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The Crippled Writer On the Side of the Road

Today I read a beautiful article about writer's block by Hannah Tinti. She credited a poem by TS Eliot for saving her creative practice. I wish I could tell you the poem inspires me as much as it inspired Hannah. But there are places in the dark forest where, no matter how many words you dig from the soil and pull from the trees, you receive no sustenance. At times like these, all you can do is knock on the Old Woman's door and ask for a bowl of soup, even knowing that you really can't trust what she'll put in it. For some, she stirs in poetry. Others I guess are not so lucky.






I have been writing, but none of it goes anywhere. One of my works in progress is about a girl who runs away from home; she gets as far through the forest as she can before her blistered feet, inside old thin boots, will carry her no further. I look at her sitting on the ground and don't have any idea how to make her get back up. Just as I have no idea at the moment how to make her story, any story, move forward past its inspired start.

If this was a piece of narrative therapy work I was doing for myself, I would spend as long as it took describing the place where I sat, because of course the story is there, in that place, in the not moving forward. But I already know this. And all I care about is that my feet hurt.

I wonder what people would like to read from me. What kind of story, what kind of book, the mood, the genre? Do people like best my fantasy, poetry, real-life tales? Do they want old witches or young queens? I'm sure they would answer, whatever you want yourself. Which never helps.

TS Eliot advises the crippled writer to wait without hope. I can't agree. To me, that's just poetry; in real life, it would be despair. Or perhaps it is despair to fail being inspired by poetry. As I sit here watching other people dance along the road, I wish someone would stop and give me a hand up. I don't expect it, though. And I think that's the worst thing about being a writer. Everyone assumes you can get yourself up and back on the road. It's a lonely job, that's the cliche. But I suspect many readers are comfortable with the writer's loneliness because it seems that in the solitude, the stillness, comes magic. No one wants to think about blistered toes and aching hearts, aching hours, tears wept over unravelled words. That takes away from the enchantment.

For me, the true magic of writing sparks during a conversation ... watching people together ... after an argument ... around a dinner table ... within someone's arms ... sharing a glance across a room - in the living and the loving. Otherwise, it's all just words. We don't want lonely writers. We want them to be strong-footed, daring the road, encouraged. We readers, friends, family, lovers, are their enchantment.  

Comments

  1. I've been stuck on the side of the road for a long time myself, so thank you for writing of this: the stuckness, the loneliness. Writing is a lonely craft. And yet I've found that many of my ideas come from other places, whether it be books, or conversations, or events. Thus, there needs to be an engagement with life and ideas and other people, in order to make writing possible. That is as important as the solitude in which the writing takes place. But we do need a helping hand from time to time. I know I do.

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    1. See I don't believe it is necessarily a lonely craft. Most of my books I wrote in my living room while people were active around me. I composed sentences in between conversations. The cadence of life kept my pen moving. I believe that "writing is a lonely craft" is a cliche and yes some people need to shut a door and be in silence, but not everyone. I know that many writers thrive in online writer communities, for example. That's not for me, but I understand why they do it.

      I'm sorry you're stuck, and lonely, and I want to reach out a hand to you, even if it's just to say hello, I see you there, let me share sympathy a while until someone comes along with a lantern and a sturdy cane for you. <3

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    2. Thank you, Sarah. I'm a writer who does need solitude to do my work. Yet what I should have said is that I am finding NOT writing to be far more lonely than writing. It is the writing that would take away the stuckness and loneliness for me, for all its solitude.

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    3. Oh, I agree with you, there's nothing more lonely than not writing. Are you able to write a journal or thought pieces or little stories just for fun to keep up your practice while stuck on other projects? Or do you need a specific purpose, an audience? I know I do myself. Maybe going sideways rather than looking ahead can be helpful at times? Hugs xx

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  2. I do think writing is a solitary, though not necessarily lonely pursuit. When it goes well,it's so invigorating. But I know too the frustration of getting stuck and it is horrible and I find forcing it is counter-productive.
    Maybe the girl in your story is stuck too. Maybe she doesn't want to get up. May be your girl is stuck for a reason- so you can explore 'stuckness'?.

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    1. See I don't think it has to be solitary, but each to her own. Thank you for your thoughtful comment :-)

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  3. I get there too, fallen at the edge of the forest after having run there so eloquently with lots of fantastic adjectives. Then, thud. But now what?

