When the Right Words Don’t Come

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I can tell you right now what the biggest hinderance to my productivity (at least when it comes to writing) is.

No, it’s not my attention span, though that’s definitely what I complain about most loudly and most often (mainly because it’s so pervasive, even in other aspects of my life).

And it’s not lack of time either, though Lord knows I could use about three or four extra hours in my day just to get the basic neccessities taken care of.

No – even when I have the time to sit down, and I have the focus to brainstorm ideas and formulate imagery and characters and plot arcs, there’s still something that keeps me from actually commiting words to the page, and part of it involved being overly attached to my premises.

Whether it’s a poem or a short story, I tend to agonize over whatever my idea is; when I have an idea that I deem really good (which is not super often these days), I get tangibly excited, and ruminate (read: perseverate) on this idea for hours, days, weeks, building it up to the point where it becomes sacrosanct, and I’m afraid that if I actually try to write it, I will tarnish it in some way.

Suddenly, this idea that I came up with, that sprang from my mind, from my creative brain, is something that I, as a writer, do not feel equiped to handle; suddenly, I’m not good enough for it.  It is beyond my abilities to do it justice.

But, seeing that I also don’t trust anyone else to do it justice, I instead become fixated on writing it “right.”  On finding and committing only the “right” words to the page.

By this point, however, I’ve placed this idea on such a lofty pedestal that none of the words committed to paper feel right; none of them seem to really capture the depth and feeling and higher meaning of this idea. The paradox of being arrogant enough to consider any idea I generated to be such genius, and yet being self-depricating enough to feel wholly inadequate in my ability to translate that idea into the appropriate words, is exhausting.

And it is a surefire way to make sure that this “brilliant idea” never actually sees the light of day.

As I mentioned in my last post, my goals for this year include patience and perseverance, and above that, not conflating patience with procrastination.

It doesn’t mean waiting for the right words to come – the right words are the words that get it written. It means the quiet fortitude to work through my writer’s block and slog through the drudgery of a first draft. It means affording myself tenderness and compassion as I allow myself to write poetry and prose that feels stiff and stilted. It means not conflating constructive criticism with validation of my fears of not being good enough. It means allowing myself to rest when I’m genuinely running on empty, without feeling guilty, without presuming myself to be a failure.

It means making a repeated, conscious effort to remember that, yes, writing takes time, but the bulk of that time should be spent actually writing, not waiting for some sort of divine inspiration to guide my hand.

This is true for anyone reading this; anyone whose creativity is constantly at war with their self-doubt, and with the romanticized notion that art of any stripe springs forth fully formed.

Forget about the “right” words. The right words are the words that get your story told. They might feel wrong – it doesn’t matter. Put the “wrong” ones down. And then rewrite it. An rewrite it. And you will get closer and closer to the “right” words, every time.


Intro to Poetry, Day 4/10 (Day Six Prompt, and a Happy New Year)

Prompt:  Screen
Style Challenge:  Enjambment

Side-by-side, separated by this screen,
But still – seeing your face, mama,
The steam rising from your Taza chocolate
and fogging your glasses,
like Christmas frosted windows.

I want to tell you how I miss the snow,
Huddling under your Aztec blankets,
How the cracked clay of the desert
Reminds me of your hands, chapped and red
From too many years at the sink,
Or bathing a bawling baby.

I want to tell you how sometimes,
The sun stays up for days,
An unblinking beacon in the sky;
And when night falls, the darkness is
Like a cool drink,
The shadows a wading pool in which we dip our feet.
I want to tell you about the lights in the sky,
And the hum of the canyon that lulls me to sleep.

And mama, I want to tell you,
I have met a man,
and the city is his soul, I think;
His voice is moonlight in a desert canyon,
The stretch of shadows cast by streetlights,
And when he says “Good night,” a stillness sets
In my stuttering heart,
Like sand settling after a storm.
I carry that sand on my skin, mama, always;
And it has filled my heart and lungs and stomach;
And when I breathe, mama, sometimes
my ribs ache and my lungs burn,
Trying to contain it,
Trying to hold the vastness of this desert inside me.

Mama, I want to tell you how happy I am
That your reality and mine align again;
How time is a slipstream, how hours
and days and weeks
and months and years
are eddied away in a breath,
in a blink,
in a flurry of regrets and broken promises.

Side-by-side, separated by this screen,
We sit in silence.
You sip your chocolate from the same chipped cup
I gave to you on Mother’s Day
When I was ten years old.

I breathe, and the sand stutters in my lungs.
“Oh, Mama,”I say,
“I’ve missed you.”

