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Thursday, May 05, 2005

Writing toward vulnerability

First, let me take a moment to point you to this op-ed in today’s Plain Dealer. It’s written by my good pal and NYC roomie, Jill Miller Zimon. She and I have had many e-mail, lunch and late-night conversations about the great divide that exists between being mothers and having a career. She writes powerfully about motherhood not being a win-lose proposition. I second her notion. Way to go, Jill!

As you may have noticed from recent blog entries (or perhaps not), I’ve been stuck in a creative quagmire. I refuse to call what I have writer’s block. That’s not the correct term, because I’m still producing, just not inspired or pleased with the result or format.

I’m encouraged after reading Anne Lamott’s “Bird by Bird.” She puts into words, with searing wit and honesty, exactly what many experienced writers feel. I can’t speak for new writers, but I’m guessing she taps into their psyche as well. With apologies for cannibalizing her material, I’d like to share excerpts from her chapter on writer’s block. You really need to read or re-read the entire book.

There are few experiences as depressing as that anxious barren state known as writer’s block, where you sit staring at your blank page like a cadaver, feeling you mind congeal, feeling your talent run down your leg and into your sock.

Writer’s block is going to happen to you. You will read what little you’ve written lately and see with absolute clarity that it is total dog shit.
This is where I am of late. And it suggests that I need to step away from what I’ve been doing, get some distance, a wider perspective if you will.

I hadn’t consider myself blocked, but then I read these words and realized, Anne Lamott knows exactly what I’m feeling. I would like to know Anne Lamott:

The word block suggests that you are constipated or stuck, when the truth is that you’re empty … this emptiness can destroy some writers. Her suggestion is to continue to write a little every day about anything — your childhood, your family, your dog, your blog. But then you need to get outdoors, go see a movie, read for pleasure, take lots of walks and wait for your unconscious to open a door and beckon you inside. She swears it will happen.

It finally did … it was like catching amoebic dysentery. I was just sitting there minding my business, and then the next minute I rushed to my desk with an urgency I had not believed possible.

Writers have to find a way to trust in the process, to trust their instincts. It’s so hard when you’re feeling empty, spent. But if we tap into our memory, into our unconscious, we start to see, feel and hear things that may yet begin to inspire.

Everything you need is in your head and memories, in all that your senses provide, in all that you’ve seen and thought and absorbed. There in your unconscious, where the real creation goes on, is the little kid or the Dr. Seuss creature in the cellar, arranging and stitching things together.

On a notepad sitting next to my stack of books, I began scribbling down phrases and fragments and words that may or may not turn into something. But reading her book jogged my memory loose of its stupor. The list would make little sense to anyone but me (and maybe my sister) — butterscotch pants, grape ice cream, counting change, fat Crayolas, hammock, deep woods off, baby oil, talks over the kitchen sink, being shut out, mean girls.

When I talked to Danny about wanting to pursue essays, he grimaced a little. I know he’s worried about my exposing too much, but I told him these were themes from my childhood. He asked how I would know what to write. I’ll let Anne explain.

If something inside you is real, we will probably find it interesting, and it will probably be universal. So you must risk placing real emotion at the center of your work. Write straight to the emotional center of things. Write toward vulnerability.


Amy Green said...


Think I'm there, too, stuck in the rut. I'm planning to take a stack of magazines to the lake tomorrow, sit and read and let the creativity flow. I feel productive, just not very energized. Looking forward to a weeklong vacation coming up in two weeks.


Linda said...

That's why, in addition to blogging, I keep a paper journal. When I hit a dry patch, I can write, re-read, draw, whatever. You just have to keep moving.