I found this postcard at The Strand in New York City. It struck a nerve for me. I tacked it on my bulletin board where all of my writing stuff goes, right next to the “No clichés, asshole!” note my writing instructor Janelle left in one of my margins. Prime spot on the board.
In this post Sarah channels her best beat poet self to bring us into the depths of her writer’s block and how she breaks through. Get some strong coffee, curl up in your favorite spot, and settle in for a mind-blowing read.
My first book came out two months ago.
I’d always imagined I would write a book one day, but in that way you do when you’re not actually writing. As long as I wasn’t trying, I could cling to the fantasy that at some unspecified future date, when the stars and planets aligned, I would sit down and bust out the Great New Zealand Novel.
I never examined this ambition too closely, because I knew when I did it would shrivel under the harsh glare of scrutiny. For one thing, you have to actually write, preferably every day, to produce a novel. I never did that. For another, you have to have an idea. Any kernel of an idea for a book or even a short story that I could conjure up always seemed staggeringly unoriginal. Very occasionally I might take one of these anaemic ideas and play with it for a while, but before long I would abandon it in frustration, bored and disgusted with my cheesy, derivate prose. My computer is full of these abandoned files – a thousand words there, a thousand words there – which I refuse to open, yet still can’t quite delete. Cringe.
Amy originally wrote this post for her blog, Elliott’s Provisions, in July of last year after our first writing retreat in California. At that time, a Trump presidency was still only a nightmare we hoped would never come true, and we in this group were still grappling with the struggles, desires, and responsibilities of being a writer. If you are struggling with how to make your writing, your art, meaningful in these violent times, we hope this will help.
In love and solidarity,
The Fixin’ to Write Contributors
My dad is writing a novel. I didn’t expect him to do this. He’s a 75 year old retired mechanical engineer with stage 4 cancer, whose writing accomplishments include passing “English for physics majors” at Berkeley in the 60s.
He announced his plan to introduce retiree-generation-post-apocalyptic fiction to the mainstream by bringing chapter one with him on a family vacation last month. He printed out a couple copies and left them on the counter in the kitchen.
The first day, I walked by it and pretended I didn’t see it. I saw the cover sheet (“Nowhere to Hide,” Chapter One, The Reckoning) and I suspected my dad had taken up fiction writing. I just couldn’t believe it.
Since the Fall of 2016 I’ve been living with a car that constantly needs work and a country that continually feels broken. Every few weeks another sensor on my dash would light up – I’ve been spending countless dollars in a perpetual state of irritation each time it needs to go into the shop, not unlike every time I turn on the news.
I have written more in the past year than at any other time in my life. I’ve published book reviews. I’ve entered writing contests. I’ve offered feedback to friends on their writing. And I have written a 50,000+ word manuscript. Sure, it’s messy, and it needs some deep revision, but I wrote those 50,000+ words and I’m proud of it.
This writing has been squeezed in around parenting a three year-old, maintaining our family’s schedule, dealing with quite a bit of change in my original family, and working a full-time job. I know what you’re thinking. I’m Superwoman, right? You’re thinking, like the book turned movie title, “I don’t know how she does it.”
Here are some things I’ve let go in order to write in the past year. I am not proud, but when people want to know how I get it all done, this is the real answer.
I have learned an important writing lesson this summer: it’s impossible to write in your spare time. It is impossible because spare time is a myth.
I’m feeling like a bit of a fraud.
I am a member of this group of women who write in spite of the unyielding demands of daily life—the jobs and kids and partners and hobbies and chores. All of it. I am working on my first book, a memoir about loss and grief and cultivating resilience. It’s about navigating the death of my mom and the subsequent loss of the daughter I thought I had, and what I’m learning along the way. But for the past few months I’ve had a secret: I haven’t been writing. Reading? Yes. Writing emails, Facebook posts, and text messages? Absolutely. But not much real writing.
In an interview with Terri Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air, Toni Morrison spoke frankly about writing in the midst of life, not in grand moments apart from it:
And I remember very clearly I was writing with a pencil. I was sitting on a couch, writing with a pencil, trying to think up something and remembering what I just described. And I was – the tablet was that legal pad, you know, yellow with the lines, and I had a baby. My older son was barely walking, and he spit up on the tablet. And I was doing something really interesting, I think, with a sentence because I wrote around the puke because I figured I could always wipe that away, but I might not get that sentence again.
We are ten women who all signed up for Renegade Mothering blogger, Janelle Hanchett’s Write Anyway class in 2015. It was an online course designed to break down barriers we all face when deciding to write. We hailed from all corners of the globe. We learned about how to give less of a shit about our fears in writing. We learned about how to write through it all even when it was hard and we wanted to give up.