I started writing this blog post a few weeks ago, wasn’t sure where I wanted to go with it, and thus let it float aimlessly in ‘drafts’ for a while. This is, apparently, the story of my writing-life at the moment. Anyway, this post’s focus is on this question:
When someone asks you what you do, do you say you’re a writer?
Chances are, if you’re a writer with writer friends you’ve asked or been asked this question at least once in your life. I’ve recently found myself thinking about this. It’s a question composed of a confusing tangle of yet more questions. For example, there is what I have affectionately started calling ‘the writer title’ debate, which in essence questions what a writer is – Is everyone who writes a writer, or just those who do it professionally? Is writing something you merely do, or is it who you are? And if it’s who you are, does that mean the art of writing defines you as a person?
Like I said, confusing tangle…
Right now I’m thinking about this question in relation to a specific area of my life. I’m graduating in December, and I’m not going back to uni this year which means for the first time in 6 years, I’m not a student. Suddenly, I have the time to write. I no longer have to use my stories as procrastination – they have served as the perfect distraction from essays, mind maps, reading, research, and tutorial preparation. Now I’m suddenly swimming in time and I’m not using it productively.
Most of the time, this is me:
I’ve always identified as being a writer, but if anyone ever asked me ‘So, what do you do?’ I would always answer: ‘I’m a student.’ Now I have to reevaluate, not only what I do with my time, but what I’m not doing with it. What was once used for procrastination is now being neglected, because I don’t have anything to avoid, except actually writing the stories I spend most of my day thinking about.
As for the writer title, everyone has their own beliefs, and I’m sure I’ve babbled on the subject myself at some point already in this blog (I have scrolled up and down multiple times and I can’t find it, even though I’m about 99.9% sure I already blogged about it. Maybe I just thought about it. Or dreamed it. It’s sad, but my dreams really are that boring.) I for one would never say ‘I’m a writer’ – I’m much more likely to say ‘I’ve just finished uni’ or ‘I work in H&M part-time’ – and not because I’m embarrassed about writing like I once was.
Once, saying something like that would make people – my family – laugh. Y’know, that age old response of ‘everyone can write’ or ‘that isn’t even a real job.’ After years of studying it, I’ve started feeling less uneasy about embracing the pretend people in my life, to accepting I’m one of those people who leans against the wall at parties and thinks ‘I could totally be in my room right now with my pjs on, a cup of tea beside me, writing.’
What I do know is, it’s okay to be mildly anti-social, to watch the social butterfly from afar and think of them as a foreign entity. But by the same token, it’s also okay to be a writer and not write, to take the time to find your footing again. My life has tumbled and rearranged itself into something I haven’t been yet, and that’s going to take a little time to get used to.
And no, I don’t mean that in the ‘person meets an ex and wonders why they ever broke up’ sense. I mean, of course, in the story sense.
This was actually meant to be a very short post. I was online Googling a quote, something short and cute to add to the blog before I went to bed. The one liner in my personal Twitter profile is a quote from Roald Dahl’s The BFG: ‘Don’t gobblefunk around with words.’ As I was on Twitter, I decided to add a quote from The BFG to the blog and just ended up remembering how much I loved this story. The BFG is probably one of the most adorable, beautiful characters ever created.
‘I is reading it hundreds of times,’ the BFG said. ‘And I is still reading it and teaching new words to myself and how to write them. It is the most scrumdiddlyumptious story.’
Sophie took the book out of his hand. ‘Nicholas Nickleby,’ she read aloud.
‘By Dahl’s Chickens,’ the BFG said.’
-The BFG by Roald Dahl
I then started thinking about reading, how it started for me. The truth is, I was terrible at reading when I was younger. Apparently, I was so confused by words they thought I was dyslexic. After this diagnosis they, inevitably, placed me in the bottom set for reading and moved on with life. Thankfully, my mum didn’t think my confusion was something that was unfixable, so she taught me to read.
It started out slow. My mum would read a chapter of a book, giving me a paragraph to struggle through. She taught me how to sound words out, to go slow, because that’s the beauty of words: they aren’t going anywhere. She bought me audiotapes, allowing me to fall in love with the story as I played, which enticed me to sit by myself and follow the tapes with the books that came with them. Soon, I was reading a page, then a whole chapter. And finally, one day, I was able to read a chapter a night by myself, and I read Roald Dahl’s Matilda without any help.
Roald Dahl, for this reason, will always be one of my favourite authors. He had a way of communicating with children that I’m not sure anyone else could ever emulate for me. He is one of few children’s authors that I can still read as an adult and fall in love with again and again.
There are, however, books that fall into obscurity. Coming from a family that moved around a lot thanks to my dad’s job, I’ve lost a lot with each move. It’s natural. Things are misplaced or left behind. It’s also the hazard of owning SO MANY books. You start forgetting what you have and where you keep everything. So, I jotted down a small list that I can remember being there in the very beginning. These are the books that I first fell in love with, when I was still awkward and clumsy at reading. These are the books I should never have forgotten and will never let myself forget again:
Horse Pie by Dick King-Smith
Stig of the Dump by Clive King
Simon and the Witch by Margaret Stuart Barry (these audiotapes were amazing)
Sophie’s Tom by Dick King-Smith (audiotapes also amazing)
What Katy Did by Sarah Chauncey Woolsey
I loved all the Goosebumps books and audiotapes but I’ll choose the one I remember the name of off the top of my head: Say Cheese and Die! by R.L. Stine
This is still on my bookshelf but I can’t not mention it: The Suitcase Kid by Jacqueline Wilson
Also, if you were a 90s kid, you might appreciate this: Click Me
As a writer the term ‘writer’s block’ is a familiar one, whether it’s being scoffed at or used in jest or disgust. What everyone I’ve ever spoken to about it seems to agree on is: it doesn’t actually exist. Kind of like monsters. I know they’re not real, but I still don’t sleep with my foot hanging over the side of the bed. Y’know, just in case something grabs my ankle.