Note about the Poem:  This was heavily, heavily inspired by Welcome to Night Vale.  If you are a fan, I’m certain you can see it; if you aren’t (first, you should be), then just take this as a fun little tidbit.

General Note:  Happy New Year!  I am back, post-holidays, rested and ready to actually be productive (wooo!)  I will be continuing and finishing out the Intro to Poetry prompts, because my over-arching goal for this year is patience and perseverance – I didn’t get Intro to Poetry done in ten days, but that doesn’t mean I can’t still get it done.  I’ll come out of it ten poems “richer” whether it takes me ten days or ten weeks to finish, but damn it, I’m going to finish.

Intro to Poetry, Day 2/10:  Friend (Day Two Switcheroo)

Note: This is the Day Three prompt and entry.  It just happened that I fell behind and finished this one first.

Prompt: Friend
Form Challenge:  Acrostic

Flitting hands, pale and delicate as a pair of doves, and
Reddened cheeks, glowing in the fading light:
I thought you were the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen,
Even then – even chapped-lipped and shivering,
No concern for yourself; only that I’d forgotten my coat.
Downy soft and fur-lined; I still remember the weight of your coat on my trembling
Shoulders as you helped me into it, despite my protests, despite your own shivering limbs,
How delighted you were with the way it fit me.
I may have fallen in love with you that night, shivering in the street lamps, and
Perhaps a thousand times, since then.

(Yes, it did turn into more of a love poem.  I still feel like it  matches my experiences of some friendships, though, so I’ll roll with it).

Intro to Poetry, Day 1/10: Water

Note:  Back in October of 2015, I participated in Writing 101: Intro to Poetry (on wht would become, but was not yet, this blog).  The way the class/challenge is run has changed, but I decided to sign up again (and will probably do so again in the new year) for inspiration and motivation to write.

Prompt:  Water
Form challenge: haiku

Like sweet ambrosia
Carelessly spilled by the gods
Fall the Spring’s first rains

I stand, mouth agape
Poised to catch on my parched tongue
Those first precious drops

That honeyed nectar
Drips so slowly on my tongue
Quenching endless thirst

Judging a Book by Its Cover (Literally)


I am awful at picking out books to read.

For probably about a year now, my husband and I have been making it a point to make weekly trips to the library, primarily for the benefit of my son.  We have a modest library of children’s books at home, and come through the children’s section of every thirft store, library sale, and used book store we come across to build a nice collection of stories for him, but let’s face it: books can be expensive.  And until he is able to articulate his literary preferences (and has an adequate history of reading to have even really developed any), basically every book we pick for him is a roll of the dice.  If we can give him a revolving door of literature that allows him to experience a variety of authors and topics without having to dole out cash on what can be a pretty big gamble, then why not?  When we find an author he loves, we make note of it and add some of their books to his shopping cart for Christmas or some other anytime “special” occasion.

Recently, I’ve considered my own reading habits, particularly how I choose the books I read, when thinking about our next trip to the library (tomorrow, as I write this).  Specifically, I was thinking about how I “never know” what I want to read when I head into the stacks, and as a result, almost always leave empty handed (“I don’t have my book list on me,” ”Pinterest/Goodreads/Librarything won’t load,” etc.)  Meanwhile, I dive blindly into the Children’s section and often surface with enough viable finds that I have to pare down my selections to a manageable six or seven.  Why the disparity?

I mean, of course there are obvious differences between the two of us.  I have a lifetime of exposure to literature, while for him, literally everything is fresh and new; I’ve had time to develop strong preferences for particular genres, particular authors, particular themes or subjects.  He’s still discovering what he likes or what he finds funny, or exciting, or interesting.  He is open to new experiences, and literally everything, to him, is new.

This is true.  It’s also completely ridiculous as an excuse.

If my “lifetime of exposure” to literature has left me with such strong, specific, and rigid “preferences” that I am literally stagnating, there’s a problem.

If I am incapable of curiosity beyond my developed interests, there’s a problem.

If I am so blindly devoted to certain genres and authors that I can’t find something worthwhile to read beyond their shelves, there’s a problem.

If I need to pull titles from a curated list, as though I need to have someone else tell me that a book is worth my time before I read it, there’s a problem.

There’s nothing wrong with preferences; nothing wrong with reading comfortable authors in familiar genres, and there is nothing wrong with keeping a list of books others have recommended because you may find them interesting.

But none of these things should be paralyzing.  None of these things should be making it harder for you to find something to read.

