The Dreaded Writers Block

What is writers block? How can I avoid writers block? Does everyone get writers block?

The way I describe writers block is when you (the writer) are at a complete dead stop and can no longer think of anything to write, and I mean anything. It literally feels like someone wiped your brain of all potential thoughts, and or ideas. Imagine you’re driving a car on the highway and you have to take a detour, but when you exit the highway, there are no signs telling you which way to take the detour so you just start driving around aimlessly for hours until you finally give up. That’s what writers block feels like.

I don’t think there’s any true way to avoid writers block, just ways to help prevent it.  When you find yourself writing and start to lose momentum and it feels like you’re pulling teeth trying to make sense on the page, walk away. Just walk away. If you try to sit there making sense of the random words you’re spewing out. It just wont work. So, step away, drop the pencil, close the laptop, and walk away. Watch a movie, or take a nap, do something to distract your mind from what you were trying to write. When the time feels write, come back to your piece and crank out some more work. It’s like what they say, “Rome wasn’t built in a day”. And it’s true. Your work is not completed in one day, it takes time to craft what you’re thinking. So don’t stress about writers block, it’s a natural state of creative writing and everyone goes through it.

I myself am guilty for not following the advice I just gave above. I always feel like there is this insane amount of pressure to get everything out and in the open, as if I only have one shot to write what I wanna write. But that is so false. The good thing about creative writing is that you can go back any time and change and/or add whatever you want. I’m guilty of trying to act like I always know what I want to write, but I often find myself at a loss as soon as I grab a pen or open my laptop.

Writers block is never fun but with patience and acceptance that no one/nothing is perfect, we can over come this deadly mental block and create some of our best work.

in which a silent room of slim shady’s wait for the real one to stand up first

“Okay, thank you. Goodbye,” I said nervously upon hanging up the phone after speaking with a professor I know. Satisfied with my pseudo-professionalism, I looked over at my friend and realized she was silently giggling at me.

“What?” I asked, setting my phone down on the dining room table.

“It’s just funny. I mean, your voice gets so much higher and sweeter when you’re talking to real adults. It’s like you’re switching personalities,” she responded, proceeding to return to her homework.

She was so right. Lately, I’ve been considering “voice” and what that actually means in the world of poetics. After spending nearly a year pinpointing precisely what a “Grace poem” is, I’ve been a bit afraid that I will never be able to successfully deviate from it. To combat this, I made a list of the different voices I have around different people in real life: the voice only my friends and family know (and hate), the quiet and serious voice, the voice I use when Johnny bites Kenny in my second grade classroom, the voice I use when speaking with my dear Great Aunt Bonnie, the voice I use in every dreaded class presentation, the voice I use when someone knocks on the public bathroom door and I, for a moment, forget how to speak humanly.

After writing said list, I started to generate poems from different voices, and ended up narrowing in on the sarcastic and witty asshole that lounges in the La-Z-Boy between my brain hemispheres, always making delicious puns in the wrong context or getting nine-year-old Grace out of trouble by making Mom laugh. Writing with wit was an exercise in restraint, especially in the excitement of Taylor Swift-ing the shit out of someone whom I can only hope will someday stumble across a published version of my most recent poem and feel, like, real human emotions or something. Anyway, it was refreshing to get something out there that didn’t follow my own footsteps.

I think biting humor is a great place to start, but I’m excited to keep attempting to access different voices and come at poems from varied angles. For all of you lovely poets out there, what are ways in which you defy your own normal and “try new things?” I could always use more inspiration.

Oh, and if my ex-boyfriend ever Google searches me…since this is a public blog and all…I’m doing pretty damn well and you should think twice before wronging a poet next time.

See y’all in class! 🙂

Cut to the Feeling: An Argument for Honesty

Write what you know is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. 

                                                                                    — Kazuo Ishiguro, Literary Hub

In the literary world, the common consensus is this: honesty is overrated.

We’ve moved past confessionalism, outgrown recklessness — know better than to bleed out on the page. And, most importantly, we’ve swallowed whole the advice any well-intentioned mentor has fed us at some point or another and never, ever write what we know. 

But why?

I could begin with the publishers, the competitions. Or how nuance never exists in the extremes. I could begin by telling you that things like love, sorrow, joy — these common experiences are just that: common.

But instead, I’ll begin by saying why not?

Sometimes, I’ll read a poem so thick in metaphor that I can’t help, but call the technique unproductive. Sometimes, the truth is best served plain like in Czesław Miłosz’s Gift [see below].

