A CONFESSION, OF SORTS

This commentary, dear readers, is inspired by a Facebook post written one day last month by an author who expressed her vulnerability regarding the present state of her fiction writing. She admitted she felt distanced from the novels she’d written. Further, she felt she was a long way from being ready to write her next one, and she feared it was possible she might not ever pen another book.

Quite a few writers responded to her. They told her not to fret and they shared that they had experienced the same downward trajectory of their writing.

As I read and reread the young writer’s post, I felt admiration, compassion, and anxiety for her and for myself. Was I not going through a similar descending spiral with my work? Hadn’t I been feeling that same fear mixed with the wonderment of how-had-I-ever-been-able-to-write five novels? Had writing become more difficult for me because I was…well, past the start-up age for Medicare? Was I a victim of the dreaded writer’s block?

No, that could not be. Years earlier, while attending a GCLS conference, I’d listened carefully as a writer told a workshop audience that writer’s block did not exist. If that were true, I couldn’t experience it, right?

Wrong. My novel writing has slowed to a crawl. I’ve redirected my creativity toward inventing different answers for those people who ask, “What are you writing now?”

I’ve gone from saying, “I’m between my last book and my next one,” to, “I’m waiting for new characters to arrive in my head,” to, “I’m taking a little break.”

It’s taken a while for me to shed the feelings of guilt that accompanied my lack of writing. Now that I’ve been able to do that, I freely say, “I stay busy responding to political Facebook posts, writing checks and filling out forms related to my mother’s stay in a Skilled Nursing Facility, jotting detailed emails to my sister to keep her fully informed about and involved with our mother’s care, facilitating creative writing activities for folks in a senior living residence, creating a once-a-month blog for Women and Words, and co-curating an anthology with my literary shero, Lee Lynch.”

That’s the truth, and all of it involves writing. I’ve been led to little side paths that seem to be as fruitful and satisfying as my past writing tasks.

During my years in the classroom I discovered the joys of deviating now and then from the mandated World Language curriculum long enough to show my students a few Spanish and French films and put some foreign magazines and newspapers in their hands. It was a great way to coax them into exploring different cultural habits and traditions.

As they watched “La Quinceanera,” “La Vie est Belle,” “El Norte,” and “La Rue Cases Negres,” they witnessed differences as well as commonalities of the human spirit.

When we looked at Spanish and French ads for Coca-Cola, beer, or baby lotion, we talked about the universality of the subliminal messages that appear in so many adverts.

Our discussions veered us away from verb tenses and noun and adjective agreement. Those diversions were well worth the happiness that occurred when we discovered new pathways to learning.

Deep in my soul I believe I have at least one more set of characters whose stories must be told. At the same time, I realize it’s possible I might not write another novel, and I struggle to accept that possibility. I do know that as long as a friend’s Facebook post inspires me to think more deeply, or as long as an overheard turn of phrase jump starts a character’s existence in my imagination, I shall want to write. Writing always pulls me back to writing.

P.S. When I began composing this blog I planned to insert subliminal reminders about the importance of casting your vote, either early if your state permits that, or on November 8th. But I realized actual words lack the subliminal effect of images hidden in ice cubes, pastoral brooks, and liquids streaming from bottles of beer. So here’s the non-subliminal message: PLEASE VOTE! VOTE FOR HILLARY! This is the most important election of our lifetimes.

Renee Bess, a recovering language teacher, is the author of LEAVE OF ABSENCE; BREAKING JAIE; RE:BUILDING SASHA; THE BUTTERFLY MOMENTS; and THE RULES. Her website addy is: http://www.reneebess.com

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10 thoughts on “A CONFESSION, OF SORTS

  1. Hi, Renee…

    I know exactly how you feel. I’ve decided that gaps in my writing happen because I’m refilling the ‘well’ of ideas/creativity… Or because I haven’t found the right story to tell… But when people start asking what I’m working on, that just ramps up the pressure. For years I struggled with answers, then just ended up smiling and saying “I’m always working on something,” hoping that will satisfy them. (This year I should have told people I’ve been writing speeches for Donald Trump—that would have distracted them from my lack of publications! Accck. Yes, will be voting for Hillary.)

    I’m one of those who doesn’t believe in writer’s “block” as a condition. I do, however, believe in fear and insecurity and confusion about what comes next. But it sounds like you are doing plenty of writing, so you’re moving forward, even if not on a novel. One of my best friends always says, “I don’t have any more stories in me,” then two months later she’s hard at work on another. Her down time, her frustration with herself, is part of her process. I’ve come to trust that my process, perhaps like yours, just has lots of gaps. ALSO, I don’t think writing gets easier the more novels you’ve written… I think it gets harder!

    Thanks for a thought-provoking blog…

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    1. Thanks for reading my essay, Catherine. I find some amount of comfort in knowing there are other writers who have shared or are sharing my experience. It occurs to me that we could always tell our friends we’re taking “a gap year.” Be well.

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  2. Thanks Renee, your words resonated deeply for me. I love writing, but I kinda feel like I’ve used up my word allotment. Then I feel like I’m letting people down–readers and friends. I’m not giving up. This year I will jump into NaNoWriMo without a clue or idea. Just hoping the discipline of keeping my butt in the chair and hitting a daily word count will jumpstart this old Model T engine.

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    1. Hi Barrett. I’m glad you related to the message in my blog. I’ve decided there are so many things about which I could worry, and I’m not going to put writing at the top of my list. If another book is to be, it will be.Like you, I love writing. So I imagine I’ll continue writing something or other. Thanks for responding to my essay!

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  3. Thanks Renee 🙂 I had responded to that original post. Though the writers I know that are going through the same thing – including yourself – even while I feel horrible about it – I’m so thankful that I’m not the only one. There is enough different about me – I choose the word “eccentric” – that to have similarity with authors I totally respect – comforts me as well.
    There is the insecurity that I won’t live up to my previous books.
    I have no problem coming up with the ideas- it’s getting them down in a coherent sequence.
    Thank you to everyone who shared about this.
    And Barrett – I’m diving into the NaNo as well.

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    1. Yvonne, thanks for responding to my blog. Isn’t it wonderful to find kindred spirits? And isn’t it equally wonderful (or convenient) to be able to claim the label “eccentric”? I think it’s one of the party favors of aging. You are fortunate to be able to continue thinking of ideas for your stories. Keep writing and try not to compare your work to your previous books. Best of luck!

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  4. Man, do I feel you! It took me three times as long to write my latest novel, and I STILL don’t have any idea what I’m writing next. Nothing comes to mind.

    Writing is fun. Seeing the published book is freaking awesome! I enjoy the editing process too. But things ain’t popping in the imagination right now. And the dreaded “What are you writing now?” is a serious guilt trip in the making.

    Sooner or later I know something will come up. Here’s hoping the muse will come knocking on your door once again.

    (And I voted!)

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    1. Jordan, I’m glad my thoughts resonated with you, and I too found my last book took much longer to write than the previous ones. I don’t know about you, but I’m determined to find some consolation just knowing that Harper Lee wrote one (okay, maybe two) novels. It’s important to be proud of what we’ve accomplished thus far.

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