When I first started blogging the summer after my freshman year of college, I did it primarily to establish good writing habits. The accountability of an audience outside myself (even if it was just my parents at first) forced me to face the blank white page daily and actually edit. Truth is, when it comes to the basic principle of sitting down and writing (you know, as most assume a writer does) I sometimes suck. Recently, I suck a lot. I have been creatively blocked for maybe the past five months (hence, very little blogging). Some of it is owed to the stress of graduation, some of it to mounting fear of failure, and some even to the fact that I was busy writing for something other than myself. Keeping a notebook or journal is something I believe in, but begrudgingly practice. I know that I am an unhappy person when I have no outlet, and writing very often serves as that outlet. As does dancing, though to a lesser degree because my body is not as nimble as it once was. But writing, longhand writing, the kind of fevered writing where spelling doesn’t concern me and my index finger is bruised with the impression of a pen, that sort of outpouring is what keeps me sane. Mary Gordon sums up the beautiful feel of longhand writing in “Putting Pen to Paper, but Not Just Any Pen to Just Any Paper.” Like Gordon, my pen and paper makes a world of difference to my mood and productivity. Like Gordon, I insist on black ink, and keep one smaller journal for jotting quotes and lines from my readings, and one larger journal for personal, reflective writing.
When I am unable to make myself write, I am grumpy. At this year’s annual family vacation to the lake, I was forced to face my growing bad attitude while in close quarters with parents and friends. Despite understanding what I need from myself as a writer, it’s often only in these dire circumstances I am able to muster the courage to put the pen to the page. The second night of that vacation I wrote a particularly long entry that began: “I am an insufferable bitch.” (Seriously. If you’re ever going through a period of self-loathing, I high recommend something like this.) And, what do you know, I was less of an insufferable bitch once I finally worked out my frustrations by writing. Still, it’s a constant, pervasive struggle. I only wrote one more entry during the rest of that vacation.
I find solace in rereading essays on free-writing. Joan Didion’s “On Keeping a Notebook” is a classic. I haven’t had a single writing class in which I wasn’t required to read that. Her particular brand of journaling is rather non-commital and unstructured, highlighting perhaps the nuances between keeping a notebook, a journal, or a diary. This sort of documentation I’m capable of; my planner is riddled with notes and odd details that struck me as important in the moment I noticed them. But the sort of daily writing and journaling I aspire to is the sort perpetuated by Julia Cameron and her spiritual take on the creative process. I briefly attempted working my way through The Sound of Paper with a fair amount of success. In fact, that was probably one of the most creatively yielding periods of my journaling. Since then, I pressure myself to write morning pages and work through The Artist’s Way, often failing. While I have never been a religious or even spiritual person, the thought of a Great Creator as a source of worldly creativity is a concept I can get behind. Freshman year, I took a course called Creativity in Context and our professor had us watch a Ted Talk with Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love. In “Your Elusive Creative Genius,” Gilbert recounts the way American poet Ruth Stone experiences creativity literally barreling through her like a “thunderous train of air.” I remember being astonished that someone else felt this.
True creativity is fleeting, just as Gilbert explains. But the necessity of expression is incessant to my type. So that is the struggle I take to the page with me whenever I do journal. I am a work in progress, and each day is a step in the process to grooming this thing I need to do always.
This post was partially inspired by a former classmate and writer, Caroline Praderio, who has an awesome blog series about her childhood diaries.