Tuesday, August 21, 2007

GETTING UNSTUCK


Waking up this morning to rain as I have for a few days now...cooler air filtering in through the window screens, the last crickets of the season still singing their jagged-edged notes, and the rhythm of the raindrops a staccato lovesong. It is a perfect day to write. I imagine myself settling in across my desk here and pushing through an even dozen of the last pages of my book, fueled by chai and inspired determination. I can see the structure of the poems I'm putting together--their narrative arc...I already believe in the anthology so much I can visualize its front cover. But, my fear is that it will be a day like my others this summer have been...one of relative silence. The confession? I have recently been a blocked writer.

It is no coincidence that my own voice was lost in the rise and fall of the children's, who have been home with me full-time since school let out. As if that wasn't enough, I added work responsibilities--taking on a large number of students over the summer semester and falling victim to my usual teaching-perfectionism, which says that I must get through to each and every one of them no matter what I have to do. Suddenly, the novel--which had all but written itself from January to late-May was left inert beneath the desk (where most of my forgotten writing goes to die). Whole weeks began to pass where the only writing I could manage to do in the crush of children, grading, and planning was in my journal. Rather than poetic musings on the slant of shadow over the table--they were scrawled pages of youcan'twriteyoucan'twriteyoucan'twrite. A terrifying place to be in, and any of you who've experienced this--no matter what the creative or academic outlet may be--understand all too well what I mean. (Some of you may have run off already afraid of the contagious nature of creative blocks!)

I wish I could say this was the only time I've had writer's block. It isn't. Last summer, when writing the novel became unbearably painful, I started a second one. I shelved Migration Summer completely and fell into the open arms of book two. Fast forward ninety pages of manuscript and six months, and I stumbled across the opening pages to my first novel and felt a remorse so profound I picked it up right then and there and vowed to finish the book at any cost--just to prove to myself that I am not a quitter. Not only did I get back to work on it, I found a writer's group to provide feedback on sections of it every single month. I started getting fierce about my writing time and immersed myself in it with all that I had. I attended a writer's conference and had positive reinforcement from two published authors I respect immensely--and an editor at a large NYC publishing house is now on my casual email acquaintance list based on what he saw as the strength of the book's opening. All I have to do is FINISH THE BOOK...yet, the closer I get to success, the more my words dissipate. I've been wondering why this could possibly be, and then I read Getting Unstuck Without Coming Unglued by Susan O'Doherty (aka Dr. Sue of the weekly "The Doctor Is In" columns on the infamous Buzz, Balls & Hype).





When I saw that MotherTalk was looking for reviewers of this book, I tried to be calm and collected about expressing my interest in participating--but, by this time I'm sure my desperate blocked-self was showing through. I've been reviewing books for almost three years now, and I have read absolutely everything on creative writing and the artistic process (and then some). What Getting Unstuck does that so many others have not is focus on the particularly complex role of gender in women's creative silences. The other key aspect of this book that I found so unique is that it is not specific to one creative outlet--it can be used by women who are painters, sculptors, jewelers, musicians, photographers, designers, and women in academe or in the grant or dissertation writing process. In this way, the book has a true diversity and appeal--even for those of us who feel we've "seen it all" by way of creative kickstarts.

O'Doherty gives insight into her own personal issues as a blocked-writer and then uses a series of composites of her actual clients to round out women's experiences and disciplines. In addition, readers are led through a chronological series of exercises designed to "constitute their artistic autobiography" and help to dismantle their blocked state. Getting Unstuck Without Coming Unglued addresses how gender roles perpetuate female silences, how fears of being seen may equate for some with fears of abuse, and how romantic relationships and sexuality intersect with expression. The section on mothering and creativity struck a chord for me in my current summer-situation, especially with the quote, "And, ironically, now that I'm in touch with so much richness and nerve, I can barely find the time to write a grocery list, much less an essay." Yes, my summer has been incredibly rich...but no, I haven't been able to articulate it (hence my month away from onscreen life).

This book broke me through my customary routine with creative self-help books, where I skim along the surface completing the exercises as I feel they apply to me. O'Doherty issues a warning at the opening of Getting Unstuck suggesting that the ones we are most reluctant to do are the ones we may need most. Calling attention to this directly got me to engage in each one as it came along...I can honestly say that I have now looked at personal reasons why my writing has slowed down right on the edge of possibly breaking through. It is deeper than "I'm short on time" or "I'm exhausted"...for all of us who struggle with creative silences. I recommend Getting Unstuck Without Coming Unglued to any woman who is ready to fully understand her creative process from the inside out.

As for me, the summer semester wrapped up on the last day of July, and I spent one full week decompressing and resting up without expecting too much of myself. Last week, I started writing again--baby-stepping my way back into the wild thickets of my novel. I am not able to say that I am officially "unblocked" yet, but I know I accomplished more in five days than I had in the seven weeks prior. A rain-soaked Tuesday presents itself to me...children still sleeping, my notebook and pen at my left side, that cup of tea on the right. So now, if you'll excuse me, I've got some work to do...

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12 Comments:

Blogger Susan O'Doherty said...

Delia, thank you so much for this very thoughtful review. I look forward to reading both of your novels when they come out!

10:04 AM  
Anonymous acumamakiki said...

