Writer’s Block

I DID NOT plan to lose my voice in Paris. I don’t mean my physical voice (though there were moments when a cough threatened to overtake my roommate and me). I mean the voice that is coming through right now, my writing voice. Literally, the most important thing that I have. My go-to form of communication and expression and processing. If you’re not a writer or an avid reader, maybe this is something you’ve never thought about before, but just like everyone has a unique way of sounding like themselves while talking, every writer has a way of sounding like themselves on the page. My voice may be slightly different when I am typing a personal essay versus this blog post here, or an entry in my writing journal versus my personal journal, or even a tweet compared to any of my other methods, but they all sound like me.

I’ve mentioned my Paris journal repeatedly, as well as shared a couple entries from it; we had to write at least two a day. I have been practicing journal keeping for most of my life, but more seriously for the last two years. I am proud of my current writing journal, it is where I let ideas take form before I share them here or use the seeds I’ve planted in other work. It sounds like the writer I am growing to be, like the writer I want to be, and it takes practice to do that. My journal’s sophistication vastly outweighs that of any of its predecessors; it shows what I’ve learned and honed in my last three years of writing workshops, in the most casual and intimate way.

Last summer, while walking through a tourist shop in Fishtown (Leland, MI), I came upon a beautiful notebook. The cover had an illustration of a mermaid with a blue-scaled tail, accompanied by the Anais Nin quote, “I must be a mermaid because I have no fear of depths and a great fear of living a shallow life.” I loved it. More illustrations and quotes were on every few pages. As I held it in my hands, I decided it would be my Paris journal. I was sure I could fill the pages that were inspiring me with more words I could be proud of.

I wrote a detailed take on my first readings of Hemingway before our trip on the first few pages, on Christmas Eve–off to a good start. I didn’t pick it up again until our second day in Paris, and I found that nothing I had to say seemed worthy of writing down, nothing held the same level of reflection or insight or hint of my personality or craft ability. I am sure that my writer’s block came from stress and discomfort and sensory overload, among other things. I am also sure that feeling all of those things, in PARIS for crying out loud, made my frustration worse.

Eventually, I found my voice again. I realized later that it was because I was forced to keep at it, making myself dig for something to write every day about the trip and about the discussions we were having in our workshop. Every time I returned to the page, I got a little closer to sounding like myself. I stopped letting outside forces intimidate me; I stopped half-heartedly participating. I had to be present, in my body, drawing on my previous experiences and challenging myself to grow.

Getting out of my writer’s block was not a miracle; I made it happen through writing when I was most unsure of what I was putting on the page. I’m not sure I could’ve learned a more valuable lesson than that as a young writer.

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