just. keep. writing.

Writer’s block is an enigmatic phenomenon. I could be out for a walk, on the bus to work, heck even at work doing my job, and in under a minute I’ll mentally write an entire blog post. The words and ideas stream in so fast I can’t possibly record them, but I promise myself I will later. I’ll remember this, I think. But when I sit down to write – nothing.

Earlier this week, my colleague – an amazing poet and teacher – spoke to a group of high school students visiting our university to learn more about our creative writing program. (A post on ‘worlds colliding’ should follow this one, as the students’ teacher is coincidentally my best friend, who now lives south of the border.)

I attended the session, but didn’t expect to be so personally impacted. When I was in high school, ‘creative writing’ wasn’t a thing. I remember English classes and learning about form, structure, and grammar…and we did do some writing…but for the most part, creative expression wasn’t truly nurtured or celebrated.

Juliet’s balcony in Verona, Italy.

I can’t help but wonder how different my younger years would’ve looked, had I been encouraged to experiment with all forms and genres in writing. If studying the craft had been presented as a valuable, worthy calling.

Of course, there’s no real point in going there. It’s easy to get carried away with the ‘what if’s, thinking we were somehow shortchanged in our past. But we can’t really know how things might’ve otherwise turned out. Maybe in the end it wouldn’t have made much difference.

My poet friend was so inspiring in encouraging the students to express themselves, and I ponder why writing – a process that can literally be a life-saver for some – often remains so elusive for those who love it most.

Is it vulnerability? Putting ourselves ‘out there’ in any capacity can be intimidating…but with writing, it feels heightened. It’s our heart and soul we’re baring, opening ourselves to others’ perceptions and projections. We tell ourselves not to get caught up in likes, follows (or unfollows), and comments…but how can we not be impacted by those things?

Is it perfectionism? We might think we don’t have time, or that we’re too stressed, to write. But maybe it’s fear: fear that our written word will never look as great as we hope and envision. Fear that someone will make a negative comment, or we’ll sound pretentious or get it wrong. Or, maybe worst of all – that we’ll be exposed as an imposter.

Blogging breaks are sometimes necessary…but I am feeling the creative muse’s call – no, order – to keep writing. It doesn’t have to be blog posts; it doesn’t have to ‘be’ or look like anything. It can just be for me.

When it comes to nurturing our passions, there is always time. But it is on us to carve it out. Fortunately we now have the world of WordPress, where everyone can express themselves to their heart’s content! It’s not too late.

For all those sensitive people so attuned to the reactions of others, I say… I get it. Express yourself anyway. It doesn’t matter if you’re not experienced or published or getting paid for it. If you’ve found something that gives you even the smallest hint of joy, DO IT. Don’t even question why.

It is meaningful, it does matter, and it is making a difference. Just keep writing.

lessons in creative writing

Tonight I have my Creative Writing class, which started in late January and has only three sessions left.  I had a feeling the class would stretch me out of my comfort zone, and that has proven true.  It’s a good thing.

In this small workshop-style setting, we are given the opportunity to read various assignments aloud, if we so desire.  However, our instructor has repeatedly told us that contrary to what we might think, we’ll get more value in giving rather than receiving feedback. It’s the art of providing (non-judgmental) feedback to other writers that will ultimately make us better writers ourselves.

I’ve become quite comfortable with giving supportive feedback but, apart from sharing a piece in the earlier weeks, I’ve clammed up when it comes to being on the receiving end. It’s an encouraging group and I don’t feel I’ll be criticized harshly or unfairly in any way.

But it’s so interesting what such situations bring up.  The mean inner voices that come alive.  You think you’re a good writer, but maybe you suck. They won’t get it, so they’ll pick it apart. They’re not perceptive enough to know what you’re trying to say.  Everyone here is way more talented than you.

Sometimes it’s exhausting to watch my ego in action!

The class has helped me explore my intentions in writing.  With blogging in particular, there is often much emphasis placed on getting ‘likes’ and ‘followers’.  But why?  What is the end goal of that?  What are we chasing?  The ego can be sneaky here. (Or blatant.)

Writers have been called narcissistic, and I wonder about that.  Writers know that it’s not really in our control – the words must come out, or we’ll explode.  Blogging is an amazing platform for this vital self-expression.  But though my blog is largely about ‘me’, it’s not because I think my life details are that important, or that people should care about those particulars.  It’s just what I know best.  It’s where I can write with the most authority.

In the piece that I shared with the group earlier in the course, some feedback I received was that as I read aloud, people started to think about their own lives.  It was thus suggested that my work lacked a certain element that would keep listeners focused on my words.

When I reflect on the piece, this was/is a valid critique, and through the discussion that ensued, we learned the importance of balancing core elements in the craft of writing. In the assignments I’ve worked on since, I can see where I’m missing pieces that would make my writing stronger and more powerful.  Connecting with other writers in this way has been eye-opening, inspiring, and humbling.

I want to be a better writer, in the technical sense; I want to be clear and get my message across; but I don’t want it to be all about me.  I want people to think about their own lives.  My measure of personal success is that my words will spur others to reflect on their own experiences and ponder their own journeys.

***

Writing is a shared experience.  I love finding our parallels and connections, and using them to bolster each other.  That’s the point.  That’s what drives me and fires me up about the whole thing.

It’s very cool that this class is clarifying my values – and showing me when my ego is running the show.

I’m looking forward to sharing my words tonight.