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...