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    My daily writing--emails, journal entries, marginalia, more emails, blog posts, and tweets--shapes me as a writer, helping and hindering the big stuff I'm trying to accomplish. Every word counts.

    My name is James Black. I'm on Facebook and Twitter. Friend and/or follow me if you like.

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Keep Verbing Until You Noun

I haven’t felt compelled to write lately. It’s sort of a non-paying job that I get done more often than not, for what it’s worth. (I guess I mean it’s a bit of a chore.) Is that bad? Can I call myself a writer if I’m not brimming with ideas and driven by the need to process every thought in writing?

I used to feel that need. I felt compelled. Thoughts zapped in my head and came out my fingers as words in problematic, passionate order. Now my writing life is all about the novel. Occasionally I’ll feel a blog post come on like the need for a chocolate bar, except that need comes to me daily. Of course, consumption is easier than output. No poems anymore. Sure as hell no songs anymore. No short stories. Not even stories? Even after writing so many in undergrad and grad school? What’s up with that?

I’m not sure I know how to write a story anymore. If I’m honest, I should admit I stopped trying to write stories before I mastered the form. What is mastery? Does it involve jotting some quite autobiographical notes fueled by the assumption that they could, in first-draft form, tell anyone’s story, but some specific anyone might emerge if I let the notes simmer long enough?

I hope so, because I wrote something like that today. I think it’s called “a mess.” The most structure I’ve had in my writing lately is what you’re seeing here: paragraphs that begin with “I” and end with whiny, desperate, open-ended questions. I wonder if this is what my writing is becoming. Could it be so?

I’m getting off track, off the path of the story. My story. (What is this? Memoir? I’m getting confused.) Truth: I’ve always been afraid of the stories I’ve wanted to write. The vision is usually greater than my skill. Is that how it is for everyone? Not that my great vision makes any of the stories inherently great. Greatness requires work (revision–duh), and I’ve lacked faith in my ability to make real the greatness of my ideas. Rejection pisses me off, but discourages me even more. As much as I don’t want to give up, some hyper-efficient part of me sees no point, powers down. I didn’t go to a great MFA program. I’m not a natural at networking or selling myself. So what’s the point, right? (Does my negative attitude bug you as much as it bugs me?)

I know the only way to develop my writing chops is to write and get readers to respond. Or don’t get response, just crank out the words. Cranking out writing is so good for me. The process is an important product. Last fall when I was really cranking on my novel, a friend noted I was talking and acting differently, opening myself up more in conversations. “I think it’s because your writing’s been going so well,” she said. I was like, “Really?”

“I’m serious,” she said. It’s good to have a friend who’s a better observer of you than you are, rooting for you in a way you just don’t know how to do. “I see a difference in you.”  A good difference. I felt more like myself than I had in years. Is there any better reason to trust the process? To keep cranking away at the writing until I feel like a writer again?

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2 Responses

  1. I love this post in 11 or 12 ways.
    Best of all, it’s inspiring me to write something, about writing. Stay tuned.

  2. […] I asked myself. And days later, still ruminating on this loss of poetry as a go-to medium, I read James’s post on his recent fall off in writing compulsion: no poems, no song lyrics, no short stories. He attributes his retreat from these forms because of […]

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