I’m serious. Writer’s block is serious. It can be devastating. I’m currently hosting a blog talk radio show called Inspirational Storytellers, and as you’d naturally expect, my goal is to be inspiring. This is actually not difficult for me. Because no matter what I am going through personally, I have this bubbly sun-shiny personality that always sounds enthusiastic. (Except when I’m really low, and then I keep my mouth shut and write in my journal. Or watch DVDs.) Doing a radio show is in itself an upper, so no worries there.
But this isn’t about radio shows per se. This is about writing. And what to do when you feel you’re stagnating, or you can’t seem to move forward, or can’t seem to get to it period.
I have been struggling with these very things in recent months. A year and a half ago I published my first book, my first memoir, and began the sequel immediately afterwards. I was extremely excited about covering new territory after being submerged for so many years in one particular time-frame—albeit a twenty-seven-year time-frame. The sequel was to be about what came after. Many readers expressed enthusiasm for the next book, and that helped. But not enough. Not nearly enough.
I can imagine that even if I had a hefty advance from a publisher for this next book, I still might be flummoxed. Because this has absolutely nothing to do with someone waiting for pages or printed pages or bound pages or digital pages… This has to do with my personal objective. Or lack thereof.
One of the most valuable comments I received from my advisor at grad school was, “Why are you telling me this?”
Boy, what a wake-up call! Why indeed? I had quite a story to tell, if I could just get it out, but until I found the raison-d’etre, forgeddabout it – as we say in Brooklyn.
It has not been a simple matter, deciding who I am writing to this time. For the first book it finally became clear to me, when I asked the question in the very first line—What did I know and when did I know it? I then proceed to spend the next three-hundred and fifty pages explaining the answer. Tellingly, I subtitled the book, “The Memoir That Solved A Mystery” Because it was true.
With the second book, the sequel, I have wanted to tell the story of how I became an artist and why, and what it did for me, and what it did not do. It sounds fairly straight forward, yet I have found this is far from the case. I have one of those minds that needs constantly to be held in check because it tends to go all over the place. It’s why I literally throw away hundreds of pages. But never mind about that. It’s part of my process and I’ve learned to live with it. The thing is, and what I wanted to say today is, that it struck me this morning with a great deal of force—that what I must do is see and perceive my overall mission. I could say ‘goal,’ but mission tends to put it on a slightly higher level. Of course my goal is to finish the thing…but what is my purpose, my mission, the thing I need to keep reminding myself each day that will keep me focused on reaching my goal?
It is not just to spill my guts or bleed on the page or ‘just’ put it out there, tell my story. There’s got to be a why. Why should you bother to read it? Who am I writing to? I cannot emphasize enough how important this last thing is—who am I writing to. This “Who” is not going to change the facts of the story, but it is going to change my slant. It is going to affect the presentation.
Well, the good news is that this morning I have made a decision. I will write to that uncensored aspect of myself who understands my truth, and will not judge. Because often it is not enough in memoir to merely change names—or even lump characters together. It’s the truth of ourselves we’re dealing with. And we have to know why we’re telling it, and the purpose behind it—in order to have the strength and courage to carry on. And I have to believe, have to have to have to, that somewhere, there is someone, who needs to hear my truth. Not just my story, but my truth. Why else would I be struggling so hard to get it out? Because perhaps I hear a voice, calling me from the future, pleading with me to spit it out already.