Words in Muddy Water

I like to think that every writer has a period of time when they believe that every word they’ve ever put down on the page is the wrong word, that everything they’ve ever written or will write is actually crap, and that anyone who has told them it’s worthwhile is just being kind to their feelings. I have to think that every writer goes through this because it somehow normalizes my own experience. It makes it okay that I don’t like what I’ve written and okay that I keep writing anyway.

And then grief enters the creative process. It muddies the water as much as a 500-year flood on a 10-year flood plain. Now, not only is every word I write crap, but it’s pointless crap. Utterly meaningless crap relying on FEMA to rebuild the particular synapses in the particular part of the brain that might trigger the sensation that it’s not, in fact, crap.

But I know that not all grief experiences do this. Today is my father’s birthday. When he passed away in 2009, I was heartbroken and miserable. Because I was heartbroken and miserable, I wrote. I wrote a lot. I put together my first chapbook under the shadow of grief—and it’s some of my best work. I did this less than two months after he passed. It helped me accept his death, accept all the crazy twists and turns of our relationship before he died, and accept that the future would be one in which I fondly remembered his eccentricities while moving on without them in my life.

Why then, more than a year later, can I not reread stories and poems that I’ve written and convince myself that they are worth sending to potential publishers? Why can I not work on the edits of my first novel without wondering what on earth I was thinking when I wrote it or work on the first draft of my second novel without wondering what on earth  I’m thinking continuing this storyline?

I know that I don’t have the corner market on writing through/after/during grief. Interview with a Vampire, arguably one of Anne Rice’s best novels (though I frankly prefer Memnoch the Devil and think it gets less than its due mention), was written in roughly three weeks following the death of her daughter. Mortalis, the beautiful and heartbreaking middle novel between R.A. Salvatore’s two Demon Wars Saga books, was written after his brother died. I’m sure there are a hundred more examples.

Sometimes I wonder if I’m trying to write the wrong thing at this particular moment. I am drowning in ideas, but the words are flotsam that drifts away and my arms stroking through the muddy water just pushes them further away. I type. I think. I delete. I think. And I’ll be damned if I’m going to call FEMA before I’ve washed my clothes.

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5 thoughts on “Words in Muddy Water

  1. You need a second opinion my friend. Any chance there is someone you trust (someone whom you can be confident is not just going to placate you) to read some of these pieces and advise you?

    • Oh, I’ve had many opinions. Some good, some bad. My work has been published. I’ve won awards. My work has been nominated for Pushcarts and chosen for editor’s features. It’s the self-doubt that kills. I have to relearn to trust my own opinion, I think.

      Funny…your advice is exactly the advice I would give to someone saying what I said here. Thank you for the reminder. 🙂

  2. You weren’t depressed in addition to grieving after your dad’s death. You have been both in the past year, if I may say so without upsetting you. Depression is a very ugly, distorted filter of any accomplishment or creative endeavor at all.

  3. Perhaps some of your old work is difficult to edit because you have gone through a crucible of experiences that have changed you and you no longer relate well to the older writing. Perhaps working on some more recent stuff for awhile might help.

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