I’ll just come straight out with it: I am dealing with a wicked case of writer’s block. It’s been going on for about five or six months now, and it’s evident by the fact that my blog has been updated a handful of times in that time period. And it’s not because I’m writing up a storm elsewhere. In fact, aside from my job, I haven’t written anything more substantial than a status update in months.
For someone who has been writing since she was a kid – for someone who has constructed a large part of her identity around writing – this is not a pleasant place to be. In fact, it flat-out sucks. I joked on Twitter the other day about my wrist tattoo, which is the word “write,” and how having writer’s block means I am being shamed by my own wrist on a daily basis. That’s not really a joke, though. It’s true.
I finally decided this week to take concrete steps to deal with it, and so on the advice of my best friend Brandi and my fellow feminist fitness blogger Tracy, I picked up a copy of The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron and have been slowly working my way through the program. It feels a lot like working a 12-step program, where you aren’t really sure if the things you are doing actually will have any effect but you want so badly for things to be different that you are willing to try them anyway. That’s where I’m at right now, basically working a 12-step program for frustrated creatives.
So far the morning pages have actually been really nice, although my right hand is as sore as its ever been (and my handwriting appalls me, omg). It’s been wonderful to sit down and write, just for myself, without concern for criticism or feedback or comments or clicks or any of the other metrics used by writers as evidence that we have value and that our words are somehow rising above the constant din of the internet.
I know I’m not the only one experiencing these things, as Crabby McSlacker at Cranky Fitness recently posted something similar that made me feel like way less of a loser than I already have been. I decided that I would follow in her footsteps, both for the sake of transparency and also in hopes that it would help me work out my shit. Here’s what I’ve figured out so far (and you’ll notice that a lot of these things contradict each other – therein lies my difficulties):
1. I don’t want to write about a lot of the things people seem to want to read about. I’m honestly so tired of reading about the dumb thing some fashion retailer did or the stupid thing a celebrity said or why this music video is messed up or how this movie is problematic or whatever the outrage du jour is that’s circulating around my various social networks. I just don’t care. I read the phrase “outrage fatigue” somewhere, and I think that’s what I’m suffering from. Don’t get me wrong – I’m still outraged by a lot of things, and I still deeply concerned about injustice in the world. But the kind of outrage porn that provides the content that people loooove to click on and read? I’m not interested in writing it OR reading it. I’ve left tumblr because of it, I stopped reading quite a few sites because of it. I value my anger as a source of energy, and I don’t want it spent pointlessly.
1a. I feel like I repeat myself a lot. Actually, I do repeat myself a lot. I try to remember that some of the things I say over and over again are very important, and that each time I say it, I increase the likelihood that someone who really needs to hear it will actually hear it. But man alive, sometimes I bore myself with the repetition. And if my heart isn’t in it, y’all, then I’m going to have one hell of a time getting you interested in my writing as well.
2. I want to write things people want to read. I’m not one of those people who wants to have a blog or do a zine or write essays for publication just simply for the sake of expressing myself. I’ve long felt that I just want to write for myself, I might as well just write in a notebook and stash it in a drawer somewhere. Part of having a blog – of writing in public – is so others can read what I write. There’s very much an aspect of this that is about my ego, in that I want you to read what I have to say and be inspired to think or laugh or feel. I want to make things happen in your brain and your heart, and my medium for doing so is the printed word.
My problem is that I don’t know if the things I want to write about are things people want to read. It’s my responsibility as a writer to make you care and to make you want to read. I feel that responsibility acutely, and sometimes I am driven a little bit nuts by it.
3. I have not been able to make myself sit and do the work. One of the blessings of working as a professional writer is that I have developed a workman-like approach to writing. I don’t talk about writing in terms of inspiration or the muse or whatever, but rather sitting my butt in the chair and putting words to paper/screen. The flip-side of that, though, is that I spend most of my workday writing and when I get home it’s just about the last thing I want to do. Granted, my paid writing is not the most riveting writing in the world, and a lot of it has that mass-produced, affectless quality found exclusively in newswire copy (because that’s basically what I write), but it’s still writing.
For the first several years that I worked at this job, I managed to do both fairly well. I’ve written five zines, I updated this blog regularly for three years, I even wrote a manuscript for a memoir (which I finally let die after the tenth revision caused me to lose interest altogether). I used to tell myself that I was like Joan Didion, honing my craft on Vogue captions, or maybe like Nora Ephron, and that eventually the skills I developed while writing my five-W ledes would help launch me towards a brilliant writing career.
Instead what has happened is that I’ve reached a limit at how much time I’m willing to spend staring at a laptop screen, and I find myself wondering if a brilliant writing career is really all it’s cracked up to be, especially as I see how the moderately-successful writers I do know are incredibly stressed out about money. It’s like, what’s the end game here? What am I trying to accomplish? Is this all for my ego? And if so, aren’t there other ways to stroke my ego that don’t involve basically becoming a hermit?
4. I have been deeply focused on my athletic training. This year has been exceptional for me in terms of my athletic pursuits. I broke four hours in the marathon. I ran two ultramarathons. I completed my first half-Ironman. I learned to ride a bike with clipless pedals. I figured out how to do chin-ups and have worked really hard on mastering the push-up. I’ve been doing a lot of consistent speedwork, which has resulted in some really good run splits in my recent triathlons (including one where I was the fourth fastest woman overall). I couldn’t be prouder of myself and my athletic accomplishments. These experiences have changed me as a human being, and in the best possible way, and plus I just find all of it so damn fun.
It’s been an ongoing challenge for me to balance Caitlin the Writer with Caitlin the Athlete. I often end up leaning more toward one side while neglecting the other, but usually I’m pretty good at tipping the scales back the other way so I don’t become too lop-sided. Not lately, though. Lately I find my brain so fried from work that I just want to turn my brain off for a bit and spend some time wearing my body out.
So. This is where I am right now, and I’m tired of it. So I’m trying to get back to a place where I can just write for the enjoyment of it, and put it out in the world in hopes that it will maybe find a receptive set of eyes, and not put so much damn importance on any of it. I can’t promise anything with regards to the blog, but instead I’ll just say that this blog remains incredibly important to me, for a multitude of reasons, and I want to do what I can to keep it going for as long as I can.