Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Writer's Workshop

I have been involved in a writer's workshop. We meet Tuesday nights, from 7 until past 10, and write and read our writing to each other. The leader of the group is a lifetime writer and teacher and she always has something good and intuitive to say about other's writing. I usually say nothing. I'm in the minority. I write and then read my writing and try to look interested. I take a tranquilizer, usually after the second writing exorcise so that the drug doesn't interfere with the quality of my writing. I don't have any problems with anxiety when I write, but when we are gathered as a group I suffer. I compare myself to other writers. I get dismissive. I get envious. In general, my wits are scattered and I'm lucky to be able to concentrate on whomever is reading their writing. It is best for everyone that I keep my mouth shut. Because what is going on in my head isn't pretty. Last night I realized that I feel like I am in competition with everyone else for best writer. I sit quietly, looking pretty, but on the inside I'm angry and driven and very isolated. How I wish I could just relax and enjoy the flavors of other people's minds.

We meet in a stain glass artist's home. It is eclectically decorated with many healthy plants and elegant, mis-matched furniture. They don't have much money but they have great taste. Interesting food is always provided at break time. Last night it was strawberry smoothies, watermelon slices, popcorn, and some kind of raw root with spices on it. I did not eat the root. It seemed too exotic. Next week we are meeting an hour earlier to share desserts and conversation. I am going to have to cook something. It will be our last workshop for the summer. The workshop begins again in the fall. I won't be going back.

Last night I gave the leader of the group, Jan, a ten page sample of my writing. She will correct it and offer both positive and negative criticism. It is a scene from my book. In the workshop all participants are under the obligation to only say positive things about one another's writing. But in the private submission the teacher will teach. I hope I learn something. I hope I'm not torn to shreds. I really tried my best. But I don't know what my best is. Deep down, my desire is to impress the teacher. I am prepared for my book not to succeed, but part of me naturally wishes very much for it to be a success.

I haven't been working that much lately on my book. I've had to go to Connecticut to help with my mother's rooming house once a week and do other sorts of obligations. Days that I have my writing workshop I don't write in the morning because I'm saving my creativity for the group. I can't afford exhausting myself creatively and then have nothing left. I must take my performances for this group pretty seriously. And then days that I have therapy I find that I am too wound up over therapy to write. My sessions anyway are usually scheduled for prime writing time. I have had the experience of exhausting myself writing and then arriving at my therapist's weak and sick with my mental illness. The illness always hits me hard after two or more hours of concentration. It feels nasty to try to match wits with the therapist when your brain is toothless. I like to arrive at my therapist's, like I arrive at the writer's workshop, in prime condition.

Recently I read Steven King's book "On Writing" and he emphasizes that he writes every day, no exceptions. I re-affirmed my commitment to writing after reading his book. My mother is coming home to Connecticut today, on a plane from California. My sister just had a little baby boy and my mother was there to help out. So now she can take care of her business. And the workshop ends next week. One of the ways I've been sneaking in writing is that I haven't been going to church. In fact, Sunday mornings my husband and I have been going swimming, and then I come home and write. Before we started swimming I would just write. Church is not as important to me as writing. And too, I like going swimming better than going to church. If I start having problems with depression then I will return to the church. But I'm afraid that I haven't formed any tight friendships there. I have genuine affection for some of the little old ladies who are bright in spirit. And these retired ladies are very kind to me. They understand that I'm a little different and a little fragile, but they make me feel really comfortable. The women my own age might smile at me, but we never have conversations. Part of this is my own fault, I don't know what to say to them. They are busy raising children, and most of them work. I just can't seem to make friends. I really am shy. Like my father. Under stress, I can make conversation just fine, but it takes effort. Conversation does not come naturally to me.

Tomorrow is the first day that I will return to the book in a while. I'm eager, but I'm not expecting too much. I have to become re-acquainted with the flow of the scene. It is the day after when I probably will be happiest with my writing. I see ahead of me five days of uninterrupted writing. It is a bounty of free time, and I'm so excited to see how far ahead I can push the story. Tonight I'm going to re-read my rough draft and get set in my mind the direction and territory I'm supposed to cover in this chapter.

