I have blogger’s block. I’ve rediscovered my baggage about writing. I am suffering from bloggage.
A sufficient number of my kind readers have responded positively to my blog that I’ve been “trying on” thinking of myself as A Writer. I’ve sought, received, and somewhat followed, excellent advice. I’ve remembered the supposition that being A Writer requires self-torture. I’ve re-written this paragraph five times, and still it doesn’t satisfy me.
The front cover of The Writing Life, by Annie Dillard, has a blurb from the New York Times Book Review.”Annie Dillard is a wonderful writer, and The Writing Life is full of joys.” I haven’t found the joys yet. She presents many interesting anecdotes about the process of writing, many of which at first appear to be tangential speculations, but they all meander back. Using several algorithms, she figures out how much time it takes A Writer to write; each time the result is something like: a couple of sentences a day. She writes about holing herself up in various tiny spaces around the world (a cabin without heat, a university study room in which she leaves the blinds closed) in order to find the isolation she needs to ruminate, procrastinate, and write. She does a lot of navel-gazing about her self-torture.
As I wrote that last paragraph, I paused several times to look through the book to find quotations I could use. Only my desperation to post something to my blog, almost anything, clearly something full of navel-gazing, stopped me.
One piece of advice I got was to read things that engage me or that are akin to what I’d like to write, and to observe the author’s techniques. I’ve never read with that intention. I decided to practice on Sports Illustrated. There was a piece about two athletes who never knew one another but both: contracted diseases that prevented them from pursuing their sports in the ways they had previously; tenaciously worked toward and then competed in the Beijing Special Olympics; and, very shortly thereafter, died on the same day. I realized that many SI articles employ a common technique. They begin with several paragraphs of pure story that read like fiction, return to “the beginning” to introduce the more factual details and start the article’s narrative, and finally, sometimes in just one concluding sentence, bring it all back around to that initial entry. I fall for this style hook, line, and sinker, even if it’s about golf.
Okay, I learned something from Sports Illustrated writers, so I should read some more. My books to-be-read stack has grown quite a bit. There’s the requisite Norton Anthology, this one of Contemporary Fiction. There’s Eight Modern Essayists, in its sixth edition, perhaps implying I’ve got at least five other volumes to read as well. The guy in the grocery store (see Shopping for a Good Story) mentioned the short pieces at the beginning of The New Yorker, so I’ve looked, thus far in vain, for a collection specifically from that little rag. Of course I’ve only looked on bookstore shelves; a more comprehensive search would probably be successful. I chose The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup: My Encounters with Extraordinary People, by Susan Orlean, who’s written for The New Yorker, because I liked the second page of her introduction: “What I wanted to write about were the people and places around me.”
Studiously avoiding what’s in front of me, I’m always looking for shortcuts. I would have ended the previous sentence with “how ironic,” but someone’s warned me I need to be careful of using the word “ironic,” so I’m trying to avoid it. Anyway, while visiting a bookstore, ostensibly looking for a the fifth book in a series of children’s fiction that my son needed, my eyes fell upon Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them, by Francine [are you kidding?] Prose. Why search for and read article upon article in various genres when someone else will do it for you? She has street cred. She’s published fiction, non-fiction, and children’s books, and for years she’s been teaching students to write. I have so little patience it’s pathetic. Fifty pages in, and it’s back on my stack of my books-in-progress. She finds immense satisfaction in basking in fine writers’ word choice and sentence/narrative construction. I could learn a lot, especially from her implicit synopses of major literary works I’m supposed to have already read, like Moby Dick. Do you hear my English professor father groan?
Don’t tell my partner (“haven’t you heard of the library?”): in another bookstore I uncovered the more compelling Telling True Stories: A Nonfiction Writers’ Guide from the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University, edited by Mark Kramer and Wendy Call. I’m already a third of the way through and believe I’ll actually finish. Because it’s primarily for journalists, compiled from massively edited talks by dozens of authors who have written for dozens of publications, it serves me as a fascinating summary of the tenets and practice of journalism, a subject about which I’ve realized I know little. I’m never going to spend months or even hours interviewing people and doing research. My blog experiment thus far has shown that my babbling will be based on my own experiences. I’ve realized from this book that I already observe as journalists do, so I could benefit from their very practical advice.
Even though I only intend to write recreationally, in the hopes that I can amuse you more easily I’ll continue my exploration of what it means to become A Writer. But to “get over” my bloggage, I think I’d better stick to the best advice I’ve ever gotten about writing: the best way to become a better writer is to write.
And so: no more self-torture. I’m posting this blog entry. Now!
Bloggage by Kim Brookes is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at Permission to Use.