Real talk about blogging and writer’s block

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.

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49 responses to “Real talk about blogging and writer’s block

  1. You could always write about Caitlin the Athlete as Caitlin the Writer? Treat your days in the gym and in the diet-game as a narrative 🙂

    • I could write about that, but I always feel so resistant to doing so! I’m not sure why that is, beyond that I initially launched the blog with the goal of it being more of a topical blog and less of a personal blog. I’ll have to think about this some more.

      • What you write about your training is so good though! When you wrote about your first ultramarathon, I felt like I was learning something not just about running, but about life. There’s lots of fitness bloggers out there, but not many who can do that. I think your voice really adds something.

      • Wow, okay. I guess I really need to re-evaluate and not be so hard on myself in re: writing about myself and my training. Thank you for this.

    • Thank you! It seems like quite a few of us bloggers are going through this right now. I wonder why that is. But you’re right (re: your reblog), there’s something to be said for actually just going out and living your life instead of spending a lot of time documenting it for others to read.

      • You say you wonder why that is… but I have a good idea why it might be. In today’s world, everyone feels wholly self important due to the ability to be heard by the wide reach of the internet, youtube (any idiot with a camera can now be a star… and sadly, that’s a true statement I’ve seen them) and any other number of social media outlets. More and more people jumped onto the blog train, trying to be THAT voice in the crowd that was and remains the loudest. People are frustrated because the good writers, the people putting out quality like you do Caitlin (re-read that, YOU DO part.) are being shoved aside for writers who are vapid and lack any real point beyond their own inflated sense of self worth and ego. Vanity is the only thing they value, and writing about celebrities and other nonsense gets them a readership and support. It’s sad the way our future generations seem to be heading, and worse, seeing text abbreviations making their way into common language usage. Real writers matter, but it’s just as hard for your public and readership to get that message to you Caitlin, because there’s a good many of us who don’t believe that comments are even read by the author anymore either. (Thanks spammers) Tis the world we’ve come to unfortunately, but I sincerely hope it never gets to the point you want to stop, because your writing carries so much meaning and depth, and you make SUCH a difference.

  2. Reblogged this on The Evolution of Strength and commented:
    I’m not the only person who’s sick of the garbage out on the internet, who’s busy training and not writing, who’s out and about instead of plopped down in front of the screen. I promise I’ll get back to it sometime, but I’m not sure when that will be in my case.

  3. Do you think you’ll ever continue the list of the Fit and Feminist 100 that you started a couple of years ago? Loved the Pioneers and Strong Women posts at that time.

  4. There’s some great stuff in The Artist’s Way. I found Morning Pages to be a great way to shake the crud out of my head, to get all my nagging worries on paper before facing reality.

    Do whatever you need to. We all want you to enjoy your life.

    I loved the bit about being shamed by your own wrist.

    • I think it was maybe the 67th time I looked at my wrist and started berating myself for not writing that I realized that was going on. What can I say, the tattoo seemed like a good idea at the time. 😉

      I’m glad you found The Artist’s Way useful! It seems like quite a few people I really respect got a lot out of that book.

  5. I love where you are at right now. It’s a crossroads that sounds like it’s going to take you to the ‘next level,’ whatever that may be. You’re such a talented writer. And it’s exciting (in a personal way kind of because the Artist’s Way really set me free over a decade ago when the only writing I was doing was academic writing and I hated it). Enjoy the process. And thank for the thing about ‘outrage fatigue.’ And fwiw I’m also posting less and I also feel like I just say the same thing over and over again. It’s good to have company in that.

    • Thanks for this. I hope you’re right, about this being a sign I’m about to move on to the next level in personal evolution, whatever that ends up being. I think it’s a very optimistic way to look at things and I like that.

  6. Yes! Keep the blog going! You have ears out here who do appreciate the words you pen that “rise above the constant din of the Internet.” I’ve been following you for sometime but haven’t left a comment yet. So much of what you’ve said here I can relate to–it’s almost as if you’re talking about me. Especially #3 and #5. I too write for my day job and try to keep a healthy blog! I also wanted to share this post with you: http://www.onbeing.org/blog/little-deaths/6974 I think you’ll enjoy it.

    • Thanks for sharing that link! I really like Courtney E. Martin’s writing and this was no exception.

      Also I’m so happy that you could relate to this, especially as someone who is in a similar situation as a professional writer with a blog. (And also, I’m excited to read your blog!) It’s good to know I’m not alone in this.

