I made a new year’s resolution this year. It is simply, “Write more.”
When I left my job as a features writer at my local newspaper to work in marketing at an area college nearly two years ago, I knew I would miss the daily writing and storytelling. What I didn’t expect was that, with no more regular writing deadlines, the creative well inside me would start to fill so rapidly.
I started writing for publication when I was 15 years old, a sophomore in high school. For the next 15 years, I was published regularly in whatever newspaper I was working for at the time: my nationally award-winning high school and college newspapers and magazines, the small- to mid-sized Midwestern dailies. When The AP picked up a story, my words were widespread across the country. When I touched on a topic that resonated, I received calls from everywhere. An Arizona man once called me after seeing my piece about changing my last name after marriage, and we discussed living in a world where a man is ridiculed for taking his wife’s name.
But when you write for a living, when you meet deadlines for your job, it’s difficult to write for you. At least, it was for me. I would write in my journal, but I never had any personal creative projects going. For a few years in college, I turned to poetry, but after graduation, when I was no longer meeting with my poetry adviser for my honors thesis, when I was no longer taking poetry classes, that for me writing well dried.
Then I left my job at the newspaper, and my well overflowed, requiring me to dig another. It was an unusual, and wholly unexpected, result of leaving the creative field. And it excited me like a joyful toddler with a big ol’ bunch of helium balloons.
So I started a personal fiction project. With all these overflowing wells of creative mojo, you’d think that I’d be done with a first draft. Alas, I’m not even halfway finished. I think about it all the time, but I have a strange fear of the document. Large expanses stretch between open dates. It’s to the point where each time I work on the story, I have to spend a half hour familiarizing myself with it, with what I’ve done, with what I still need to do.
I’m trying to define that fear. I think it may be a discomfort with fiction. Fiction writing is not something I’ve attacked before. Feature writers, what I did for newspapers, write truth. We find a topic, find experts, interview the experts, and weave our creative fingerprints up and over, up and over the he said-she said we’ve discovered.
With fiction, there is no pre-existing he said-she said. There’s just the dialogue and story that I make up all by myself.
And fuck it, that’s intimidating.
When I decided upon my resolution for 2015, I did not decide on “Finish ‘Cry Baby'” (it’s a working title) or “Take a fiction writing class.” I didn’t prescribe myself a Curious Jac to-do list of biweekly posts. I didn’t specify public writing or personal. Instead, I wanted to keep it open, to see where the resolution took me.
For the time being, it has taken me here, to this blog that no one reads. And that’s OK. It’s just that, after 15 years of writing for publication, it doesn’t feel like it counts unless I hit “publish.”
Since I’ve got my eye on Curious Jac to serve as the vehicle to bring my buckets of mojo to the masses, I’m trying to address my struggle with the blog. That struggle would be topics. Ideas. What on earth to write about that I find inspiring.
Yesterday, my husband and I went to Barnes and Noble, and we found ourselves in the writing section. I picked up three beautiful books that I hope will douse my muse with gasoline and light that bitch up.
So far, not so good: This post, my first attempt at giving it a go with one of my three purchases, is a prompt from “The Writer’s Idea Book: How to Develop Great Ideas for Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, and Screenplays,” by Jack Heffron. Tonight, I browsed the 800-plus prompts sprinkled in the book’s 328 pages until I found one that didn’t just speak to me, but started a conversation:
You may notice that … I didn’t listen. The prompt instead prompted me to explain myself. Not really to you, though–to me. To explain myself to me. Perhaps it’s because Why I Write wouldn’t be much of an essay. I write because I gotta. And that’s more than enough. That’s everything.
No, what I want to understand is not Why I Write, but Why I Haven’t Been Writing. Now that I’ve cornered that excuse and shone a big interrogation light right in its ugly face, I’m seeing that “intimidation” isn’t the most unique of excuses. As Liz Gilbert says, it’s utterly boring. (An aside: If you don’t follow Elizabeth Gilbert on Facebook, do so now. Your life will improve immediately.)
There is one hour left of Jan. 18 (less by the time I give this post a final read or two). I will spend the rest of tonight reading “Still Writing.” Tomorrow, I will work on “Cry Baby.”
I will. I’m going to.