Yesterday afternoon, for the first time in about three years, and the second time in over 20, I got up in front of an open mic and read some poetry. The reading took place at The Sparrows cafe in Grand Rapids, as part of their monthly “Poetry and Pie” event which takes place on the last Tuesday of every month. The poems I read, “Afternoon Traffic” and “Percussion,” had been previously published so I knew at least one other person had considered them worthy of public exposure.
Two other poets read, and there were at most a dozen people in the cafe, not all of whom were there for the reading. Still, I would call it a success, and the couple of people I talked to enjoyed the event.
I felt somewhat self-conscious, as (due to certain properties inherent in the passage of time) I have always viewed open mic readings as a young person’s pursuit. I have ample evidence to the contrary, of course, as the majority of such events I have attended in the past have included people older than I am now. Or maybe it’s because many of those events have also been slam poetry events, and the participants and audience therein definitely skews younger.
But I plan to read again as time allows, assuming I can come up with material worthy of being read in front of a live audience. If for no other reason than that it was fun.
So: The Insecure Writers Support Group question for June 2022 is:
When the going gets tough writing the story, how do you keep yourself writing to the end? If have not started the writing yet, why do you think that is and what do you think could help you find your groove and start?
I can stumble while writing a story for any number of reasons. Distractions from the mundane world. Suddenly not knowing “what happens next.” Suffering from depression, burnout, exhaustion, or some combination of all three. An acute ennui.
Any one of these (and there are so many more than I have listed) can act as a drag on the creative process. For me (and this is absolutely not a general prescription for all people in all circumstances), I take a step back and put some distance between myself and the work. I don’t necessarily try to solve the issue immediately, because if, for instance, the problem is burnout, that attempt at a solution will just make things worse.
Dwight D. Eisenhower said “Whenever I run into a problem I can’t solve, I always make it bigger. I can never solve it by trying to make it smaller, but if I make it big enough, I can begin to see the outlines of a solution.” This is another way of saying that in trying to solve a problem, first put it in a larger perspective.
Is the problem with the story, or with me? If with me, is it because of something I have control over in any meaningful sense? If with the story, is it something that I can push through or do I need to retrace my steps and rewrite some or all of it?
If, for instance, the problem with the writing is personal motivation, and the lack of motivation comes from depression, then the depression is the issue which needs to be dealt with. Trying to force productivity at the cost of mental and emotional health never, ever ends well (I’m looking at you, managerial corporate culture and late-stage capitalism).
If the problem is with the story, then the story was either insufficiently planned, or (as is usually the case with me) I started writing one story, and halfway through switched to another, and now I have two stories which need to be separated and each dealt with individually.
(The same often happens to me when I write poetry, because most of my poems start out as stream-of-consciousness blocks of text in my journals)
So to sum up, pushing through the blocks when writing usually involves giving myself some space to discover why, exactly, I am having a tough time of it. Modern culture does not encourage, and indeed often punishes, time which is not obviously and specifically productive, but that down’time is essential and allows for healing, re-centering, and growth. And, frankly, for better writing.
On a side note: Being stressed and burned out is okay. We are still in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, and though the world seems to be stabilizing (or maybe ramping up the overall sense of denial), we are not yet “post-” anything, and the long tail of fallout from the past two years is just starting to make itself felt. The world is even more stressful than usual. Be kind to yourself and the people around you.
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in all phases of their careers.