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I have had a hard time writing this month. I have had a hard time sleeping, too. As I write this, it is after three o'clock in the morning and I've been awake for two hours. I am kept away by worries about work, about publications, a thousand other things. When you're having a hard time, you take everything very, very seriously.
On one hand, to be fair, I haven't been working on the novel because I recently finished the second quarter of the book and gave it to my writing group to workshop. While I waited for them to read it, I did no work on it. Instead I plugged away at this short story I've been trying to write for months. This short story is supposed to be fun! It's about an orangutan! And a magician! And a pharmaceutical company! It's darkly humorous! Ideally—probably too obviously, probably obliquely—it's Saundersesque!
But even the short story has proved elusive. It isn't that I'm not working on it. It's that when I do work on it, I find myself uninterested. I don't care about it enough to write more than a paragraph or two at a time.
I know what I would tell myself, were I my own student. I'd say, "Work with that lack of curiosity. Figure out the shape and nature of that blockage, whatever it is. Let yourself get up in the middle of the night. Suffer the physical and emotional discomfort necessary to come out the other side of your creative misery. To look back on the block rather than looking ahead at it, or around at it, as you do when you're inside of it."
So, okay. It is now half past three, and this is how I feel about the story and the blockage: that I have lost my grip on some sort of essential magic—or it has lost its grip on me. That whatever magnetism was keeping me in the bristling, mysterious world of my own written fictions has lost its power.
And what is the degradation of magnetism but simple entropy? It takes a great deal of force to work against entropy. As I lose my grip I feel my strength flagging. I feel the shame of giving up, but I also feel something like relief.
There is a certain gross deliciousness about giving into shame. It is the same feeling as overeating alone. It is self-indulgence. It is self-acceptance. It is also fear. No coincidence, I think, that I've been sick several times recently: clogged up and sneezing, aching, I've given myself a tangible reason to whine. No coincidence either that I have been suffering this creative block during the month leading up to this year's AWP conference in LA—a conference I'm looking forward to, but that also tends to make me feel like fucking Sisyphus. Where the fucking rock I'm pushing up that fucking mountain is my fucking writing career. And where, all around me, on other mountains, other writers are perched happily at the very top of their own mountain tops, passionately typing away at long, intricate novels that finish easily, are boxed up immediately, and are sent post-haste to happy, helpful agents who then sell them for massive sums to wealthy, agreeable publishers, who place them on bookshelves at thriving bookstores, where they are bought by hungry readers and admiring reviewers. Poor Rachel-Sisyphus! Everyone else has it so much easier than you! Why not let that poor rock fall back into the canyons? It isn't worth it! Might as well give up! It's not like you're accomplishing anything! Ha-ha!
Right. It isn't worth it. Or it wouldn't be worth it if that's how it were. But it is worth something. What is it worth? Every time I write, I am also fortifying my sense of purpose. It is worth fortifying my sense of purpose. And every time I write, I explore some new hidden place. It is worth exploring those hidden places, and uncovering the strange treasures I find there.
It is worth becoming a more honest person, a better person, a woman more like the woman I want to be.
In the end, the overwhelming, amorphous blockage I face, and am then subsumed by, is given shape when I put a name to it. Naming something makes it a lot less horrifying. I think often of Elizabeth Gilbert's story about Tom Waits, who told a song to go fuck itself when it visited him when he was stuck in traffic. "Song, get lost. Can't you see I'm busy? If you must be written now, go visit Leonard Cohen." And the perhaps apocryphal anecdote about Michael Jackson: that he worried if he didn't work, work, work, his songs would go find Prince, instead. I think of these two anecdotes, and I know the goal is to be open to the creative thoughts that visit me. And in order to do that, I must name and therefore shape the intimidating amorphous whatever-it-is that blocks me.
I think of how some people call the Loch Ness monster "Nessie." This monster who's who-knows-how big, who lives in a steaming hot cave below the crust of the Earth, who upturns boats and slinks so quietly through the black Loch. People call her "Nessie." They name her—and it's such a cute name. And because she's called "Nessie," she isn't threatening anymore.
So it's 3:52 now, and 4 AM's the witching hour, that time when it's too late to go back to sleep. I've got to go back to bed… but I think I can now.