by Janet ChuiThere are two kinds of writers: Those who write with complete self-confidence and zero self-doubt, and those who don’t suck.
Wait. Then there are those writers who swing--between the two extremes, I mean, wink—and hit writing blocks that might as well be the Ever Given tanker in the Suez, (hi, throwback to March 2021). Understanding, diagnosing, and strategizing around writers’ blocks is practically a non-fiction genre in itself.
Sometimes I think I took up Psychology as a distraction from my creative blocks, and then only returned to writing so I could give fancier rationalizations why I wasn’t writing. Except I was. Writing. I’m writing now. I write all the time. It just rarely looks like anything I think is “legit”, another subject on which I was long confused. I took Journalism as an undergrad because I thought it would be more respectable than (gasp) fiction writing, even though I had half a dozen unfinished fantasy manuscripts in my closet.
I was judging the writing that I hadn’t even completed, and then I judged myself for my laziness and cowardice. I lived and breathed self-judgment. Some types of self-hatred were easier than others. Bashing myself for laziness and invisibility was more familiar and less daunting than having work completed and seen as drivel. The latter would confirm the words of my most persistent critics (hi, parents), that all my creative efforts were frivolous and unproductive; and entertaining possibilities otherwise only showed a massive ego for which I should be ashamed. I had internalised that I should only be proud or pursue things if I was good enough to sell it.
The above fancy realisation is still a block between me and where I want to be. But it’s a block I now understand well, mostly through writing--the “unproductive” kind of not-writing that I find myself doing a lot. The hidden, self-indulgent, emotional, and confessional stuff that gives me a way to examine still-open wounds and the skeletons in the closet.
It’s funny though, because part of why I admire fiction is that over the years, I’ve come to recognise authors who are none-too-subtly writing out their struggles, beliefs, and dreams, albeit with sexy plots and characters. And it’s admirable because the results still spark joy. Trying to write stuff divorced from our flaws and idiosyncrasies is, I realise belatedly, self-defeating. Maybe impossible. But it was what I tried for a long time because I learned that objectivity and technical excellence were the only acceptable qualities in prose worth anything.
I got tired of giving sad-puppy looks to writers who just wrote whatever they felt like and got lauded for it. We should all do that (whether or not the lauding comes) without worrying if we’re writing the “good stuff”. The point I’m making is that we might have, at some point in our lives, internalized an idea of what was good and placed that on a higher pedestal than what we actually enjoy writing. It took me decades to appreciate the value of what I wrote, and to retire the unhelpful concepts of what I once thought writing should be.
And that’s what has helped me move the pen more often now.
We’re now going to pretend this is a recipe blog post. Here are the ingredients and steps:
- Write whatever you’re moved to write. That’s the Force compelling you, damnit.
- Fuck the ideal circumstances for writing. What dedicated hours? What peace and quiet? If you have to open Google Keep on your phone and jot notes while you’re waiting for your smol to emerge from school, do it.
- That said, guard your dedicated writing time jealously and try re-classing it as self-care time. Assholes usually won’t touch it then.
- Not all our written results will be great, but if you do Step 1 enough, there’s something in everything we’ve written that serves a purpose, and it’s up to your Editor Self to figure it out and polish it till it’s shiny. And we need all kinds of shiny in the world.
- Place in a 400°F (200° Celsius) oven for 25 minutes or until golden.
Janet Chui is an artist and writer of astrology and self-love pieces. Her Self-Love Oracle, an illustrated deck of 44 cards for healing and self-care, is out from Beyond Words Publishing. She only cusses in blog posts.