  7. Hey! I really love your blog and it’s brought me a lot of pleasure and inspiration. I realize this is a tough time for you and I hope you’ll find your muse soon. I will be here to read whatever you feel like writing. 🙂

  8. This resonated with me because I’ve been struggling off and on with writer’s block for a while–I’ll go into periods of productivity but then something will just slam the brakes on the whole operation. Writing is a big part of my job as well and I think the burnout that does come from writing less-than-riveting prose (or in my case, bullet points) can make me feel completely unable to muster the interest to write for pleasure. I definitely prefer quality to quantity, so I’d rather read your insightful prose when it appears rather than trying to keep up with a flurry of content.

    (This came across my FB feed today and you might find it interesting: http://the-toast.net/2014/11/18/emails-got-real/)

    • Oh man, that Toast post hit me in some of my most scared feels. It’s so good but it makes me so sad. Michelle Dean is a writer whose work I enjoy and respect tremendously, and if she’s going through this after finding a wider platform for her work…ugh. I can also relate to the parts about how writing on the internet poses some really unique challenges in terms of critics. I’ve never experienced what she refers to but I do know that whenever I write something that makes even a tiny blip on the internet, the attention/criticism (some of which can be really brutal) often horrifies me. It makes me question everything about myself as a writer.

      Regarding your struggles (and mine), I feel like I have the same thing happen, in all aspects of my life. I hit those periods of low productivity and I have a hard time thinking of it as a cycle and instead am just like, “OMG is this the end of everything?!” It’s overly dramatic, I know, but it really does feel almost terminal when it’s happening.

  9. WORD on all of the above, as in every single point echoes hard-core ’round these parts. Like others said above, your readers want you to live your life fully! We’ll be here when the urge strikes again. Which it will. At least that’s what I tell myself; I have to trust that if I’ve been writing for this long (like you, since childhood, though in more fits and starts until the past five years or so) it’s not vanished. Just recuperating for a while?

    In any case, glad the athletic pursuits have been going well. And hey, that’ll give you even more to write about whenever the time is right!

  10. I can’t tell you how much I relate to this post right now, Caitlin. I’ve also only written a handful of posts in the last few months for much of the same reasons (number 3 in particular). It’s often made me rethink my career choice because writing all the less-than-riveting newswire type copy sucks up all of my writing energy. Thanks for making me feel like I’m not alone and for making me want to think about ways to get over the block.

    • I have read both of your blogs and enjoy the writing. It is the quality not the quantity. On that basis, having infrequent posts is not a problem.

    • Awww, I’d noticed that you haven’t posted a lot recently. I’m sorry to hear you are going through the same thing.

      AND THIS:

      “It’s often made me rethink my career choice because writing all the less-than-riveting newswire type copy sucks up all of my writing energy.”

      I’ve had similar thoughts! Right now, though, I’m settling for just making sure younger writers who want to actually WRITE know that a writing job like this will suck the love of writing right out of them.

      • Oh boy, this. Being a total book nerd, I rushed into publishing as an editor right after graduating. Four years and a bunch of coffee-table books later, I was an embittered sourpuss. The occasional freelance pieces I wrote subsequently didn’t help either.

        I still look back wistfully on the publishing gig because in spite of everything, I did enjoy the process and actually having something to call my own at the end of it. However, in the end, a gig is a gig…it’s about the lowest common denominator and the sales figures. I should’ve known that any attempt at ‘real’ writing had to be kept to after office hours.

      • Yeah, I’ve basically given up trying to freelance. It requires a lot of effort and energy for very little payoff, aside from the buzz of seeing your name in print and being able to add another publication to your bio. Plus it’s difficult to do when you are competing against writers whose day job is freelancing.

        IDK sometimes it gives me a sad, but mostly I’m just resigned.

  11. Just wanted to let you know that I really appreciate your blog, and it’s been a small part of my own journey to a) start exercising b) improve my health and fitness. I play music, write and do a day job which involves sitting in front of a computer typing things and using my brain all day, and I find I go through stages (or seasons) where I do one of those things more than the other, and that’s fine. For example, I’ve been incredibly slack with my writing this year, but have spent heaps of time playing music, an outlet I’d spent a couple of years neglecting in favour of writing. There’s only so many hours in the day.

    • Thank you so much! I remember receiving your zines in the mail, and I’m such a d-bag, I never wrote back. Should have just accepted that I’m not a letter-writer and emailed you instead. I’m so glad to hear you’ve been playing a lot of music, because I can tell that you are very passionate about it. 😀

  12. You put this so much more eloquently than I did! And I could relate to all of it except #4– in my case, instead of being busy with awe-inspiring athletic feats like you have, I’ve been struggling with annoying injuries and life complications and the pissy side-effects of NOT getting to do what I want to on the exercise front.

