Hopes and Memories
Edited by Elizabeth Rose
The joys and tribulations of writing: how to re- discover your own voice
Before there was a first sentence to this piece, I probably glared at the flickering cursor for days. I did not even begin or delete sentences, dissatisfied with how they rolled off of their tongue, or because I wanted to write about a complex, carefully crafted topic. I simply had nothing to say. The last few weeks I’ve spent finishing up one zoom call after another, and trying to remind myself that I am still a decent being, even if I haven’t called my family or friends long enough that I lost their notifications in WhatsApp.
In the rare moments when the world would briefly quieten down, I sat silently on the flowery yoga matt of my barren room. Eyes wide open, yet no thoughts or wonder or inspiration filled up my mind. I tapped on the parquet, thinking : “Have I written about all that I know?”; “What if those previous pieces were all that there was to my writing?”. Writers’ block is as humbling, as it can be excruciating; it is a journey through the murky waters you hear of in the tales of Hercules, only to find a waterfall of fresh inspiration in the least expected place, and begin again with a clear, satiated head. Some writers’ block lasts for days, and for some, like American author Fran Lebowitz (and one of my favourite New Yorkers), it can last for decades.
So what do we do, if our life experiences, our dreams, traumas, or causes we care about cease to flow into words? What if there is nothing more I can share and find to connect with you?
Back to the basics. I take my blue notepad out for a walk, and on the tram back home jot down all the smells, the sounds, the colours that stood out. Maybe you see a lady with a TRAMP 2 licence plate, or perhaps you will notice how the majority of dogs look like their owners. Maybe someone will make you laugh, or unfortunately, disturb you with their words or behaviour. Write it down. I’ll admit it reluctantly, but I do like eavesdropping (and my apologies, fellow commuters) - each person is a storyline and a mystery I have but a short time to understand and resolve, before they alight at the next stop. I scribble down what I hear, what makes me laugh, or sends chills down my spine. Sometimes the art of writing like this reminds me of petty thievery, an unsolicited thrill. In the end, your notebook ends up full of gateways to tiny, secret, personal worlds not your own, precious seeds that watered and warmed can germinate into seedlings of inspiration. In what ways can a stranger relate to you? What are some of the hopes you share? Are your memories cut from the same cloth, have you both known the same city your entire lives? Dream up their lives.
Family and friends.I am fortunate enough to be surrounded by some of the most amazing painters, thinkers, writers and trailblazers; great little beans, as my lovely editor says. Your circles are what shape your own story and writing - even if they infuriate you. Maybe that’s even better - how do you write about their stories, or their words of wisdom to you - with honesty and compassion? Great way to break a writers’ block is to write them a letter. It helps tap into your honest, most sincere feelings and thoughts. When I was a teenager, I used to write letters for my friends’ birthdays. Imagine my surprise when an image of my 12 year old handwriting popped onto my screen the other day, with a message that read: “Look what I still keep around.”
Patience. Experiencing writers’ block, I realised something was off balance. The words, usually so dependable, would not fall into a sentence, and there was no cohesiveness to anything I wanted to share. Writing is, at best, a moment of honesty captured, a moment of intro-spection but also of extro-spection. In the spirit of that honesty, I will tell you, it takes patience - from yourself, and from your editors ( :) ). Shockingly, you will not simply drop your pen or close your laptop forever - you may come back with new stories in mind, or with new paths you want to explore. Maybe you continue walking, after a deep breath and a quietly uttered “here we go”, exactly where you left off.
The greatest challenge perhaps, believing in the power of your own voice. Voices are uncatchable frequencies with which we fine-tune our society. Do not let go of yours - nurture it; listen to what it’s being said, and especially to the silences and words unsaid. In the words unsaid, there is a whole world of stories waiting to be written.
And I leave you with a question, a writing prompt that sits at the top of my white-board ever since I read Audre Lorde’s essays : “What are the words you do not yet have? What do you need to say? What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence.”