I’m in the backseat of a car driving into historic Alexandria, Virginia when the voices start. If you’re a writer then you know of these voices. The ones that grab a hold of you and, until you make note of what it is they’re trying to say, won’t leave you alone. It’s hard to have conversations with your real-life friends, family, loved ones, etc. when the voices and scenes in your head are too provocative to ignore.
I’ve written before of the struggles from my time in an MFA program. They were all self-inflicted wounds but there are lasting scars none-the-less. I was unable to write one sentence of fiction for months after graduating with my newly minted Master’s degree.
But that didn’t stop the voices.
In fact they grew louder amongst the general din of the usual concerns: tense, grammar, character development and; is this even good?
The stories did return. They were dark, ominous stories that unsettled me even as I wrote them. It felt as if being cooped up too long had twisted and distorted them.
But even as these stories spawned somewhere in my mind I didn’t trust them. Didn’t trust myself with them. These stories were not the ones I wanted to write. They didn’t feel like my stories. The general fear spread like a savage case of airborne mold into my journalistic pursuits (my source of income) and soon writing seemed dangerous to me. As if pushed I would certainly be fall into insanity.
When it pushed, I pushed back. It became a cruel game of chess. I would think of a move that would surely guarantee victory and my mind would find a way to sabotage the advances. If I wanted to write something funny it would come out melancholic, and vice versa.
I tried denying these creative impulses. Purposely I would forget my pocket notebooks and pens. I itched every scratch in my effort to somehow write something down (iPhone, a scrap of newspaper and a long-lost golf pencil in the back of the glove box) even as I tried to resist. Being a writer is like having an addiction – probably to painkillers.
You (the writer in question) want to do it all. In my case I see no line separating one who writes novels, short-stories, television shows, magazine article, etc. They’re all doing it and making it look like easy. For some, when the going gets tough, you quit. I tried that. Hard to imagine now, but for a month (more?) I thought of turning my back on it. The whole process. I told myself that I wasn’t a writer. I didn’t have what it takes. It would just be easier – mentally healthier – if I just let it go.
What I discovered was I couldn’t let it go. It grabbed me by the wrists and jumped out of the plane. Writing, as it always has, became an escape from my stresses. An exit from the anxiety my mind releases into me everyday like a morphine drip. So not writing, not having the outlet to work through the dark, narrow, corridors of my brain kept me institutionalized in fear.
And then I let it go. Not writing. The fear. I let the fear of writing with all the criticisms, disappointments failures, rejection … the bullshit. I let that go. Once I did that then I was free to create whatever I wanted. It just had to show itself to me. And that takes a while.
But here, driving along the old townhouses and brick sidewalks I see an architect whose former lover is taking her place at the breakfast table. She’s married now. The Architect is not. The two blow on their steaming mugs of coffee waiting for me to pass the milk.