Not sure if most writers have this problem or if I’m especially more constipated by fear than most. But when I sit down to write, I just think up any excuse not to- for example at the moment I’m looking for birthday presents for my brother. He’s 26 on the 26th this month.
Writing is my love, fear and hate all wrapped up into a burrito which I avoid like I’m on a diet. See, I’m even really struggling for a decent metaphor here.
The feeling and sounds of my fingers as they trip across the keys, watching words appear and disappear as the courser zooms back and forth on the screen. I love it all. Honest. Even as a child, when I wrote stories, I never finished them. Classic.
In college I took a creative writing course taught by an ageing poet slash short story writer who coughed so hard that each time he gasped, I held my own breath and waited for him to collapse in front of the U shaped table where we all sat. I swear he was like 90 years old.
I had immense respect for this man ever since he read aloud some of his published beat poetry, I could imagine myself being in love with his all-black, beret-wearing self if I were alive the 1960’s. He was just so deep.
Before the class, coincidentally, I had read a few books about writing- one by favourite childhood writer, Stephen King called “On Writing.” In it King wrote about how to avoid becoming attached to your own words and how at times, even the greatest paragraphs are better off deleted. I understood.
For this reason, I was better able to take criticism than most of the students in class. The elderly-cougher, he was tough but honest. When he said something was not genuine, or made no sense, that was the damn truth. The other students would get pissed off at the criticism and start defending one another.
This class taught me that writers were more sensitive to critique than drama majors. How could this be? We English students were supposed to be open-minded intellectuals. Not when you’re pouring the depth of your own soul onto the page. No.
But with every craft, I suppose the creator feels a certain amount of attachment. It’s this umbilical cord that sometimes gets in the way of seeing the bigger picture. The danger is in having the cord so tight that it barely allows breathing room between you and the page- you can only see one sentence at a time, let alone paragraphs or chapters.
In that creative writing class I wrote what I knew; boys, school and waiting tables. Practically turning journal entries into fiction simply by changing names, the results were descriptive and surprising.
One story (about a guy who said he’d call and didn’t call and gave me some lame reason for which I completely forgave him) our professor saw in it irony and naivety. I was embarrassed because I didn’t realize at the time that I’d been duped by ‘The Italian Bartender.’ When I reread the story later, I saw the tragic narrator for who she was, and it actually made for a good read (not to mention a learning experience for me about being too desperate).
One day while gathering my notebooks to leave class, the Professor asked if he could speak with me. I immediately panicked, which is always my reaction. I worried about my grade.
“Did you ever finish the story you started about that waitress in the deli?” The professor asked (of course I had not.)
“No, not yet,” I said shyly.
“Well, you should,” He said. “You should write…. (the pause was deafening) A lot.”
My eyes probably popped out of my skull. That was seriously by far the BIGGEST compliment he had given anyone all semester long. This guy was usually harsher than harsh. I was floating on air all the way to the parking lot where I replayed the conversation while I got into my car.
The moral of the story is, I should write. A lot. Even when I don’t think I have much to say.