Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Writer's Block? More Like Writer's Shutdown.

Remember when you had to write a paper for school, you knew what you were going to say but you just couldn't bring yourself to sit down and DO it? Welcome to my first non-fiction book's progress.

It started with an idea, which found an interested agent, who then proposed a different project first, a project that should have been pretty straightforward.

That's apparently not how I roll.

A simple collection of biographies has, instead, turned into a narrative in which I weave my own search for meaning into stories of people I've interviewed. They are people who inspire me, who challenge me; people whose stories hit a nerve, a nerve I sometimes didn't even recognize at the time.

My writer friends who've seen the initial rough drafts are encouraging; it's a compelling read when I'm strewn all over the pages. That's enough of a challenge for me right there to shut me down.

I'm fighting to remember that making myself the common thread that runs through these stories isn't a form of narcissism. All it does is give the reader someone to identify with, changing the book from a dry, objective textbook into a messy human story.

But every single time I even think about writing, I run up against a twelve foot tall Donna Reed sadly shaking her head over my unladylike willingness to talk about not only myself, but about my least shining moments.

She's so disappointed in me.

But come on, Donna! You felt trapped in that good girl role, too, didn't you? I've seen the studio photos. And when you put on a dark wig, you actually pulled it off.

Twelve foot tall Donna Reed does not concede the point. That, she informs me, was a job. But in real life, we're supposed to be perfect. Why would you parade your life in front of the world, trading the soft focus lens for harsh magnifier?

In practical terms, this is how it looks: I finish work for the day. KB, home from his two week southern sojourn, asks the usual question: what are you doing tonight?

"Oh," I mumble, "I don't know. Maybe I'll practice violin. Maybe I'll get my tax stuff together. Maybe I'll write."

The rest is unsaid: maybe I'll scan real estate ads. Maybe I'll look at dogs that need a new home. Maybe I'll read other peoples' blogs. Maybe I'll watch television. HGTV is pretty damned fascinating, you know.

I anticipate discomfort when I begin to write. It doesn't really happen; in fact, it's a pretty enjoyable undertaking. Once I start, I get sucked in pretty quickly.

But far too many days go by when I don't make myself start.

What, I wonder, is that all about?


Teri said...

Lawsy, that sounds like my DH. He can "make a story out of anything". That is... until he has to. Then the well goes dry. The 11th hour of a deadline is his greatest motavation. And his worst writing time.

Susan said...

Ah, the deadline. It is a marvelous motivator, Teri, and one I rely on far too heavily.

Reya Mellicker said...

Sheesh, who could write a word with a 12 foot tall Donna Reed shaking her foot long finger. YIKES.

Writer's block - it's universal. It's multiversal. Everyone experiences it...I wonder why?

I won't be wondering hard enough to conjure Donna Reed, though. That's scary!

Jo said...

I envy anyone who can write at all. I think your writing is wonderful. I like the idea of making yourself the common thread. It feels familiar somehow, but I can't place it.

Oh, I remember now -- Evelyn Waugh when he wrote "Brideshead Revisited". Didn't he make Charles Ryder the common thread through everyone's story? You could sort of position yourself that way -- an observer.

By the way, my idol is Deborah Kerr. Whenever I am in a sticky situation, I always ask myself, "What would Deborah Kerr do?" It's hard living up to the expectations of Deborah Kerr and Donna Reed. :-)

Susan said...

Ah, Deborah Kerr. My mother's favorite as well, Jo. No one will ever do "Affair to Remember" as well.

How could we possibly live up to Deborah, to Donna, even to Greer Garson (my favorite), Ingrid Bergman, Grace Kelly?

In real life, they were far more interesting people, but their on-screen personas were perfection.
And that's all we saw.

Reya, I guess writer's block equals insecurity (unless it's just a fancy name for laziness).
Did you ever read "Art and Fear"?
It's a great discussion of why we get in our own way. Not that it's pushed me through this logjam, of course.

Barry said...

It's probably just about being human. I would venture to guess we've all been there, even without a 12' tall Donna Reed staring over our shoulder.

A little narcissism is good for the soul.

And your approach to the book sounds like a great idea.

Susan said...

Okay, everyone, thanks for the encouragement.
Perhaps I need to impose a deadline on myself; it works for my job, it'll work for this, too.
I'll tell you all and that's going to keep me honest:

this book, first draft, will be done by April 1.


JamaGenie said...

Susan, I know this is an old post, but had to stop by and say "Thank you" for the backlink that brought me here, and to say how glad I am that Donna Reed is too busy with you to shake a finger at me for "spreading myself all over [my] pages"! ;D