    In any event, part of what makes your blog so compelling is that you are REAL, and honest, and whatever the heck you want to write about is interesting, whether it is “on topic” or more philosophical/psychological. Hope you find a way to keep it fun, because whatever you want to write about, there are a ton of us who want to read it. Thanks so much for sharing your process!

  13. You are in my RSS reader so I don’t have to lose track of you if your posts are less frequent; I can just be delighted when I see a new post pop up. I like reading your writing because of the thought and insight you put into your posts, whatever particular subtopic they are about, and I like that you don’t post about nonsense just because it’s in the news or because you feel pressured to put something out every day. So best of luck at resolving your block however works for you; I look forward to reading more.

    Also, here is a silly and slightly cheesy video which I love, and which you may like also: “Obvious to you. Amazing to Others.”

    • (hm, the video link does seem to have posted right, but if you search for the title you will find it.)

  14. Well, for what it’s worth, I truly love your blog and the way that you write. You always manage to come across as truly genuine, something pretty rare in the blog world, I’ve found. Also, I’m feeling the blockage as well. For me, the struggle seems to be in the “doing”, not necessarily in the ideas. I have plenty of ideas, but when it comes to sitting down and doing the work, I find myself doing anything but.

  15. Yay for being able to do chin ups! I can do a half chin-ups now! Which has only taken me like… 6 months (Not being consistent I may add) But the last 3 weeks I’ve been practising 4-5 days/week and have been making some awesome progress. Push-ups are still shaky. Soon!

    Also I love your posts, and I am in the same boat as you, I don’t feel motivated to write unless it’s something I find interesting, which often leads to huge writers blocks. Though what I do write is from the heart and genuine, which always fills me with more pride than if I wrote something for the sake of writing.

  16. While I feel bad that you are going through this, I am also feeling quite relieved that I am not alone. I’ve been slack since the beginning of summer…blog here, post there, and initially blamed it on the fact that it was simply more fun to be outdoors and playing in a fitness challenge all summer long than to be in front of a computer.

    Summer has turned into fall, and I’m still just as slack, because, honestly? Who wants to read, several times weekly, that my challenge team is kicking butt, or that I am closer to my goals than I was the week prior? I have managed to blog about wine making, some life situations that came up, and my most recent break – my ankle.

    Beyond that? I got nothing, except some personal/family trials that nobody wants to hear about, not that I’d be comfortable sharing all that, either, ha ha.

    That said? Since I am basically benched for the next six to eight weeks, I may be forced to pay attention to the goings on around me and perhaps I will find something entertaining and blog-worthy in that.

    Write when you want, and about what you want, and those of us who enjoy your blog will eagerly eat-up everything you put out there! ❤

  17. Pingback: Annnnnd….I’m Bored… | Random Musings From a Type-A Workaholic·

  18. I only just started reading your blog but I can totally relate. I get lots of likes when I share recipes but lately I just haven’t had the time to cook new and interesting thing or when I do I’m too hungry to document it. I’m sure you will find your way. I also think it’s a great idea to write about Caitlin the athlete.

  19. Love this post. I really hope you can find the inspiration/get through the writers block enough to find something for these pages. Either way I’ll keep checking to see if you’ve written anything!

  20. This is superbly honest, Caitlin – thanks for it. A lot of the people I work with have the same problem – writer’s block is rife in academia. While my blog is nowhere near as read or as followed as yours, I’ve been aiming for some time to turn it into a community project – Tracy and Sam are my inspiration here. Not only does collaborative blogging take some of the pressure off, but it also works toward eliminating that genius-in-a-room thing that suggests all writers need to find everything inside themselves. Sometimes community support and shared writing is, in all its messy imperfection, exactly what’s needed.

    • Thanks, Elizabeth. I’m going to try to write more about these things and hopefully it will help me get back into the groove of things. 🙂

  21. One of the reasons why I chose not to have a personal blog exclusively on cycling is that I didn’t want that 1 activity / facet to define me in blogosphere. I am so much more than a cyclist and besides it can get boring to see everything from a just a cycling perspective. It’s just inaccurate how I view the world. I have other completely different long time passions and skills that I love exploring outside of cycling.

    So maybe think about 3-4 other subject areas to branch out.

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