Friday, December 5, 2014

In Which We Argue for this Site’s Existence

Welcome to the Writer's Block, an online space (part blog, part podcast) where two writers track each other's progress, look to one another for advice, and basically keep each other going. Before we get too deep into what this is, we want to explore why this is.

Why not keep writing solitary? Or at least between friends, between colleagues? Why have these conversations in public?

Below, we both take a stab at this question in our own way. While this is a joint endeavor, we come at it from slightly different angles with slightly different goals.

These two posts, written independently, serve as Part I of the Writer's Block's first entry. Next week, we'll post Part II, which will be a further examination of our motivation in the form of a double interviewDave presses Marléne on her thoughts, and vice versa.

Without further ado...

Dave’s Deep Thoughts

How many times have you heard that the most important aspect of a writing life is getting your butt in the chair? There's an assumption that you're also in front of a computer screen, typing maybe, hopefully. I first heard this as an undergrad, then as a grad student, later as a young as a not-so-young writer. It's the one repeated nugget of advice that I continually hear in workshops, at conferences, and read about in magazines.

What's interesting is that every time I've heard this mantra I've had the same reaction: OK, easy, I can do that. It's a rallying cry, an encouragement to the struggling writer who doesn't know where to start or has lost his way. I've had the reaction I'm supposed to have: I can do that, butt in the chair. What could be easier?

But what next? What do you do when you're writing—if you can even call it that—but it all just seems like a huge pile of crap? What do you do when you're on the twentieth draft of a story and you can barely even remember why you began writing this story at all?

Sitting in the chair is just the beginning, and the claim that the simple act of writing is half the battle is only half true. Yes, fingers moving over keys is indispensable, but it doesn't make the second half the equation any less daunting, dreary, or insurmountable on a good day!

There are some days (or weeks... or MONTHS) where sitting in the chair and opening a Word document seems impossible. Maybe I'll sit down with every good intention, but frustrations ensue and just like that I'm literally or figuratively out of my chair and moved on to some other task. The thing that’s disappointing is it's a relief to move on. The pressure is off. I don't have to perform, I can move on to some task that I know I can accomplish: dinner, laundry, errands, (if I'm feeling brave) reading.

The scariest thing about writing—really writing—is that there's no guarantee of success. No guarantee of recognition, money, or really any evidence of value. That is, unless you decide, absolutely decide, that the action is what is of value. That your effort is what has worth.

This endeavor, for me, is tangible evidence that I have made the decision. The private act of writing made public is terrifying, but I'm willing to be terrified if it means that I feel enough pressure to continue. Marléne and I both are literally writing from places where, if we wanted, we could pretend that we don't write. There are plenty of things in life that have value. We're both parents, and it would be easy enough to say that parenting is where I will derive the majority of my own worth. I'm a loving parent, and I'm proud of that and proud of my son. He gives me worth because he is. I could easily say: this is enough. But is that all I want? For me—and I suspect a lot of other people—it’s not.

The Writers' Block is not some expertly-conceived blog/podcast for Marléne and myself to help you become a better writer. I'm not that altruistic. Rather, this is a selfish experiment to help myself and my friend. And I think that by exposing my own fears and questions it will help you too. That's the real reason that I want the Writers' Block to exist—because I think that this could be helpful. It cranks the pressure up on myself, which is something that we all want as writers, and maybe by seeing our struggle, you'll be able to sit in that chair a little more courageously.

Marléne’s Two Cents

The most compelling reason for me to be engaged in this joint project with Dave is that no one should ever write in a vacuum. The obstacles to the writing life are as varied as the types of writing we’d like to pursue. Money (time). Solitude (too much and not enough). Confidence (lack thereof), inspiration (lack thereof), motivation, overcoming inertia, kids, jobs, life. Life gets in the way of writing, we say, but many of these are the same thing. We get in the way of our own writing. We psych ourselves out, convincing ourselves that it’s frivolous, self-indulgent maybe to assert this particular need above others (I could be jogging right now, or listening to my small children bang pots and pans together on a floor that I should clean that’s covered in dog hair from the dog I should brush, et cetera). But instead, I’ve escaped to a café on a weekend afternoon and my husband is watching our children so that I can do this.

I knew something was off about my writing life when I was so desperate to jot down a few lines that I began composing poetry on my phone while on the toilet. I don’t write poetry. When I do, it’s terrible; I am not a poet. But I was so chronically sleep-deprived and caring for our two very young children for 14 hours a day, and whenever I tried to write stories after they went to bed, 100% of the time I fell asleep at the computer. I was angry at the people who say they get up at 5:30 to write or stay up past midnight because I’d been getting up at all hours of the night and for good by 5:00 to be up with the baby for the last year, and I would pay serious money to sleep in until 6 AM.

So I began writing poetry that I would then delete at the end of the day because even though I am not a poet, I appreciate poetry, and this stuff didn’t exactly qualify. When I mentioned this to a poet friend of mine, he was alarmed and said to send them to him instead of deleting them, so I did, and his response was predictably along the lines of please, please write fiction again.

So I did. And I’m doing this now, too, with my friend Dave. Because we want to actually do this writing thing, not just dabble, but do it for real. We want to motivate one another, to challenge one another (and you) to overcome the real and imagined family-job-life obstacles to a writing life and not just do the work, but also send it out, to submit. A little competition, commiseration, and community can go a long way, but most of all the reassurance of each other’s presence in the world of writing to validate that it’s not a pointless endeavor, or at least if it is, it’s an affliction that others understand.

Because I have a novel that’s been sitting on the shelf since I completed it in 2012.

Because I spent a lot of time, effort, and money on an MFA that’s still just a piece of paper in a filing cabinet.

Because all the writers I know live far away.

Because I’ll be a better mother, wife, friend, human if I can get this out of my system on a regular basis.

Because why am I writing all these short stories if they’re just going to take up space on my hard drive?

And if you can relate to any of these, then this is the place to be.