Miłosz’s frank sincerity is so refreshing. He writes the way one would write a diary entry. He doesn’t perform — there are no acrobatics, the poem doesn’t set itself on fire.

Miłosz is honest — his poem doesn’t care for the reader’s gaze.

Who’s to say we should write for others and not ourselves. In our writing, perhaps we should prioritize the self, our own emotions.

Or, as Carly Rae Jepsen would put it: cut to the feeling.

 

Intrigue

Subtlety and mystery have always been tools I’ve been fascinated with. The best books I’ve ever read have always employed mystery as a tool to draw me in, and allude to a hazy web of implications and connections. What’s fascinated me about these is that, rather than enthrall the reader with detailed, multi-faceted characters, lush settings, or skilled prose, a skilled writer can capture the audience by not showing. It seems antithetical. We’re taught in workshops that we need to fill every aspect of our writing with detail. Why, then, does a lack of information become so enthralling?

I realized the answer when we work shopped Limbo Beach. The poem was an exercise in syntax, not mystery, but I had still been intentionally vague. I realized that simply leaving out detail wouldn’t have that same effect as mystery; it was too vague, too subtle, nobody knew what the hell was happening. I knew what it was about because I had that mental image in my head, and simply hadn’t explained it. That’s because mystery needs subtlety in final purpose and intention, not setting, detail, characterization, or basic premise. The end result of Limbo Beach was brief vignette that felt cut short, not compelling. Mystery should inspire awe and intrigue, not confusion. We’re hard wired to seek out everything we can’t know about, but if it looks like there’s nothing there in the first place, we won’t search for it. Time to edit.

 

A Thing That Megan Is Not Qualified to Talk About, or Black Death in Black Writing

I’m a little fixated on death this week, and a lot fixated on not letting Black History Month go by unacknowledged by my writer friends [puts self-righteous SJW hat on].

In Creative Writing Club, we do this thing called the “Underrepresented Writer Workshop” every month, where the E-Board chooses a written work by someone of a minority race/gender/ability set/orientation and we workshop it as if a student had submitted it.  See, none of us on the E-Board are qualified to get too deep into “how does being [insert minority here] influence this writing?” which is why we just tell everyone to treat it like a normal workshop.  At the very least, our members are reading something they likely wouldn’t have read otherwise.

So, um, here are some under-baked, undereducated thoughts on some written works that deal with the death of Black people, written by Black people:

 

“Fish Boy” and “Anniston, AL” by Jason Guisao

When Guisao read “Anniston, AL” out loud at the Gandy Dancer launch party, I thought, “Oh my god, they put the N-word in Gandy Dancer!”  I’m not sure why I was surprised; maybe I was just young and didn’t realize that writing that word down is a type of reclamation of power.  The implication of the second stanza is interesting: once a Black person is dead, they’re not a n*****.  What are they, then?  I’ve heard the word used both as a type of self-identification and as a tool of erasure.  Is it both in this poem?

I don’t remember any thoughts I had about “Fish Boy” the day it was read out loud.  It’s obviously a reshowing of Emmett Till’s murder; the “shoot the n***** above its right ear and cast it out into the brook” line is directly in line with the description of Till’s body.  Good “t” work in that line, sounds harsh when read out loud.  Tangible images, great enjambment towards the beginning of the poem.  There’s a number of works inspired by Emmett Till’s murder; this is a particularly visceral one.

 

“Dead is the new black” by J. Drew Lanham

This poem has one of those “crickets” lines that just sounds right: “cracked bell’s toll.”  Unless I misinterpreted the cricket thing we talked about, which is a distinct possibility.

This one could be read as a series of short poems, but it’s listed as just one.  Lots of good sonic moments.  I’m especially taken with the “Beyond being the next sad story” stanza.  It calls back to this thing that is sometimes said about Holocaust survivors, that it was really a coin toss who survived and who didn’t.  I typically don’t think about what a crapshoot survival is with other minority groups; it’s 2018, I didn’t think the 1940s genocide logic applied.

 

“The Flowers” by Alice Walker

Forgive me if you’ve already read this one.

This is technically short fiction, but it reads like poetry.  Kind of like Jasmine’s “Apologia” from a couple Gandy Dancer issues ago, where some people didn’t know if they should classify it as CNF or Poetry.  It read like CNF to me, but “The Flowers” probably reads like a short story (maybe even flash fiction) to most people.