    Harp music, maybe. (Aryeh Frankfurter.) Music inspires me. Maybe music could rescue your collapsed heroine? Or inspire you to rescue her. Or leave her there and go dancing.

    I am right now metaphorically trapped at a fire festival. An artist took me there, or I took him, and an old man wants to know why. "Why are you here?" I don't know. Do you?



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    1. Questions are the most important part of storytelling. For me, they're the way in to a tale. A question intrigues me ... who lives on the hill ... what happened after the spell broke ... and that's when I can write, by following that question to its answer. I would like to know why you are at the fire festival and who the artist is.

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    2. His name is William Holman Hunt and he lived about a hundred years ago. I wrote a bit on my blog about it. Please come see. Only a few days ago I read about an event in which fire of a mysterious origin is brought to a church. I had never heard of this before. Apparently, the faithful wait in great anticipation for the fire to arrive.

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    3. it sounds interesting and quite different from the vision I had of a fire festival :-) I shall have to come over and look :-)

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  4. sorry that you are feeling stalled in your writing...it's so frustrating when one cannot think how to proceed in a thing started.

    as for topics---well, for me, when i like to read a particular author's work, it isn't just a certain thing or topic i look for; what i like is to see how he/she looks at things, what he/she thinks about something. and of course, the artistry of the words that convey it...that matters. i love poetry, and old witches, and yes, young queens too. but what i really love is the story they tell (or inhabit), and the insights of another mind into ways of seeing the world. if i had to plump for just one thing, at this moment it would be the old witch; i feel very attracted to them and think they have some medicine we need. but all tales have medicine, if they are true at heart...

    in a more tangible vein, what if you were to write a series of short tales or poems about something close to you? what if you wrote the story of the couple in the lovely photo you posted on IG a little bit ago---a black-and-white image that may have been your parents or other relatives? sometimes, for me at least, inhabiting the story of known people can pop me into a place where other stories blossom. or make me understand something i never did before then.

    or maybe, contrary to all the "just WRITE" advice one gets, maybe it could be helpful *not* to write for a bit. just to re-read beloved old tales, especially fairy tales, or to look at clouds and flowers. maybe exercising creativity in other directions, like making or re-making an altar, or practising some other art than writing, or making exquisite cakes, might free up creativity in other areas...

    for me, when i am stuck, i make lists. or pinterest boards. and i think of eggs...there is a lot of preparation that happens before eggs make it to the nest. but then they have to sit there, immobile, like so many stones, for a while. they can't be wholly ignored or abandoned; they must be kept warm gently, and not handled forcefully. but one day, they hatch...

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    1. thank you for such a thoughtful, caring comment :-) and when i think about i find i agree with you, it's not what a writer writes but how they write it that i myself am attracted to. i like your egg analogy :-)

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  5. Waiting without hope sounds a bit desperate!

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    1. I think he was being poetic, but even so, I need all the hope I can get! Lol.

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  6. "I wish someone would stop and give me a hand up. I don't expect it though." Well, that sounds a lot like "waiting without hope"!

    I'm with you, though; I can't write in isolation. I know a lot of writers require quiet and solitude, but my stories come--when they come at all--in the midst of a busy household. E.B. White is my hero when it comes to the writing life. He said, "...the members of my household never pay the slightest attention to my being a writing man – they make all the noise and fuss they want to. If I get sick of it, I have places I can go." I write in the dining room, in the living room, out in the garden on the patio table--sometimes I even write at my desk--but always I am surrounded by pets and people and life. They are a necessary part of things. Their conversation carries me through and often helps me find a way to "get the girl back up."

    And, yes, I think it does help to know what delights your readers. Every creative endeavor is a collaboration of sorts, a kind of telepathy between the otherworld (muse, whatever), the writer, and the reader. When we get this communication right the magic happens.

    If you are asking my preference as a reader, the stories I like best are ones in which an ordinary person in an ordinary life encounters something or someone extraordinary in a mysterious/magical sense I never tire of this meeting of 'worlds'. Nothing is more real or honest to me, or more important in these times.

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    1. Thank you I appreciate this comment so much, it's always nice to hear from a kindred spirit :-) And someone who sees what I was hoping to express about the collaborative nature of writing. I have the same preference as you at the moment about the meeting of worlds. It feels like an important story to tell at this time in history.

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