I’ve been a sporadic writer. When I started writing in my 20s, at times truly exciting and amazing things would come out. And a lot of really disappointing things. There would be this flash of stunning creativity in a short piece, and I would get all excited . . . but the next day when I sat down to write the end of that story . . . nothing. Or worse than nothing, something terrible that seemed to ruin what had been such a promising start. I began to feel guilty about these poor abandoned orphan stories, things that started out so fresh and delightful and then fell down into the morass of banal predictability.
So, like any sane human being, I would conclude I was not meant to write, to create the breathtakingly transporting fiction that I read in favorite authors, including Ray Bradbury, Anne Tyler, and the amazing Ursula Le Guin. I would stop writing.
But then I’d take a class that inspired me to try again. And for five years I was part of a writers group that formed from one of those classes. Eventually I even had a few fantastic short stories published in small markets.
Yet, again I stopped. Rejections only mirrored the thought I had inside that I was not really a writer. I couldn’t sustain the effort, after all, and these half-shaped, distorted things that came out of my writing frustrated and embarrassed me.
Fast forward to 2013. Many years on, I had persisted in my dream, and I came to Goddard’s MFA program, with the hope that, somehow, the focused study of an MFA program would help me transcend that sense of futility I had about writing. After finishing a doctoral program in another field (engineering), I discovered that one thing I wanted to do more than anything is to learn to write a novel.
But . . . I still found myself confused about the process of creativity. Inexplicably, sometimes it worked, and sometimes it did not.
One day, as a G2, I ran across these words in Victoria Nelson’s excellent book, On Writer’s Block, says:
Engaging in an act of art is very much like establishing a relationship with another person. If you try to possess or control that person, he or she will elude you; if, instead, you form a friendship based on mutual respect, then over time, with much love and patience, you can forge a secure bond. (9)
A relationship with another person. . . . like being hit by the proverbial thunderbolt, I suddenly thought: there is a creative-writer-person inside me, someone almost separate from me. All these years I had been taking for granted the amazing pieces that the creative-writer-person was coming up with. Further, I would berate that person when it didn’t come up with that amazing work.
What had I been doing? I’d been ignoring the good work done by my creative-writer-person, and I’d been hyper-critical in the bargain. By now, the creative-writer-person in me had become discouraged and frustrated.
That day I grabbed a piece of paper and started a dialog – a dialog between two writers inside me, the creative-writer-person and the organizing-writer-person. You could call these two personas many names, including the child and the ego, the muse and the author, or even the “right brain” and the “left brain.” I called them “Writer A” and “Writer B” (there’s the engineer in me). The dialog went something like this:
A (organizing-writer/author). I just want to say that you’ve been doing amazing work. All these years. I’m sorry I haven’t recognized it like I should have.
B (creative-writer/muse). Yeah. All I hear is, write more! What’s wrong with you, why don’t you write something brilliant today. It bugs me.
A. I can see that. You have done such fresh interesting pieces, like that “Small Infernos” story. It’s really fun to read.
B. It is good, isn’t it. I’m not sure I want to keep writing, though.
A. Well, I know, it’s discouraging, isn’t it.
B. It seems like I write something really cool, and then the next thing is just awful. Boring. Trite. I really hate that.
A. Yeah, I know what you mean. Just so you know, I’m not going to put any pressure on you. Is there anything you’d like to work on today?
B. Hmm. All right. Maybe . . .
What surprised me in this dialog was how different the two voices were. I mean, that creative-writer-person voice (“Writer B”) was resentful that it hadn’t been recognized, and it wasn’t sure it wanted to even keep trying. Just like a child. But it was also engaging with the other voice, the organizing-writer-person (“Writer A”). It was expressing what it wanted. It was giving the organizing-writer-person a chance to support its efforts.
For the next few months I started my daily writing practice with a dialog between A and B. As time went on, the dialog started to shift. It became more balanced. Writer B’s voice became less petulant. At one point Writer B started to ask Writer A to do little tasks, such as researching a certain topic, or gathering pages from earlier writing so that Writer B could keep writing.
The dialog between A and B – the integration of these two different writer voices – has had a profound impact on my creative process. I wouldn’t say that everything I write is brilliant, not in the least. But I have the courage to keep writing. Hearing from both voices of the writer within me has helped me to count on my own creativity in a new way.
Sit down with your writer voices. Ask them who they are, what they’d like to work on. Listen to their fears. Encourage them! Invite them to create.
You may be amazed by what they tell you.
Nelson, Victoria. On Writer’s Block: A New Approach to Creativity. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1993. Print.
Theresa J. Barker was born in Tucson, Arizona, and she has lived in Seattle for most of her life. She loves the mountains. She writes science fiction and poetry, and she earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College in 2015. She is a co-curator of Two Hour Transport, a monthly series of reading events featuring new voices in science fiction and fantasy in Seattle. She has just launched Interviews | Writers | Quotes, a blog featuring interviews with writers and artists. She has three children and three cats, all of whom live imaginative and independent lives, to her great delight. Theresa is also a mathematician with a Ph.D. in Engineering, and she is studying piano jazz.