John has blogged for us before. He teaches at BYU and leads some amazing writing classes. He’s smart, kind and funny. He has a book of short stories and a novel published, both with Signature books. He’s also published a TON of short fiction.
Carol wants to know about my writing struggles and how I’m overcoming them. Am I overcoming them? What a novel idea! I think she really just wants to pour alcohol in my wounds.
I feel so good when I write. I’m in my natural space when I’m wrestling with words and ideas, imagining characters or reimagining real people. It’s satisfying work. You can feel the “but” coming and here it is—but so much else gets in the way. My daughter’s divorce hearings, my mother’s heart problems, the psychological and moral struggles of my children that I want to fix. Then there is my teaching, the designing of questions and the reading of papers, both of which I love, but which take time. The peaches and tomatoes that need to be bottled before they rot. The blog I need to write two weeks late for my friend. All these things that want my attention. I know that when I write for myself first that these things will still work out, my life will stumble on. But when I’m out of the habit of writing before I enter the fray of my life, it’s so difficult to get back to the computer.
Then there’s the trouble of the writing itself, which one of my teachers said is harder than wrestling alligators. I can avoid the work and have the appearance of writing, sitting at my desk, daydreaming or moving a word from here to there and back again, deciding whether to leave a comma in or not. Or I can inflict the pain on myself and confront the difficult questions that the writing demands. I can face the conflict until I channel it. Oh, how good that feels afterward! It’s like running or lifting weights, so painful to think about doing, but so joyful when you look back at it.
I also struggle with the fact that editors and agents are blind to how brilliant I am. Why don’t they snap up what I send them? Why aren’t they begging for the scraps of paper I write my ideas on? Getting a rejection letter still hurts.
Voice. I struggle with voice, or with imagining a voice that isn’t my middle-aged WASP self. I have an essay voice, or I do sometimes, but I worry about my fiction voice.
My overcoming (or the hope of it):
I’ve been in a writing slump for a few weeks. No, for at least a month. How will I get out of it? Writing this helps. (Thanks, Carol, for the stinging pain; I first typed the stinking pain, which is also right.) I can make sure that the first thing I do after I finish breakfast is to get my butt in the chair. I can imagine the painful pleasure of having a story that that my brain is working over that I’m anxious to get back to. I can learn again to say “no” or “later” to my family, friends, and my other, lesser job, the one that makes money. Very difficult to do.
So, Medic Carol, I’ll get back to you with a report of my progress.