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  • Home > Musings > Writer's Block

    Writer's Block

    2/14/03

     

    I

    have writer's block.  Have had it for years.  For someone who identifies themselves by his love of writing, this has been distressing.  I have felt myself slip away from earlier, more innocent versions of myself.  Leads to a lot of questions about who I am now and who I will be in the years to come, years that are churning on, each one faster than the one before.

    The writer's block can be traced back to the spring of 1999, when I took a Creative Fiction Bashing class, euphemistically called a creative writing workshop.  Now, prior to that experience, I had enjoyed positive experiences with workshops, including a positively brilliant one at Eastern Arizona College, taught by Darrin Cozzens.  I learned so much about writing and felt confident that my talent was growing strong.  But this class was different.  It was advanced fiction, meaning we were to submit "near-publishable" works for judgment.  I had been warned, at the beginning of the semester, that Dr. Jonathan Penner was hard.  I saw the signs when half the class dropped out the first week.  I should have bolted then, but figured I should tough it out.  I could succeed, because by golly, I was a writer

    Reality set in after my first story was crucified and spat upon, only to be shredded into the finest confetti possible before being returned to me.  As if that were not enough, my professor took it upon himself to "teach" me grammar by giving me some little article he wrote years before, expounding on English tenses.  I still feel I had made a stylistic choice, not a grammatical error in that story, but what do I know?  I'm not published

    Wounded, I decided to take a story from the previous workshop, intermediate fiction writing, and polish it to perfection.  It had been well received and reviewed, and the criticism was actually helpful.  I applied what I had learned to my story, finely crafting every word till not a letter was wasted, each metaphor honed and my theme was finely threaded throughout the piece.  It was a masterpiece, my best work to date.  After the verbal flogging from my peers on review day, Dr. Penner, in front of the class, questioned my desire to be a writer.  Were I a violent man, the class would have witnessed what might have been their first real live human vivisection, right then and there. 

    Needless to say, I got a C in the class.  By that point, my anger had subsided and I was left with hopeless resignation.  The two stories were it.  I had nothing left that I could offer to affect my grade.  I hardly cared.  My writing spirit was broken.  I stopped writing.  A farmer that stops farming is called a government subsidized farmer.  A construction worker that stops working is an unemployed construction worker.  A writer that stops writing is not a writer.  I was no longer a writer.

    My novel has sat in a folder in my file cabinet, untouched and gathering dust for four years, now.  Somehow, I still graduated with one of my majors as creative writing and even found some solace in my nonfiction workshop a semester later.  Creative nonfiction was easier to write, and I had people who told me I was good at it.  But my love of writing was broken.

    I still write occasionally.  My web site has been maintained continuously since November, 1997, not because it brought me fame, although I did seem many visitors pass by my digital doorway.  I keep the site as a way to continue my writing. 

    Despite the trickle of writings I have produced in the last 4 years since that demoralizing class, I have not been able to say I am a writer any more.  Writers write.  I did not write.

    One of my informal new year's resolutions was to become a writer once more.  Oh, my life is too busy to produce the output of yesteryear.  There was a time when I could write five or six poems a day or a short story in a week.  But I have been writing, here and there, as time permits.  Slowly, I am getting acquainted with my younger self, revisiting old writings, trying to fall in love with the craft of words again.  It is hard and there is much resistance on the part of my wounded pride, but I will not allow Mr. Penner to control me. 

    I work with a writer who self-published a book on the Old Testament.  For the longest time, no one cared about her book.  Then one person at one book chain took interest.  One, then a second radio show interview has suddenly given her nationwide notoriety.  No, she will not reach the top ten bestseller's list with this book, but the satisfaction she feels when people write her emails, talking about her book, or even order a copy for themselves, makes her struggle worthwhile.  That is the conceit of every writer:  to be read.  Without an audience, we are empty.  Yet we do not stand in front of our audience, the way an actor, musician or performer does.  Instead, we hide away, shunning social contact for significant periods of time until our work is complete.  Then we hang our writings out for others to see, hoping the words speak for themselves.  Hoping we are not entirely insane for writing what we write.

    As we write, we put our souls on paper (or electrons).  While some may call writers cowards, hiding behind mere words, there are few things more revealing that the arduous process of writing.  Strippers and archaeologists do not reveal as much. 

    Reading over what I have written, I notice that I identify myself with writers again.  Perhaps I am on my way to recovery.  All I know is that I am a writer again.

    Copyright © 2007 Matthew Rutherford
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