Excuse #152: Maybe I need to learn more first

In the long line of Reasons Why I Can’t Write Today, this one pops up often and unfortunately hasn’t diminished much, or at least enough, with age. That has got to change if I am ever to write, much less publish, a story. There are some strategies for handling, or ways of looking at it rather, that I think could work for me and probably for many.

Women especially are made to feel like we can’t or shouldn’t speak up unless we are experts on the thing at hand. It’s packaged into the whole female over-apologizing thing that resurfaces every few years as a source (see Amy Schumer’s ‘I’m sorry’ skit) of entertainment and head-scratching (for some, while for others it is painfully relatable). We all need to reject that mindset, understanding that it is an expedient way to keep us quiet and letting the dominant narratives stay in place. This is hardly new territory here but we need to, and I need to, make it personally applicable in my writing ambitions. We know more than we realize and we have more to offer than we may realize.

For instance, logically, I can see that now, in my 40s, I am so aware of patterns of behavior, not only my own but others’ too. This is because I have decades of experience in dealing with people, trying to figure out my own reaction to situations, and so on. It’s been hard work! And now I get to reap some extra benefit from it in my writing–but only if I’m aware of it and purposefully cultivate and use it. Another thing is that knowledge that seems commonplace to me is a surprise, and even considered expertise, to others. One example: my husband and I watch movies and documentaries often, a pretty wide range of them, and for about twenty years now. As a result, I know about actors, directors, film history, cinema styles, etc., and that without being at all a movie buff or even a particular fan. (Top two though, because I can’t help myself: Nights of Cabiria and Harlan County USA. More recently, loved Parasite, though who didn’t?). Now, no real film fanatic would call me anything near an expert, but the average 20-year-old might and in fact a few, surprisingly, have. This is knowledge again that I can and should incorporate into my writing, be it in the stories themselves or in the story structure.

Then there are the skills I *have* worked hard to acquire, like graduate work in Library Science and a lifetime of reading widely and regularly. This causes problems, of course, because I am so very aware of the limitations of my writing, especially when compared to favorites like Ursula K. Le Guin, Oscar Wilde, Ali Smith, Jeanette Winterson, Ted Chiang, Clarice Lispector, Ray Bradbury, and so on. It gets humbling very, very quickly. However, I do know when there is a spark of good stuff. A line, a phrase, some imagery. This is invaluable and hard-won as well.

(I always remember the scene in Emily of New Moon when her teacher tells her, after reading some of her poetry, that she has “ten good lines out of 400” and she is crushed but then he says that ten good lines mean it is worth pursuing poetry and she should try. I took comfort in that, even at the time when I didn’t even dream of writing because it made this horrible dichotomy between “gifted” and “not-gifted” seem less rigid and impermeable. Since then, wiggle room and flexibility have been saving graces in all aspects of life.)

All this does not mean there is no space for researching and learning more. It just means time’s up, you must write. There is a pressing need for more stories. I’m dead serious about that. Now more than ever, or more than ever in my lifetime, we need storytellers of all kinds to help our world, our society, our times. The U.S. is in dire straits. Earth is at an ecological turning point. And we are just humans who need stories when facts alone don’t and haven’t affected us enough to make the changes we need. It’s a sobering end, but what can I say–it’s true. As Lloyd Alexander writes in The Black Cauldron, “Child, child, do you not see? For each of us comes a time when we must be more than what we are.” Now is that time, for me, and I suspect for many others too. These excuses have had a lifetime of running me ragged, but by seeing with fresh eyes all that I *can* offer and *do* know, maybe this time I can turn off that voice in my head that demands Mastery and instead write what I (yup) know.

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Homework: Write. How did it go since last time? Scribbles, but not enough and not dedicated or serious enough. Relying still too much on this idea of a muse or inspiration needing to come. Change that mindset–and remember, it’s not all doom and gloom. It’s like running. I don’t particularly love the first mile, but then the second mile comes and I’m smiling and nodding to the birds in the trees. Writing so far seems to be the same. Writing begets more writing, so my homework is just five minutes but it has to done daily or… (searches for horrible punishment) or no Aggretsuko game playing that day (the horror!).

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