I’ve been thinking lately about why it is I have not written fiction in so long. Let me back up. A year ago, I re-entered grad school and the critical writing I did took over the time I had for writing fiction. Then my novel was released and the work I did to promote it took over the time I had for writing fiction. Add on top of this mother, etc, and there was little time left over.
But then I finished my thesis and graduated and my book promotion ended and still I did not write. I tried. I wrote a few small things, but the thought of attaching myself to anything larger was overwhelming. I was out of the habit. I read, though. I never stopped doing that. But writing became something scary. In fact, I felt as though I might be acquiring a new phobia but this time of something I love: writing. So now I’m forcing myself to write every day while at the same time trying to unpack what has been stopping me from writing.
Right now I am reading A Moveable Feast, which is an unintentionally interesting time to read it given that there have been a spattering of perceived writer-on-writer nastinesses going on of late. In this book, Hemingway was both loving toward his fellow writers and utterly bitchy toward them (at his worst, he is horribly judgmental about their lifestyles and sexual lives). Mostly the latter and shockingly so, reminding me why I don’t like to read about writers’ lives.
At its best, A Moveable Feast inspires the writer in me when he speaks of his process and of how wonderful it feels when he is in the groove of his writing. Reading that has made me long for that feeling again.
But what is it that hurt me so to get me to this place of resistance to writing? Was it mental exhaustion after a taxing eight months? Or was it something more?
It was something more. And I know what it was. And I’m ashamed of what it was.
When Echolocation came out, I had steeled myself for negative reviews. I fully believed they would come because nothing in my life has ever come easily and I am used to the struggle. Instead, readers were incredibly generous in their feelings toward the books. Yes, there were some who felt the ending might have been different, but mostly they offered me praise. I was surprised and grateful that people felt about the book the way my editor, agent, and I felt about it. I was delighted.
But then something happened that left me unhinged. On May 12, a woman posted a one star on review on Goodreads and dismissed my work with but a few sentences of her own.
I did not react to her. I did not say anything. I made a joke about it on Facebook. I said that it showed that I had arrived. I really wanted to rise above this connection of words but over time I found I could not.
I visited her words almost every day until I let them live in me. I studied her face. She’s smiling but she looks mean. I examined the books she’s reviewed (noting that she’s one-starred the work of many writers I admire). The rational part of me said to let it go. She would never like what I am about and that is okay. But the child in me–the people pleaser–felt that I had failed and that her words validated every horrible thing I had ever thought of myself.
This reviewer was the exemplar of all that I expected. She was nastiness in the face of all of the love my book had received. She was the ugly voice inside my head that says you can’t really do this and you shouldn’t even try. The voice that says you are no one and never will be. The voice that says give up. The voice that says I don’t want to hear you.
She was that voice come to life. Before reading her words, I hadn’t know that that voice really did live in human form.
But now she has served her purpose and I am letting her go. I have learned from her. I have learned how to face this voice and not let it break me.
Now, right now, I’m pouring water on her and she is melting away.
I am here using my own voice and I am writing.
You cannot stop me.
I am the only one who can stop me.
I will not stop.