I’m going to try something over the next couple of months.  On our library trips, I am going to find at least two books on the new release shelf that I will choose using the same criteria I use to pick my son’s books:

  1. Interesting cover
  2. Interesting title

I know, doesn’t that sound refreshingly random and arbitrary?  It flies entirely in the face of how you are told to judge books!But it works for my son, because as I said, everything is new to him – I’ll sometimes choose a particular book because it has a special message I want to share, or teaches a lesson we’ve been working on or something, but really – if all we want to do, ultimately, is instill a love of words (and let him develop his own tastes), then there’s nothing wrong with random selection, is there?

And if I’ve gotten too stagnant and stuck in my ways when it comes to what books/author/subjects/genres I’ll read, then going in blindly and picking something by some arbitrary criteria should, at the very least, get me unstuck.

This week I’ve grabbed (based solely on title and cover) Hanna Who Fell from the Sky, by Christopher Meades and Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance, by Ruth Emmie Lang.

I will report back soon to see if this week’s gamble has paid off.

Write, Create, Procrastinate, Version 2.0

I started using this blog proper in December of last year.  I had considered starting a blog about a dozen times since I’d finally severed ties with LiveJournal in April of last year, but I knew if I was going to “move on” from LiveJournal, I couldn’t just switch platforms.  I wanted to write more with an audience in mind; I wanted to write more conscientiously and with a bit more purpose, without wholly abandoning the conversational tone I loved about LJ in its heyday.

But finding a voice, and finding a purpose was harder than refining my writing for consumption.  I’ve had formal schooling in writing for a variety of audiences, so while it had been a while, this was a well-tread path that had simply become overgrown from lack of use.  Writing with a definitive purpose, over a long period of time – well, that was uncharted territory.

I’ve not done a great job of it, admittedly.  Many entries have been only a step or two above “what I did today” LiveJournal posts, and so few of them were actually about art, or writing, or any of the other creative projects that I had intended to use as content fodder.  In addition, I had amassed the bulk of my followers during a NaNoWriMo 2016 Blog Hop under the pretense that I was a “writing blog,” though I don’t think I fully understood at the time what I even meant by that.

This blog is not about writing.  It has post about writing – writing might even be thought of as a recurring theme – but this blog is not about it.  I don’t post tips on being published, or on writing snappy dialogue, or on industry trends, or the pros and cons of small-press versus self-published.  This blog is not about writing.

It’s about me.

I wrote a post, now longer ago than I would like to admit, that addressed the (maybe taboo?) idea that I am ostensibly a writer on WordPress who does not want to be a writer (at least not professionally).  It’s taken me longer to realize that, honestly, I don’t want to be a blogger, either.  I just want to have a blog.

There are people who pour their hearts and souls into creating a “brand” for themselves, and marketing that brand to an audience.  They corner a niche and create content.  They utilize social media to network and gain popularity and (end game) monetize.

That’s awesome – I’m not going to criticize that.  That’s so, so cool, that that’s even an option now, than someone with a computer and enough ambition can make a name for themselves.  I’m not going to begrudge anyone that.

But maybe that’s not what I’m looking for.  Maybe I thought it’s what I should have been looking for.  Maybe I thought that’s all that was out here, outside my cozy little haven of LiveJournal, the quirky little community of people I literally grew up chatting and commiserating and BSing with.  Maybe I thought that once I left that little corner of the internet, there wasn’t anyone else out there looking for what I was looking for – glimpses into other people’s lives.  The mundane details.  The creative pieces they were proud of, sporadic and infrequent as they maybe.  Silly lists full of praise for pop cultural ephemera.  Interesting things they’d learned.  The venting of grievances, leading to a catharsis.

I want to post about my life.  Maybe that’s thoughts on writing – the process, the pain.  Maybe that’s the end product of said process – the stories and poems.

Maybe it’s anecdotes about my son.  Maybe it’s the hard-won lessons of parenting.

Maybe it’s gushing about how awesome Bob’s Burgers was last season .

Maybe it’s a guide to the greatest movies of my childhood, and where you can find them online (psst, YouTube is amazing).

Maybe I just want a space where I can write about me, again.

I started this blog in December of last year as an incentive to write more, then censored myself at every turn by telling myself that the things I wanted to write about – my daily life, my silly little loves (of which – hoo boy – there are many) were not in-line with the “brand” of blog I wanted to “market” this as.  As a result, I stagnated.

So I’m taking myself off the market.  I am brandless.  I am not here to sell myself.

I just want to make a connection.  I just want to talk.