What is a person to do when the very thing that makes them who they are, is gone? It’s an awful experience when you’re a writer and nothing comes to you. It feels as though all the words inside you, that are normally fighting their way out, have left you and you don’t know if they will ever be back. It feels as though the end has come and you have lost yourself. On Sunday, I had this happen to me and I didn’t know what to do about it. I had just watched a video on Ted Talks by Elizabeth Gilbert, she was talking about how it feels to succeed and how when that success passes, it feels as though you will never reach that point again. When I realized that no words were coming to me, unable to form sentences or even think of a direction to take or a topic to write, I could relate to Ms. Gilbert. I wondered if the words would flow from my hands again.
It was in that moment that I knew how much I love writing and how important it is to me. The thought of stopping, of not being able to express myself in the way I have since I was a little girl, frightened me. I turned to a group I’m in on Facebook, Writer’s Unite. It is a group full of experienced, published authors, as well as those who are just starting out. It’s a place where you can ask questions without feeling dumb, where you will get answers from people who understand what you’re going through and who want to help. I described what was going on and asked if anyone knew of anything that would help me move through the fog I was in. So many people responded, offering their personal experiences and techniques they have used to get past this block that makes you feel distraught. The tips ranged from thinking about the last thing that made a major impression on me to randomly picking 30 words out of a dictionary and forming a storyline from them. I tried almost all of the suggestions, but the comment that was the most helpful was one where the woman simply said, “Write anything and everything. If it comes to mind, write it down. This will pass.”
I took this woman’s advice. I started a WordPress blog and my first post was about Writer’s Block. I did what she said and I just wrote. I described the frustration I was feeling, the fear, the stress from having writing assignments for school and not being able to come up with a single thing to write about. The block was even stranger being that this is my favorite time of the year. I have always loved the holidays. Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day have the most memories attached to them. All the family dinners, where family scattered across the country came together, the presents under the tree that I had been looking forward to all year, the food home-cooked by some of the most amazing women, going to church on Christmas Eve with my grandparents, watching the ball drop on New Year’s Eve and throwing up confetti, watching the Thanksgiving Day football games with my Great-Uncle Dale at Aunt Stella’s house with the smell of turkey and stuffing all around us. I love the decorations, Christmas trees and lights, ornaments and Santa hats. The Christmas music and the winter wonderland I grew up with in Pennsylvania. Still, none of those inspired writing. I was still stuck.
The library has always been one of my favorite places, surrounded by books, a serene feeling in a world full of chaos. It’s so easy to go in and just lose myself in the quietness of it all. Yesterday, I fell victim to the library once again. I went to the admissions office at my college to talk with an advisor about different options for courses next semester. Before I left, I had to go to the Provost’s office to inquire about a new Honors sticker for my Student ID. In the same building, right across the hall, was the library. I told myself, “I’m just going in to look around, a few minutes and then I’ll leave.” I was looking for anything that had to do with creative writing or the history of literary journalism. Sadly, there wasn’t much of a selection. After consulting the Library of Congress Classification, looking through all the poetry and fiction histories, anthologies, and novels, I landed amongst the news section. Minutes quickly turned into an hour and I left with five books about writing. I discovered a book focusing on writing nonfiction, I found Creative Writing Demystified and three other books that I believed could offer me insight and inspiration and bring me out of this nightmare I was having where the words had disappeared without a trace.
When I made it home, I sat down with the stack of books. I looked at them for a little bit, then I picked them up, one by one. I placed them on my desk, three on the top row, two on the bottom. I didn’t know where to start. I sat there, with so many things going through my mind, but so empty at the same time. Eventually, one in particular stood out to me. Writing for Others, Writing for Ourselves, by professor, reporter, and blogger, Jerry Lanson. The inspiration I was waiting for came quickly. The first sentence of the third paragraph in the preface gave me the push I desperately needed, “Writing ultimately starts with an act of will.”
Reading that sentence, being reminded that writing begins with the will to write, cleared most of the block. After I read that, I remembered that the words don’t disappear. They’re still there and if I’ll just force words out, any words, they’ll begin to work together. I told myself this several times, then I opened Microsoft Word. I had found the nudge that I needed to begin this assignment.
Writing isn’t only something that I enjoy. Writing has probably also saved me from myself. Many therapists, for most types of counseling, tells their client to find an outlet. Be it anger management, addiction therapy, family counseling, outlets are almost always mentioned. The point of the outlet is to express your happiness, anger, frustration, or depression in a different, more positive way. A way that will prevent a person from doing the things that brought on the problems that led to counseling. My outlet, for as long as I can remember, has been writing.
Growing up, I was always the kid without parents. I would write about the mean things people said to me or feeling left out all the time. When my grandma died, I didn’t have friends I could talk to, and I chose not to talk to my grandpa because talking about Nana made him so sad, I hated seeing him cry. I wrote. I wrote and wrote and wrote. I used to get in trouble in school. I’ve been suspended from both school and field trips. This went on until the principal called me into his office and we talked about it. After that meeting, my teachers would let me pull out my journal during class so I could write instead of getting in an argument or walk out of the classroom. This helped, a lot. I was never in the principal’s office for misbehavior again.
Writing has helped me survive the hardest times in my life, it has also helped me document the best times. I would write about what I did for my birthday and the gifts I received, the family that visited for the holidays, all my aunts and uncles’ weddings, and I’d write about some really good days that I wanted to remember. A dream of mine is to write a memoir. Part of this dream has been inspired by the fact that I have over a decade of my life on paper. I can look back and relive the experiences that made me who I am, that made me appreciate life and all the little things. I want to use my ability to write to show others how I made it through some tough times and, hopefully, help others through their own stormy seas.
When I started thinking about what I wanted to write for this assignment and was unable to form any ideas, I panicked. All I could think about was what I would do if I couldn’t write again. I asked myself, is this the end? Lanson talks about how there are veteran writers that are still struggling to unlock the secret of what blocks them, yet they’re still able to continue writing. After talking to other members of Writer’s Unite and reading Jerry Lanson’s book, I was given hope. Hope that this is something that is temporary, it will go away. Writer’s block isn’t going to kill my dream or ruin my life. I will experience it from time to time, but the words will come back to me. I, once again, will be able to think of story lines and plots, characters and the best way to word sentences. I will have the chance to leave my surroundings and enter another realm, put everything else to the side and fall into the world made of words.
*Ostacolo is Italian for “Obstacle”