Last night at the workshop two women declined to read their writing because what they had written was so personal, or painful, that they couldn't share it. I always force myself to read, even though, afterword I say to myself, "My God, what have you done?" I share the most private thoughts and experiences. I have no limits. All shame, all pain, all truth. Sometimes people laugh at what I've written. The laughter always surprises me. I don't try to be funny. Once, when I was in my early twenties, an older woman who read my writing said that I had "black humor". In this workshop they call it dry wit. I will admit, sometimes I poke fun at my husband. Or what is really funny is not what he does, but the relationship between us. I've been in the workshop before, but then I usually wrote about my father, now I notice that I write the most about my husband. I suppose this is a good transition. Living in the now instead of the past.

I do have the option of staying in this workshop when it starts again in September. I might need the comradery of artistic people. Some of the people are writing books, but none with the passion or commitment of my own writing. Last night Jan told us a story about a pupil who surpassed her. This woman was writing fiction in the workshops and Jan said she amazed everyone who listened to her. Eventually two major publishing houses got into a bidding war over her first novel and she sold it for a quarter of a million dollars. When she called Jan to tell her, Jan started crying with happiness. The way Jan told the story, it never entered her mind to be envious. Later, when Jan was preparing a book proposal of her own she asked this woman for her help.

I don't have anyone to help me write my book. I show no one (except my husband) my finished chapter's after I've written them. Once or twice I've read my therapist my writing, but he called me a diamond in the rough and I decided that I don't want to hear that. His daughter's a writer, just starting college, and he's over the moon over her. And he writes himself. He's working on a book of affirmations. I judge that what I'm writing about, mental illness, is too close to the field that my therapist's in. He isn't impartial. I don't even know if he's a good writer. Bottom line, I don't trust him. Maybe I should give him another chance. Maybe I should read to him what I've just submitted to Jan. It's a little bit of polished writing. But its subject matter is a staff person in a psychiatric hospital and I know that he's worked in a psychiatric hospital. My view point is very paranoid. He won't like a person in his line of work being bashed. This staff person turns out to be somewhat of a pervert.

I feel like I'm like King Midas. Except everything my mind touches turns to dirt instead of gold. My book is so dark I can't even explain it to people. Mental illness is hellish enough to make you want to kill yourself is the theme of my book. Nobody actually dies, but oh, they try.

After hearing Jan's story of a pupil's success I think that staying in the workshop might be good for me, even though I feel combative while I'm with other writers, and even though it takes up a chunk of my time. I could write mornings of the workshop, and then let the quality of my evening writing deteriorate. I think at least something would flow from my mind. Of course, the illness could be stronger than the creativity. I might not be in a position to amaze anymore. All that would be left would be a fellowship of writers, whose company, I would return to week after week. We are timed when we write, we have anywhere from 10 minutes to 35 minutes to write. I imagine sitting down and having an empty head. This is what I fear the most and it is not an unreasonable fear.

Do I have the courage, to fail in a writing exercise? To return to the workshop group after 20 minutes of writing with something that is not my best? Or to say, "I could think of nothing?" And just sit and listen to what other people have written? The time constraints pushes me to take some feature of my life and to write about it. I write from real life, all the time in group, and almost never fictionalize. It takes so much energy to invent, and inventing is not what come easiest to me. Revealing is what comes easiest. Telling what is true, and has really happened. I think because my book forces me to invent, I have a hard time during my morning sessions.

I don't feel like a creative person, no matter what I produce. And the fact that when I try to produce, I am able to produce doesn't quite impress me. I still don't feel like a creative person. Good God, Steven King is in his own little paradise when he writes! This keeps him coming back for more. I don't know what drives me. But it hurts to write. Except, perhaps, when I am in the flow. But I can only be in the flow for a short time, because of my mental illness.

There are grapes of goodness dangling over my head and I can't reach them.

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