Writing and Discouragement

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Sometimes when I’m working on writing six academic papers that are all due within 48 hours of each other, I get overwhelmed. I hit a dead end, and even working on writing for fun is daunting. I wouldn’t call it writer’s block; I’m far too dramatic to suffer from such a simple problem as that. No, mine’s more like….writer’s terror. It’s a befitting name considering what goes through my mind.

“Dang. Your writing is really bad.”

“Where are you even going with this idea?”

“Congratulations. You can’t even understand your own story.”

“This character you’ve created is flat. So’s this one. So’s that one. I won’t even mention the Grandpa.”

“Why are you even an English major? You should have gone to med school.”

“Put down the pen and back away slowly. Repeat after me: I will never write again.”

When this happens, I stop analyzing Chopin. I stop my research. I take a break from summarizing JSTOR articles or reading Hamlet for the 115th time.* I stop explicating Frost’s poems, and I even stop writing for fun, especially because my fairly new notebook is showing signs of wear from furious scribbling as I try to obliterate a catastrophically stupid idea.

I put all of these burdens behind me and I pull out one of the notebooks I’ve filled in the past. I flip through the pages and laugh at myself and my writing, and how I thought I was the next F. Scott Fitzgerald with the stories that my 13-year-old mind had concocted. In my defense, not all of them are bad. Sometimes, I laugh because the stories are genuinely funny, and sometimes I turn a page and stop in my reading to brush away a tear. Sometimes, I learn from my 15-year-old self. (Unless it’s my poetry; that just makes me cringe.) I very much feel like Benedick from Much Ado About Nothing. While attempting to read the (horrible) sonnets he’s composed for Beatrice, he bursts out in exasperation, “I was not born under a rhyming planet!”

Word, Benedick. I can only hope my husband does not like and/or appreciate poetry.

Still, I made it out of my senior level class of studying poetry as a genre last semester with a greater understanding and appreciation for both reading (but especially writing) poetry. They weren’t all bad, although I flipped through pages and pages and pages of cheap rhymes and off-beat rhyming schemes, as well as a haiku entitled Frustrations of a Faux Poet: “Oh the joy I’d have/If I could write poetry/I’d fall down and faint.”

Sometimes, I feel that way about all writing in general. I’m pretty sure every writer does. Take heart. As a kid, my favorite story was Anne of Green Gables. I remember being shocked and horrified when I discovered that L.M. Montgomery received several rejections from publishers, and put the story away in a hatbox. Two years later, she found it and decided to send it to a publisher one more time; it was accepted and became an instant best seller.

Close the document. Put the journal in a hatbox, or under your bed, or in the closet. Come back to it. I promise it will be worth it.

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*Disclaimer: In case you haven’t noticed yet, I’m pretty prone to exaggeration. Still, I have had to read this play nine times in the four years I’ve been in college. I know him well, Horatio.

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