Wednesday, November 3, 2010

My Writing Problem

There’s been some weird shit going on here, and I’m not even just talking about perimenopause.

I don’t know whether anyone has noticed, but I hardly post here at all anymore. I’d gotten into a groove of maybe 2-3 posts a week and now I feel like I might do 2-3 per month. I’m not sure exactly why. God knows I still have a lot to say.

Part of it started when I got the Patch column. It’s a little unnerving for me to write for a bigger (read: unknown and potentially scary) audience and I find I need a little time to recuperate. I work on my column on Tuesday. My editor posts it on Wednesday. On Thursday and Friday I attend to all the work I blew off early in the week so I could get my column together. And then I sail into the weekend with the intention of writing next week’s Patch column so I don’t feel so under-the-gun on Tuesday. The weekend comes and goes. Monday needs to be productive in other ways. And then I’m right back where I started on Tuesday. Did you notice? There’s no blog writing in that schedule.

I’ve had other setbacks too. I wrote (what I thought was) a funny, interesting blog post about a month ago, about a woman I know only peripherally. I didn’t use her name, and I didn’t think the piece was at all damning, but I sent it to her before I posted it and she asked me not use it. I found the blogging horse surprisingly difficult to get back onto after that.

Then, a writer-friend asked me to come and speak in her journalism class. She teaches at the local college and often brings in guest speakers so her students can ask questions of and get perspective from people “in the field.” At first I declined. “I don’t really feel qualified to talk to your class. I’m not a journalist,” I wrote to her in an email. She immediately wrote me back that I would be perfect for a lot of reasons and sent me a paragraph of things she hoped I would talk about: “How long does it take you to write a column? Where do you get your ideas? How did your own college experience prepare you for this work?”

Those were all things I could talk about, so I readily accepted and dove into the grueling task of figuring out what I would wear.

A few weeks before I was slated to speak, I was at Back-To-School Night at my younger son’s school. His fifth-grade teacher is passionate about writing and is always the one to volunteer to get additional training and attend educational workshops when the district attempts to better its writing curriculum. She stood in front of a big group of parents (two classes full) and called upon us to volunteer in the classroom. “How many of you in here are writers?” she asked. A ton of hands went up. But mine wasn’t one of them.

I left there a little shaken at my own behavior. I write every single day, I thought. Why can’t I say I’m a writer?

That particular identity-blip (what’s the small, beginning kernel of a crisis called?) catapulted me into the idea of getting an MFA. Maybe if I actually studied writing I would be able to call myself a writer. I started talking to people about it, taking women out to lunch, researching online, getting catalogs. There are a lot of programs to choose from, but they all have one thing in common: They all seem like an enormous amount of work. I would read a description of this or that university’s program and as soon as I came upon the word “rigor” (as in “academic rigor”) my eyes glazed over. I take two spin classes a week. Does that not seem enough rigor for one person’s life?

I haven’t completely abandoned the graduate program idea, but I have cooled on it a bit. I went to my friend’s class and she and her students “interviewed” me. Overall it went ok. (Only one student actually fell asleep.) I heard myself saying things like “I don’t consider myself a good writer as much as a competent writer,” and “I choose subjects I can handle; I’m not really a big thinker.” That’s all true, but it was still troubling to hear it come out of my mouth. I could have just as easily posted a sign on my forehead that said, “I’m a piece of poop.”

One woman asked me how I was able to “write funny,” and I stared at her blankly, wondering if this was the moment that I should recount my countless neuroses and decades of therapy sessions. Do I dare tell her that her chances of “writing funny” are severely limited if she hasn’t grown up fat and insecure? Instead I just said, “Good question. I’m not really sure.” And at that moment, nothing felt more true.

There have been other impediments too, and I think those are perimenopausally induced. Sometimes I just scream at people rather than writing about wishing I could scream at people. Then when I sit down to write, there’s nothing left to say.

Go out more. Stay in more. Read more. Watch more TV. Loosen up. Develop a schedule. I’ve considered all these things. And where I’ve netted out is to just start writing about my writing problem, and see if maybe somehow that might make it go away.


  1. When we first met over 20 years ago you showed me writing you had done. It was very good. It's still very good. You have a voice and a humorous, self deprecating, neurotic point of view. Get used to it.

  2. Ironic how well you write about not being a writer. Great column.

  3. As your, "writer-friend," let me reassure that you are a great AND funny writer. Also, that student who fell asleep? He woke up this week, enough to ask a girl out after class, while I was watching.