.
Then I wondered, when did my inner dialogue begin to sound like Grumpy Cat (God rest his soul)?
Last night I was sitting in the chair where I sit and think quietly, one of my favorite things to do. This is an activity completely different from meditation, wherein one tries not to think, utilizing all manner of tools and techniques to invoke the serenity of the infinite within the confines of the human condition. Sounds nice, doesn’t it?
That is not what I do when I sit and think quietly to myself. I stare at a wall and ruminate. I allow the flotsam of past failures to froth the edges of my mind like filth and foam on a shoreline. I tilt my head and remember an idea I once had and quickly forgot, resolving to write it down so I’ll remember this time. I don’t write it down, I forget it again. It must not have been that good of an idea.
Last night, whilst sitting and thinking quietly to myself, I remembered a day in the fourth grade, upon which I hear my favorite and most loathed sentences within one directive; “Class, we’re going to do a creative writing exercise.” Oh yes! Thank you Mrs. Glisten! “And we’re going to break up into small groups of four.” Also Mrs. Glisten, go f*ck yourself.
The fact that I remember that teacher’s name and the kid who ruined my school year should give you ample information about the fourth grade. Kerry, long silky black hair and chipmunk cheeks that are not as endearing as the chubby nut cubbies adorning the visage of her rodent counterpart. Her eyes are so dark brown they are black and she has an earnest expression that won her the title of Hall Monitor. I imagined her taking the special hall monitor sash home each night and ironing it before lovingly hanging it on the coat hook beside her monogrammed book bag.
Just to get you up to speed, I didn’t have anything monogrammed, my cheeks weren’t chubby – I was just fat, and I was the kid the Hall Monitor monitored being late to class because even in the fourth grade I didn’t do mornings.
Alas, she was one of three other kids in my “small group” writing exercise. We turn our desks to make a large square with two pairs of children facing each other over the hieroglyphic-like carvings in the pseudo wood surface beneath our open notebooks. I am ready. I’ve dealt with PE, science, dehydration, the indignities of math including the insult of fractions I may never get over, an inedible lunch and a remarkably delicious juice box containing no less than ten percent fruit juice. I have earned this moment.
The school store sold those mechanical pencils with the stacks of re-loadable lead so there is always a sharp point. I relish the clear, smooth lined paper and the glittery cylinder of the pencil gleaming in my plump hand. I am already thinking something in a rain forest setting, as I look at the white board and regard the brainstorming outline with dubious curiosity. I’m not sure it’s going to be helpful, but the assignment is kinda based on using it, so there is that.
I am not kidding, it looked almost exactly like this:
Seriously, where did Mrs. Glisten find a brainstorming map on the internet in 1990?
I do not remember the other kids in our group. I think they were boys and participated at the level Kerry and I were willing to allow had we not gotten ourselves locked in a cataclysmic stalemate. You see, I think a rain forest would be a great setting for our story and she has become stricken with writer’s block. She is holding her head in her hands. Her rosy lips, shaped like two skis leaning against each other under her nose, pout in such a way that begs for drool. Her black eyes glisten as she stares at the page beneath her. This is the first time I have ever seen a person go into a trance.
I’m like, “Whaaat?” If you know me in real life, you should know the face you might recognize as accompanying this question has not changed since I was in the fourth grade.
“I have writer’s block.”
My ears go back. “What?” The “t’ is hard now, like I staunched the flow of more words behind it.
“I have it. I can’t think of anything. I’m blocked.” You know, you must be a writer to have writer’s block. The little smart ass, showing us all what a good writer she is with her block, before we even have a chance to begin our story.
“Well, I thought of opening our story in a rain forest…” I thump my unmarred eraser on the blank page.
All for naught my friend. Kerry is so committed to this writer’s block that she stares at her paper the entire time and the boys act scared, like this is one of those feminine hysterics they heard about in the opening monologue on The Arsenio Hall Show.
I knew I wanted to be a writer when I was in the fourth grade. I actually wanted to write as soon as I knew that there are people whose job is to compose those things I loved so much; books. On this day in the fourth grade, I learned I do not suffer fools well (unless, clearly, I am dating one) and that my well for bullshit must have dried completely up back in the first grade when Mrs. Jordan made a great big stinking deal about differentiating the enunciation between “pin” and “pen”. I can still hear her, god bless her Yankee heart, every time one of us chillen from Alabama said “piyun”. I think she should have been grateful we could differentiate between a pen and a Q-tip… but I digress.
That day I wrote something about a rain forest; there was a monkey and a unicorn and I wrote about the sky. I remember Mrs. Glisten taught me a new word that day, vast. It was a more interesting, more writerly, word than the one I’d used. I liked it. I allowed the boys some input and Kerry shrank and withered beneath the weight of her writer’s block. As always, I was just glad when the school day finally ended and I could get on with my life.
I do not have writer’s block. I have had moments in which self-doubt stalled work so dramatically there are still skid marks across my laptop from the speed with which my story came to a halt, but that’s just getting too much in my own head. I have ideas, but implementing them isn’t my strong suite. This, I believe, is genetic; I’m working on it. If I were a smart cookie, I’d do some writing practice a la Natalie Goldberg in Writing Down the Bones. I’d go for a walk, I’d write anyway, if I may borrow from the now famous advice of Stephen King, “Writing equals ass in chair.” Sometimes I just stare at the wall. Eventually I make my way back.
Of all the books on writing I have read, some of which were pretty good, those are the two bits of advice that help me the most, and not just in the realm of writing. You must practice writing with the same focus, and mad devotion that you approach spiritual practice (Natalie Goldberg) and you must show up for it every single day (Stephen King).
These authors are nothing alike, as far as I can tell. I don’t actually even read Stephen King’s work aside from his book, On Writing (as far as horror goes, I’m more of an Ann Rice girl myself, but to my knowledge she never wrote a book for writers). Their success doesn’t look the same, either. But they are both unquestionably professional writers, which by my estimation means that writing is their only job – my litmus for success BTW. Writer’s block be damned.