…Me!! Ian says I like to play with my mental blocks. It’s a handy explanation for what I do every time someone suggests I do something I think I can’t do. Immediately my hackles are up and I have a list as long as my arm for why I can’t do it.
This is in response to a writing challenge… “Just thirty minutes of unedited writing on your biggest obstacle to writing.” Okay. Problem #1 is I can’t do unedited writing!! I am sitting here gnashing my teeth, and if I make a typo, I go back immediately, automatically, mindlessly, to fix it. Problem #2 is I can’t do rapidwrite, or stream of consciousness writing. It just isn’t me. Or maybe I’ve just gotten used to listening to my Inner Editor. You know… the one who continuously brings things to my attention, such as typos, poor word choice, or just plain ostracism and criticism because my writing is so bad…..
I have been writing for pleasure and self-prescribed therapy since I was fourteen years old. For a few weeks before I started, I’d deliberated and chewed over in my mind an idea that came from somewhere — I know not where — that I should keep a diary or a journal. I couldn’t even settle on which it should be called. Even the dictionary hovers between distinguishing between the two, and interchanging the terms. Its definition certainly is not conclusive. I knew a store-bought diary would never cut it for me. A five-year diary with only a few lines per day? Forget it! I needed to be free to express myself, and four or five lines gave only enough room to jot down a point-form list of a few happenings. NOT what I had in mind. Even a one-year diary didn’t give enough room for some days. And besides, what if I wanted to write five pages one day and none at all for the next week? What then? No, a store-bought diary just wasn’t good enough.
I settled on a three-ring binder filled with lined paper, which I lovingly referred to as my Journal. Funny thing is, it took me a while to loosen up in my journal to the point where I was writing more than half a dozen lines per day in my round, childish script. I was afraid to open up at all, lest someone find it and read it.
That was on January 1, 1968, more than forty-seven years ago. Wow! Is it possible it has been that long?? I wrote in my journal off and on, but more on than off, over the next fourteen years. I notice, though, that there were long periods of deep trials when I did not write. I AM thankful that for the last four months of my first husband’s life, I did write, thanks to the encouragement of a wonderful social worker and friend, Elizabeth Harris. She took me under her wing and met me where I really needed someone to talk to. When she found out I loved to write but had stopped, she urged me to take it up again. Consequently I have a detailed account of my husband’s last days, including the day he died and following, and how I felt about the whole thing.
My journal developed and grew into a memoir-type collection of fourteen binders. For many years it was my best friend and confidante, because I didn’t always have a real person to talk to. Writing it down helped me to sort through my feelings and troubles, and I always felt better and had a good idea what to do afterwards.
Until a few years ago, I had never been able to write stories. Fiction, or even fictionalized real life events, had always eluded me. As a child I was a voracious reader of Enid Blyton, Trixie Belden books, and anything I could get my hands on. In later years I thought I must have been a shallow child, because my reading was confined to “easy reading.” Anything I considered “hard” took too long and was too much effort to wade through. It took me six weeks to plow through Oliver Twist when I was in ninth grade.
They say you can’t WRITE fiction if you don’t READ. A LOT. Well… in theory, I agree. How can you write, if you don’t have a model, a pattern, to follow? But on the other hand, how do you READ if reading puts you to sleep, no matter how interesting the book is?
I decided I wanted to write fiction. There had to be a million stories inside me. I knew they were there, because they came out when I wrote letters or blog posts. But they were all stories of what happens in my own life or that of my family. How could I transfer them into fiction stories about imaginary people?
And then I heard about NaNoWriMo. “Commit to writing 50,000 words of fiction during the month of November!” The idea intrigued me. What did I have to lose? In mid-October that year, I took the plunge. I signed up. I fretted and stewed and panicked for the next two weeks, having no idea of what to write about. Until I got my hands on the book, No Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty, founder of NaNoWriMo. Great little book. It was all I needed to go ahead with confidence. And in November I not only met the standard goal of 50,000 words, but I crossed that line on Nov. 19 and went on to reach over 86,000 words by midnight on Nov. 30.
My biggest take-away from my first year in NaNoWriMo was the knowledge that I can do it. I am still my own worst enemy, and writing stories will not be easy. But I can do it. That certificate hanging on my wall just above my computer screen is tangible proof. If I can write a full length novel the size of Anne of Green Gables, I can write stories of any length. And I will. My biggest problem has been the belief that I can’t. Now that that belief has been shattered, or shall I say peaceably disintegrated, my problem is reduced to the one common to all of us who attempt to do anything at all with our lives… the time and determination to just DO it.
© Willena Flewelling