I think I may be alone in my freakishness here, but I’m always thinking about my next move: whether I’m going to pack things or sell things, what I really need and what I can let go of. I think it does get worse around Pesach, because I’m already scrubbing the house, but it’s always niggling in the back of my head. To that end, I tend to ruthlessly comb through my books, CDs and DVDs on a regular basis, trying to figure out what I actually read and what I might have bought or gotten as a gift but never really gotten into, or what I’ve completely outgrown. Even though I’m a voracious reader who buys at least two or three books a month and reads even more at the library and bookstore, I think my total number of books has stayed the same for the last several years because of this endless pruning.
So right now I have a few series by different authors that I liked when I was in high school and haven’t read since then, and for each of these, there are some books in the series that I really liked and others I can’t stand. So I’m weighing this in my mind, debating whether my love of completeness means I need to keep each series whole, or whether my need for minimalism means that I should get rid of the books that are just taking up shelf space and keep only the parts of the series I actually liked.
What’s ridiculous about this is that all these books are stored in my parents’ attic right now, gathering dust. There is absolutely no reason for me to be sifting these bookshelves in my mind’s eye and agonizing over them. I think I’m just sick of the snow trapping me inside my house week after week, and all that energy is churning in useless circles in my brain.
I’ve always gone through phases in my writing: times when I’m incredibly prolific and can see my abilities growing rapidly, and times when nothing’s doing upstairs. The bad times can last from one to several years, but in the past I’ve been able to wait it out and do other things in the mean time, like work a full-time job.
But right now, after two years of prolific writing and growth, I’m back in a bad period, where I’m blocked and when I do have ideas I fumble them into clunking messes. And while I’d usually wait it out, I’m racking up some serious loans right now in this graduate program; I really can’t afford to waste it on barren time, no matter how natural it might be for me. I finally decided to talk to my workshop teacher about it and to ask how to get past it.
This is the first time I’ve gone to this woman with anything, so I really wasn’t sure what to expect. But she gave me her full attention and sympathy, stressing how much she liked the writing she’s seen from me so far. She said this kind of hump is normal for the second year of the MFA program; everyone gets burnt out on workshop and comes to the point where they can’t shut the voices out. She asked if I wanted to push my deadline back, and I thanked her but said it wouldn’t help, I really just needed to push past it and make an awful story on deadline to prove to myself that I can write even when I think I can’t. But she said I should come talk to her and we would figure out ways to make the writing joyous again.
And you know what? I met my deadline. I wrote an awful story. And I realized that if I’m not attached to perfection on the first draft, that gives me a lot more flexibility about making changes on the second draft, something that’s usually hard for me.
So, with my next creative deadline more than a month in the future, I’m trying to get back to playing and figuring out what I actually want to write instead of trudging through what I ought to be writing. And I’ll see if I can’t make it joyous again.
Long ago, before graduate school, I used to be a morning person. Not only that, I used to avoid caffeine. Since I’ve rearranged my schedule to have my mornings free for writing, I’m trying to cut caffeine out of my diet so I can get the most out of my time without scheduling my life around Starbucks runs.
The results have not been pretty.
I’m not sure how much is the lack of coffee, how much is my week-long schedule of classes and work from afternoon into the late evening, how much is the ridiculous amount of homework we MFAs have due this semester and how much is just an unrelated emotional crisis, but I’ve been sleeping late, suffering headaches, snarling at people, and, oh yeah, struggling with total writer’s block.
Something’s gotta break soon, and it better not be me.