I believe in you D, and love your creativity. Your review sparked my interest in the book, especially after my own experiences with another creativity self-help book that I struggled with this summer, ahem.
How cool that the author found her way here and commented. xoxo

11:33 AM  
Blogger Amber said...

Sounds good. I was thinking about the mothering thing right when you said that was what struck a cord with you. But lots of mothers write, so maybe I do need to look deeper. Part of my own thing, I think, is that I am a little afraid of allowing my focus to be put somewhere other than on my family, for fear I will be a "bad" mom. This is why i don't do a lot of things-- or so I tell myself. Maybe I am full of shit. ;)

I always appreciate it when you speak of your own problems with writing. Makes me feel not so lost.

:)

5:00 PM  
Blogger daisies said...

i have made a note to read this book :) thank you for such a wonderful review ~ hope that your words find themselves in abundance ... sending you wonderful creative thoughts .. hugs!

6:30 PM  
Blogger Tammy said...

You have had such full and relaxing summer, who would not be blocked. You are a great writer so get to it. :) XXOO

7:17 PM  
Blogger Mardougrrl said...

Yep...I just finished reading this (alas, I joined MT too late to review it!) and I found it VERY helpful. I've also been stuck in place on my novel, and I discovered that it's less an issue about craft or content than about a feeling that I don't deserve to focus so intently on myself--that I don't deserve the assistance I need in order to make my writing and my novel a priority.

The stories about Maria, the mother, were so on-point in my life that it felt as though the author had been peeking into my house and my head.

This one is already in my amazon shopping cart.

Also, can you share some more about the other creativity and writing books you have been reading? You are one of my writing heroes, honestly--you are SO incredibly talented it's hard for me not to be envious, honestly. It's all admiration. :) I want to write like you when I "grow up."

11:55 PM  
Blogger Susan O'Doherty said...

The entitlement thing is huge for so many women, especially mothers. There is a quote from Madeleine L'Engle that I start off my seminar on managing motherhood and a writing career with, because it always sparks smiles (and groans) of identification:

“During the long drag of years before our youngest child went to school, my love for my family and my need to write were in acute conflict. The problem was really that I put two things first. My husband and children came first. So did my writing. Bump.”

9:25 AM  
Blogger Left-handed Trees... said...

A BIG thank you for the comments on this post--I love it when a discussion opens up like this!

Susan: Your book was just what I needed to get myself going again after this very packed season. I sincerely hope other readers who need it will find it!

acumamakiki: your kind words of support also keep me going, you know. Yes, I know what other book you speak of and this one is completely different.

amber: Having read your blog, I know there is NO way you could ever be a "bad" mother to those kids! I hope you keep finding your way to your voice and find outlets for it (a certain anthology project, maybe?) ;)

daisies: THANK you...

tammy: yes, it has been a busy summer--with back-to-school creeping up, I think I will get right back into it!

11:36 AM  
Blogger Left-handed Trees... said...

mardougrrl: your comment was so incredibly kindhearted--I appreciated it. These sorts of words hang with me...
As for other writing and creativity books I have read/loved:
*Obviously, Writing Down the Bones by my beloved writing teacher, Natalie Goldberg. So many people start with this book and you likely have already been through it--but, I pull this one off the shelf more than any other book I own.
*Since you are also in the novel process, please read Chapter After Chapter: Discover the Dedication and Focus You Need to Write the Book of Your Dreams by Heather Sellers. For novel writing, this is my current favorite.
*Sellers' other book Page After Page is also great for getting started.
*I've recommended Gayle Brandeis' book Fruitflesh so many times I cannot count--a fabulous book from an inspiring author.
*Writing Past Dark by Bonnie Friedman is a beautiful resource for emotional struggles that can sometimes come with writing.
There are more, but I am starting to think this might be worthy of a full post! I hope this is enough to kickstart your reading...you DO deserve it.

susan: What a perfect quote to start off that seminar with! One I love--
"This is the fence we get to walk…I can hardly remember how I wrote before my child made a grown-up of me, nor can I think what sort of mother I would be if I didn’t write."
(Barbara Kingsolver)

11:53 AM  
Blogger Lilian said...

Wow, what an amazing post and review, and such richness in the comment section!! I've been trying to catch up with reading your blog after a whole month in Brazil and I haven't been able to start yet, but I was eagerly awaiting for this post since I saw your name in the list of reviewers (I was too late responding to this one and they had only 5 spots anyway :( ).

Not only were you were the perfect person to review this book, but the timing of it for your own writing is so uncannily great! Thank you for sharing your insights on the book with us, particularly the thoughts on how our gender is related to being blocked. Wow. I really need this book, I think it will help me in the dissertation finishing process. Let's see if I can write a good enough comment to Susan Ito's review and get a free copy since I didn't get to review it :).

11:15 PM  
Blogger Lilian said...

Ha, your lovely review motivated me to write the "Dear Dr. Sue" letter over there in ReadingWritingLiving.

Thanks for the extra motivation, dear! Now I'm looking forward to catching up with all your summer posts.

11:45 PM  
Blogger Lacithecat said...

I have been lurking again. Now that I have time to write, just can't. So I totally understand this (although not in a professional sense).

Good luck with getting it down. I am sure it will be amazing (and I don't say that lightly)

5:24 PM  

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