The following sentence sounds smooth, even when revealing some unfortunate circumstances: “Turning her back on the rusty boards of her family’s sharecropper cabin, Myop walked along the fence till it ran into the stream made by the spring.”  Nice assonance and consonance there.

Get this: Myop, the name of the ten-year-old subject of the poem, is short for Myopic, which refers to nearsightedness.  This was written in 1988, which makes this clever.  If it was written in 2018, I suspect we’d think she was trying too hard.  Just an observation.

This “coming to age by seeing dead organisms” is not a new thing; there’s the opening of Toni Morrison’s Home, and this one short story I vaguely remember about a boy who sees a dead boar…and many others, I’m sure.  I wonder, what’s the 2018 equivalent of stumbling upon a lynched Black body in a field?  I’m sure there is an equivalent.

Why I Came Here

As I’ve been thinking about what I took from Monday night’s “whirlwind” workshop, I realized I sort of relearned the things I keep forgetting; the things that are important to me. I hadn’t been able to take any kind of writing workshop in a while, and being a part of this poetry class has begun to bring back the mindset and inspiration I’ve been desperately needing.

Continue reading “Why I Came Here”

A reminder

I have no idea what I’m doing.

I don’t. Really. I thought there might be a point where I’d have a breakthrough and be able to cut through the noise that surrounds my days, but I can’t. I thought that one day I might have a reason for every word and phrase I use, but I don’t. And I thought that I would develop a method, an approach, for writing lovely things. But I don’t have that either.

And (I think) that’s okay. I’m (maybe) not the only one.

Now, methodology, the planning and deliberation that goes into each detail of a poem, the words, sounds, lines, is important. I’m not denying that.

But if I were to start off every poem with an exact plan then I would miss the excitement of discovery, and the thrill of the unexpected–the moments where my tongue continues to trace a melody long after it’s gone, and my mind repeats over and over a phrase of words that are, to me, music. I had more moments like these when I was younger than I do now. I miss them.

That’s basically my greatest difficulty. That I don’t, or won’t, go for anything unsafe. This includes not only failing to write things that are out of my comfort zone, but also refusing to sit and be silent, to read things over and over, to take the time that it takes to let my experiences soak into me and change me. (What if it took too much time? What if I ran out?)

It’s just a little too scary sometimes for my adult brain, taking that much time. I wonder what I’d do with myself. I’d get restless.

I’ve forgotten how to rest.

But good things take time. And if I want to create good things, I need to live slower. Breathe more slowly. Rest in the words that I hear, that are intriguing, or beautiful, or challenging. If I rush past the present moment, I will lose not only it but the future as well. And I will definitely not be able to write with any sort of fortitude.

Slow down, Abby dear…

It’s okay.

Rest.

 

Poetic Synchronicity

Sometimes the right poem arrives at the right time, like fire to Prometheus. The stanzas that turn an otherwise purely sorrowful occasion into something remembered with a wistful smile. What would be ‘the awful prom night’ is now ‘the awful prom night with the discovery of T.S Eliot’s The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock at the end of it’. Art in general has the quality to add a silver lining to bleak times, but for me poetry has the greatest ability to stamp a gilded layer upon a melancholic time.

Being fifteen and frustrated I, like many of my ilk, found comfort in the poetry of Charles Bukowski. I’m now a little embarrassed by sway he held over my thought process, but at the time he was like a Sherpa, guiding me through the mountains of budding dissatisfaction and youthful fury. I still read his poems on occasion but find myself turned away by the blatant misogyny and overall crudeness. However, I still reminisce on spring days, where camped outside my therapist’s office, I devoured his ribald lines.

Sylvia Plath found me during an especially bland summer. It was of those summers where the cross country road trip, and all other thrilling expeditions I’d planned, had evaporated into fantasy yet again. I instead spent the days pacing around the house and playing the same video game ad nauseam. On night walks around the block, I’d think I’d spotted a friend in the distance, until recalling that they were off in Aruba, or the like, and I’d been presented with some modern form of mirage. On a stretch of boring summer days like these, I flipped open my Mom’s book of Plath poems and became engrossed.

Shelley’s Ozymandias finds you when you think you’ve wasted your wonder away. Yeats The Second Coming is like a radio signal straight into the pits of your doldrums and disillusionment, somewhere you thought you could not be reached. Perhaps we give off pheromones that attract the right poetry to us at the right times? It seems that if anything divine squats over us, instead of providing any form of direct-spiritual-intervention it sends us a care package of some good writing. Sometimes that is enough.