I'm going to do this thing right now that I don't really want to do, but I find myself unable find another way: I have no idea what to write about.
I don't want to spend my Monday blog here at the ever-amazing Paper Darts doing a whole meta thing where I write about not knowing what to write about, but here I am. I'm doing it. (Happy now, Matt Beachy?)
Seriously, I've been sitting here for hours trying to decide what to write. I've written five separate, whole blog posts, with links, pictures, quotes and everything, but nothing feels right. I just can't settle on a topic. This is like that terrifying day during the week when you spend too long trying on different outfits, and nothing feels right, but you're going to be late, so you just say To hell with it, and march faux proudly on into your day.
So far, I've gone through The Five Most Impressive Books to Be Caught Dead With (this seemed like a good idea while watching Heathers), Why Editing Your Own Work Is So Hard, How Amazing is William Faulkner, Getting Famous Posthumously, and some weird quasi-poetic rant on the similarities between pointing out your own fiction writing shortcomings and body flaws. Some of them were ok, but none of them were that great. And now, here I am. This sure is frustrating.
I complained to my husband about how bummed I am that my creative juices feel really, painfully dry tonight, and he said the one thing he knows burns me up the most: The treasure can't be found by men who search.
Fuck you and all your pithy lyrics, Bob Dylan.
I guess I could reveal them together as one mutant Frankenpost. That would be, okay, right? Here goes, I'm walking out of the house with the very next thing I put on:
Loving literature all starts with reading the works of masters. And from there, it's like making your way to the base of a steep hill. You start with the best, and work your way down, out toward the bottom edge of the slope. You're adventurous in your reading, and find yourself surprised at how touching clumsy writing paired with sharp truth can be. And sometimes even the worst writing can feel good to read. You love it all.
Then you start writing. You read the work of your peers—classmates taking creative writing courses just for credit, not for experience. You read their stories and they are terrible. Or, sometimes accidentally great, but they shrug. It's just pass-fail, man. People read your work, returning it with a light spattering of line edits, and question marks that don't punctuate any questions. It must be pretty good, you think. You frown, looking at the mess you've made of their work. Sorry. They don't even look at it. Drop it in the trash and walk away. There're always one or two classmates who write things that make you ache with jealousy. How do they do it? There's no way to ask without sounding like a dipshit, so you don't. You're afraid of community, because community means competition.
However, without realizing it, you do develop a community, and it's the opposite of competitive. You find that everything has merit. You find that you are able to feel how much time and energy has been put into the stories your friends show you, and it is amazing. Your propensity for empathy surprises you. For a while, it's not the writing that matters as much as the dedication. You panic.
It should be that it gets easier, reading your work alongside the work of your peers, instead of comparing your early work with the masters (everyone does), and feeling like you're already behind in your early twenties. It should be simple to compare and contrast. You know what is good and what is bad. Like standing in your underwear in front of the mirror with a friend. You breasts are bigger, but so is your belly. At least you don't have those boat sail arms. At least you can turn a phrase.
If I ever become a famous author, I hope it happens posthumously.
What if I have to answer questions about my work which reveal terrible things that have been locked away in my psyche for years? What if I don't really know what my work is about? Then I'll be at the mercy of a roomful of college kids overlaying their psycho-melodramas onto all of my deep-seated issues, compounding the meaning of the works, and making it something wholly different from my original intention. Although, in that case, maybe it's better to be there to argue my point...
There's an interview with Faulkner, from 1957 when he was Writer-in-Residence at the University of Virginia, wherein a student asks about the symbolic meaning of Quentin always stepping in his own shadow throughout The Sound and the Fury. Faulkner responds by saying: "That wasn't a deliberate symbolism. I would say that that the shadow stayed on his mind so much was foreknowledge of his own death, that he was—Death is here, shall I step into it, or shall I step away from it a little longer? I won't escape it, but shall I accept it now or shall I put it off until next Friday. I think that if it had any reason that must have been it."
I don't know about you, but when I first read that, my mind exploded. FAULKNER didn't even know what he meant, which to me makes me consider warring possibilities: Was he a blind conduit for the universal truths or is he a master of on-the-spot bullshittery?
Faulkner didn't even like his own writing. In an interview with Jean Stein vanden Heuvel he says, "Since none of my work has met my own standards, I must judge it on the basis of that one which caused me the most grief and anguish, as the mother loves the child who became the thief or murderer more than the one who became the priest." Later, in another classroom session at University of Virginia he says, "I wrote the Benjy part first. That wasn't good enough so I wrote the Quentin part. That still wasn't goo enough. I let Jason try it. That still wasn't enough. I let Faulkner try it and that still wasn't enough, and so about twenty years afterward I wrote an appendix still trying to make that book what—match the dream."
I've got to figure out a better writing process, guys.
I walk out of the room and tell my husband that I'm done with my post, and he looks at me and says, "Awww, you didn't write about writer's block did you? That's the worst."