Maybe I’m Not Meant To Be A Writer

My uncle Al is the author of six history books.

He calls me from his home in Antigonish, Nova Scotia where he’s had a life long career teaching history at St Francis Xavier University.  He is in his eighties and he wants to tell me that he’s writing a play based on one of his books, The  Odyssey of the Polish Treasures.

I tell him how I am finding writing difficult these days. The inspiration doesn’t seem to be there and I certainly don’t feel  much up to the perspiration. “Maybe I’m not meant to be a writer,” I say.

My uncle responds in his professorial way. “It’s your body telling you it needs a rest. Although it may not look like it, writing is hard work.”

Hard work. That’s the problem. I want it be easy. Fun. But sometimes when I’m writing I think of other things I would rather be doing. Sipping champagne, for example, with an exquisite lover on a Polynesian Island. Or even washing my windows seems more appealing than having to sit in my office and be confronted with the thought that I am a failure. That I do not have the talent to be a writer.  That I am a no body.

Al goes on  about how successful writers also have these low periods and because he is a historian he gives Churchill as example. “Of course his method of heavy whisky drinking and cigars to combat his writer’s block is not to be followed.” And then my uncle chuckles.  

If writing is so much hard work why do so many want to do it? Especially since most have other jobs to support them.  For me, I write to feel alive. To make sense of my life. To feel that I am answering to my purpose. And so, when writing doesn’t come,  emptiness takes its place.  I belong nowhere.

I’ve finally come to understand that writing stops to be fun when I struggle too much, trying to force it to go opposite of where it wants to go. Push my writing and it sulks like a two-year old. Gives me the silent treatment. Then, when I let go and relax, my writing slowly returns asking for an apology for not having more trust in where it needs to go. I acquiesce until the next power struggle between the kind of writer I think I should be and the writer that I am.  

In Elizabeth Stewart’s article titled Battling Writer’s block, the author – using Stephen King and  the neuroscientist who studies creativity Nancy Andreasen (The Creating Brain: The Neuroscience of Genius ) as her back-up  – Ms Stewart writes : Getting past writer’s block is a matter of refreshing the way the brain sees the world. If you’re stuck, a quick fix is to take a break. Meditate. Expose your brain to new sensations by exercising, going for a walk or even taking a long, hot bath. Taking a nap can also be productive, as the sleeping mind can often find solutions that elude the conscious brain.

Remember, too, that the healthy brain needs good care and maintenance to work its best. Nourish and hydrate your brain. Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish and whole grains are known to enhance brain memory and performance. And drink plenty of water to keep those neurons firing at peak efficiency.

There’s no doubt that the blank page can be frightening to face. One final piece of advice for battling writer’s block comes from Winston Churchill: “We have nothing to fear, but fear itself.”

 Fear itself. Isn’t that enough? My fear is that my writing is  trivial, without purpose, that nobody will be interested in reading me,  that it is meaningless and too simple,  that I don’t have the capacity to express myself in a literary way (the way I dream about)  and that I am wasting my time.

That is the paradox of writer’s block. If I write my fear is about my writing being meaningless; if I don’t write my life feels meaningless.  

I ask my uncle what motivates him to write his books. He tells me that he first did so in order to seek his identity as a son of immigrants who’d come to Canada from Austria. “My mother,” he said, “was Ukrainian and my father Polish but they lived in Austria. I saw some of my Irish colleagues who celebrated their Irish-ness and I wanted to know where I fit in the immigrant community. “

We all need to feel we belong. This sense of identity is a strong motivator, at least for me, to write.

I am most joyful after I have written something satisfying. Even if it is just a sentence. This is what keeps me coming back, like the golfer who comes back to the course because she hit one perfect shot.

And the next time I’ve got writer’s block I think I’ll go fishing.

Here are two sites I came across while writing this post that you might find interesting.
Battling Writer’s Block: Writers’ Tips on How to Keep Ideas Flowing