Thursday, February 5, 2009

Why I Can’t Write When I Can’t Write

Worry. We all do it. I am worry personified. I worry when I have merely one slice of bread in the pantry and a yogurt cup. I worry when my checking account gets down to the double digits. I worry when due dates for different classes converge. I worry about not living up to my potential. I worry when a family member is ill, when a good friend moves away, when the stock market plummets, or when I’m to speak in front of a class. I wouldn’t say that I’m a hypochondriac. I think a lot of people worry about these same things. What matters the most is if we let these worries inhibit our possibilities. Sometimes, when I write, I allow worry to creep in.

Just last night I sat down to write a creative story for my English 418R class. I tried desperately to think of topics, but I fought to control the worrisome thoughts that slunk in. I am just not good at coming up with things to write about. If someone would just suggest a topic, I’d be able to write pages and pages. Then I’d suggest a topic to myself. What about an afternoon on a ship with pirates? If I write about that, I’d have to do more research on pirates and wooden legs and eye patches. I should write about something I know. I tried to think of life experiences I’ve had that could potentially be exciting with a little embellishment. Nothing. Maybe coming up with a topic is just not my strong suit. I know, through experience, that once I’ve told myself I can’t do something, I definitely can’t. The worry that I could not come up with a topic to write about eclipsed any kind of brainstorming that could have happened in the mean time. This set me back a few hours.

Typically, when an artist creates a work of art, they preface with thumbnail drawings or outline their image on the canvas before they begin painting. It’s very common for artists to plan the images they wish to portray. They lay the groundwork for something magnificent and beautiful. When planned, a piece of art is well executed and the message is clear. I believe this is the same for good writing. Once a topic is chosen (hallelujah), an author should create an outline to follow to keep ideas organized and flowing. Most of the time, I am so worried about simply getting the paper done and over with, that I do not take the time to create such outlines and take part in such planning. This will usually cause me to lose train of thought in the middle of a paper and veer into irrelevant subjects. There is a sense of irony here, because I tend to want my first draft to be my final draft; I want to write my pieces perfectly the first time, without revision. Though this is impossible in and of itself, without a successful outline, there is absolutely no way a perfect paper will just happen. I need to stop worrying about time, and plan.

When I finally do have a topic, along with an idea of where I’d like my paper to go, I try to be as honest with the reader as possible—this is a process and something I continue to aspire to. One challenge I’ve faced when striving to be honest is overcoming the worry of offending others—my mother, sibling, a friend, possibly even my own self. I tried to write a paper once about my childhood, but I knew that if I would go into any more detail or be any more honest about my feelings, it would break my mother’s heart. I read a novel once by Chiam Potok called My Name is Asher Lev. It is about a Hasidic Jew who loves art, but is looked down upon by his Jewish community because of the liberalism required in producing good work. His main support throughout the entire novel is his mother. However, there comes a time when Asher is too honest with his audience and his mother is hurt. Sometimes as a writer, I struggle with balance between caution and honesty. An honest moment in my piece may convey a point perfectly, but do I want to risk hurting someone? Not usually. Along these same lines, as a Latter-day Saint, I feel obligated to keep my writing happy and cheerful, which I believe is dishonest. Again, my question: caution or honesty?

To some extent, perhaps worrying is a good thing. It can make us pay closer attention to our motives or desires. It can show others that we actually care enough to worry in the first place. It can prevent terrible things from happening or it can force us to prepare for terrible things. Sometimes, however, I think worrying can get in the way. Writing with worrisome thoughts is one such incident; and of this, I am a subject.

1 comment:

Kimaree said...

You think you struggle with writing? Everything you've ever written is so carefully crafted together, with words that flatter one another as well as the topic. You have the ability to write in a soothing and graceful way, even when you're writing about a not so happy thought or trial. I admire your writing :)