A Boost for the Weary Writer

I recently came upon two books that jolted me out of the weary complacency I’d fallen into. I write for a living – ghostwriting and corporate writing. All day I am in front of my computer organizing bulks of information, creating an appropriate voice and writing material for other people. My own voice and creative appetites have sunk into near nothingness. I flee from this desk at five o’clock every afternoon and head to the trails of my local park. I pull on my sneakers as though my life depended on it. While running, I get loads of creative ideas, but unless I’m paying bills or checking email, virtually nothing will get me back to that keyboard in the evening.

Even my attempts to write longhand — into a battered notebook while sprawled on my bedroom floor — made no difference. Work writing had eclipsed my impulse to write personally, creatively. It was like a faucet that had been twisted off from below the sink. Maybe I’d go stand by the spigot and fondle the handles, but nothing was going to come out of that spout.

Then I came across Carolyn See’s wonderful book “On Making A literary Life“. In this part memoir part instruction manual, See illuminates the joys and cruelties of a writer’s existence with poignancy and deft humor. She shares her own insecurities, triumphs and failures in ways that reveal my own as being, well…not so bad. Maybe my demons are conquerable too.

In the end, See did a very simple thing – she lifted me from my own misery long enough foe me to recognize it for what it is: material.  A recent break-up, a stressful move, family difficulties…See demonstrates how such things are not tales of woe, but colorful characters and rich veins of plot. And they are. It’s easy to forget what writing is – it’s a reflection of life. Misery and joy, adversity and triumph. It is the expression of the human soul struggling through its existence. It’s the interpretation and representation of human interaction. Life. Suddenly, I don’t have a heavy load of troubles — I have a LOT to write about!

Even the worst of life is funny, because we always persevere. The future may not take the shape we’d intended or thought we would have preferred, but it always takes us somewhere and we’re always learning more about ourselves. See’s book brought me back to the reality of the writing life. Yes, I write for a living. But more than that, I am a writer.

The second book I found, bizarrely, in the self-help section. I say bizarrely because there’s nothing “self-help” about it,  and also because I had long ago dismissed any self help book as drivel (just like all the diet books that are supposed to suddenly show you how to be skinny – easily and without work, and without giving up chocolate… or whatever. Eat less and exercise more, it not complex. If you have some sort of food addiction, well okay… go see a therapist. I’m uh, big on the therapy…)

Anyway, I found myself in this section in an ill-advised attempt to locate a book that my therapist told me sounded just like the issues my ex-boyfriend is having. Maybe I could find it and send it to him? Just a nice gesture, nothing more… Didn’t find the book, which is just as well because it was a terrible idea, but I did find the moving and hilarious memoir “hypocrite in a pouffy white dress” by Susan Jane Gilman.

This book makes me want to write about my own life. I recommend this to anyone, especially any female from 30-45. Her humor and impeccable details make you feel like you’re standing by her side witnessing the bizarre but yet so normal trials of her life. From trying to understand parents, fitting in at school, boyfriends, virginity,
post-college employment, moving, and marriage, Gilman admits the panicked desperation that many of us felt at such pinnacle moments, but were mostly trying to deny or conceal. And she does so in a way that’s laugh-out-loud funny.

I got more than a few sidelong glances as I erupted into laughter in a waiting room, at a park, and at a bar (once, don’t ask). Refreshing and inspiring. I’m not sure how to qualify the inspiration, but it’s true.

These two books have inspired me to take my newly recognized material and see my life for what it is. An adventure on its way to art. If I use my experience to fuel what I create and know always that things will be okay, there’s nothing I can’t do. Can’t write. Can’t be.


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