Ever since I handed in my dissertation last month, I haven’t written ANYTHING useful. Writing this blog entry is actually a little bit of a struggle. I’ve spent more time recently staring at a blank screen or pages, willing something remotely imaginative to form in my mind. But nope. Once, I might have been dubious about describing this as ‘writer’s block’ mainly because before I’d even finished speaking someone would have inevitably jumped in with ‘that isn’t even a real thing.’
So, this blog post is going to be dedicated to how writer’s block IS a thing.
While thinking about this I even went so far as to Google the term ‘writer’s block.’ What I found were a lot of blog posts about how it doesn’t exist. How it’s something we can’t allow to happen as writers because we don’t have the time to entertain it. Unsurprising.
First off, if this logic actually worked I’d never get sick because I can’t afford to be off work. Frankly, I’m usually sick exactly when it’s least convenient. The first time I have ever had the flu – I also hope it’s the only time because man that was horrible – was in the last semester of my final year of undergrad. I had two essays due, and I was ill for over a week. In the land of essay writing, this is a very long time. I lay in bed the entire time, sleeping and listening to Harry Potter audiotapes on my iPod because that’s all I had the energy to do. There was no way I was writing two essays for my Nabokov and Literary Snobbery classes. Well, there was no way I was writing something coherent.
Maybe if I’d told myself ‘there’s no such thing as flu, stop being so self-indulgent, it’s not even that big a nose-bleed, just write your essays’ I would have gotten them both in on time.
I also found something on Wikipedia about it (yes you can’t trust it, but any student that tries to say Wikipedia hasn’t helped them pass at least a handful of essays is either lying… Or they’re so much better at researching than I was.) Not only does Wikipedia refer to writer’s block as a condition, it also linked it to this rather fancy word: disambiguation. According to another Wikipedia page, in this context this word describes ‘a phenomenon involving the temporary (psychological) loss of ability to write.’
Yeah, okay, back to the previous page, though. What follows are some pretty interesting subheadings: causes, coping strategies, and blank page syndrome. Basically, it echoes what those peppy blogs said, but in a more constructive way. What I’d read until now seemed to be a cycle of ‘you can do it’ to ‘get over it’ and back to ‘it’s all in your head.’ What I find most baffling about this attitude is, it all exists in my head. My imagination, the characters, places, words, feelings, that all make up a story come from inside my head. If my head stops allowing me to access it, then I’m pretty much screwed. This is maybe why I liked the phrasing used on the Wikipedia page:
A myth, a figment of my own uncooperative imagination – whatever – it’s still there. Yeah, maybe I thought myself into this writing dry spell, but I’m still going to have to figure out how to come out of it. I think it’s pretty obvious that mine is tied up in nerves over my dissertation, which counts for 60% of my final mark (terrifying) and I’m not worried that I’ll get over it. Well, unless I get my grade back and it’s completely terrible and I start to think maybe this writing malarkey isn’t for me… But that’s all for another blog post, I think.
The important point is, unlike the monsters under my bed, writer’s block is real, a construct of my own making or not. In a way, it isn’t even something anyone else needs to agree with me on. For now, it’s I can’t write, not won’t write. I mean really, if I had a choice between writing or staring blindly at a computer screen, it’s pretty obvious which I’d pick.
So, I guess my musing today has two significant points to it. One, writer’s block is real for me. Two, Wikipedia is still pretty freaking useful.
“You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.”
- C.S. Lewis
It’s been a little while since I shared some new art, so I thought I’d pop this up. It’s a picture I drew recently for a friend of mine.Usually drawing doesn’t take me long, most without colour are finished within an hour or two. But I struggled a little – not with Ariel once I’d decided what to do, but when I was trying to figure out what to draw.
At first I was going to draw Rapunzel, but I tell you what, she’s one of the most difficult characters I’ve ever attempted. The end product was so terrible I didn’t even keep it around afterwards – it was quickly ripped into multiple pieces and is now floating in the ether. Or wherever recycling goes.
Disney is, and has always been, a big part of my life. For a while I’ve sort of chuckled about it and thought to myself: I’m 25, surely there’ll come a day when I’ll go to choose a DVD and I won’t seriously debate between Frozen and Robin Hood, before realising it’s my day off and I can totally watch both. Then, last night at 3am (it’s always night if you haven’t been to sleep yet, morning if you’re waking up) when all the good ideas come to you, that I realised instead: I’m 25 and I’m in the process of perfecting this playlist…
Chances are that certain maturity ship has sailed. Far, far away. I draw and watch Disney to chill out. I can hold my hand up and say I still watch Nickelodeon – Victorious is kinda amazing, if you haven’t seen it, you haven’t lived, my friend.
I would also like to point out, my attitude to Disney isn’t exactly the same – no, I still can’t watch the bit when Simba’s dad dies, but that’s a separate issue. For this point, one I shall end this post on, I’m going to leave you in the hands of tumblr: