On Writing

Writing, for me, is an interesting thing. When I was younger, I did a lot of writing. I wrote all the time. If I had free time, I was probably either writing or I was reading. In middle school, I filled notebooks with all kinds of wacky stories and mostly-bad attempts at absurdist humor as I read Douglas Adams books over and over. My middle school had an after-school writers’ group that met every week where students would share their latest creations over Chips Ahoy cookies and Newman’s Own lemonade provided by my favorite teacher ever, John Stewart1 and I attended every week without fail.

I continued writing in high school. An after-school writers’ group met thereĀ as well, filled mostly with juniors and seniors who seemed so cultured and worldly compared to myself and the younger members. Their prose and poetry with previously-unknown themes of sensuality, drugs and exotic travel were eye-opening to a thirteen year old freshman. I devoured their work and explored new poets the exposed me to like Dickinson and Plath. As high school rolled on, I discovered zines and was drawn to their cut-and-paste ethos and deeply personal narratives, and at the same time became interested in playing guitar and drums. I got together with friends, learning how to play our favorite songs and how to write our own, taking poems I had written and crafting them into lyrics.

Crafting music and poetry continued in the first few years of college, and then for some reason I stopped fairly abruptly. Looking back, I think there’s a number of factors that contributed, but it’s hard to say there was a specific reason. I just wasn’t writing anymore. I did some short- and medium-form writing on this site’s earlier incarnations, but I wasn’t writing poetry or music or longer pieces like I used to. Twitter came along later and I use it quote a bit, but nowadays I almost never write elsewhere.

Today I find writing to be extremely difficult. I don’t try to do it very often, and when I do, I usually end up staring at a blank page or screen for a while, not knowing where to start. If I do come up with something, I tend not to get very far and I have a lot of trouble figuring out where to go next. When trying to write music, I sometimes come up with an interesting motif or chord progression, but I have the hardest time coming up with another part into which to transition. Eventully when I encounter a roadblock (and I invariably do), I beat myself up for my inability to meaningfully continue; I remember when writing was second nature to me, and I wonder why I can’t still do that.

I believe one of the biggest stumbling blocks is that I don’t write regularly. Getting into a routine with an activity is a great way to hone your skills and keep them sharp, and this is something that I clearly haven’t been doing. So I’m going to make time to write, even if just for a few minutes.2 The other major issue I have is that I subconsciously feel like everything I write is terrible, and that I should be able to write something good. In my conscious mind, I realize that not everything I write has to be or even will be good, and that part of being creative is that some things you create will not be very good, but that you learn how to be better by creating those things and learning from them. It’s just hard to realize that when I’m upset about writing.

So my first step is going to be to reinstate a Mr. Joyce-style journal. I have a small stack of Field Notes notebooks that I bought last year (the last time I decided I was going to get back into writing) and those seem like the perfect thing to use. Additionally, I plan to use this newly-rejuvenated website3 more actively.

With any luck, this won’t be the last you hear of me in 2013. Let’s get some output and break my long cycle of creative despair, shall we?.

  1. Mr. Stewart passed a little over two years ago, and when I heard the news, I was crushed. I don’t think there was a single person more influential in lighting a creative fire in me that, while I’ve struggled in recent years, still remains a guiding force in my life. He had a deep love for teaching, mentoring, and inspiring young minds, and I know he deeply affected so many of us lucky enough to have experienced a few hours a week talking about books with him. 
  2. In high school, I had an English teacher named Mr. Joyce. My favorite thing about his class was that we had a writing journal: every day he would supply the class with a title and for the first five minutes we would write whatever came to mind. The journal wasn’t graded in any way. Occasionally (once a week, I think; maybe it was daily? it’s been a long time) he would ask for volunteers to read what they had written. We had a separate notebook just for these writings. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was a great way to get students writing every day. 
  3. I had been letting this site lie essentially dormant for years, posting perhaps a few times a year. The other day, I navigated to and was greeted by the message “Error establishing database connection”. After about an hour of investigation, I learned that the database holding all of the posts was irrevocably corrupted. So, I got to start over! Ataxia’s back with a new look and fixing things has gotten me more excited about it than I’ve been in nearly a decade.