Its been almost over a year since I wrote anything for my own personal blog, and while almost every minute of not working on it, ever glance at the page whose archives seemed to shrink with time, was filled with a kind of bittersweet guilt, it was good.
It was the advice from my professor that made me stop everything. I was stuck. I was stuck worse than I had ever been before, and for the first time in my life I had no doubt in my mind that writer’s block was a real thing. I couldn’t simply “just write” because I felt as if I had nothing to say.
Writing is painful. Its a nihilistic approach to making life more explicable. Feeling called to write, feeling burdened and then unburdened simply from and by the stroke of a pen, but not being able to make a stroke at all, that is a pain far worse than I could imagine.
My professor told me to take a break from the story I was writing, the story I had told myself I was writing, when it was really just a painful, tear-filled rereading of words that didn’t feel like mine anymore.
I did take a break, and I wish I could say I did more with my break from writing than consuming television, films, and throwing myself head first into my work. But, I didn’t. I really didn’t read much, not for pleasure, at least. I watched shows I had seen a million times, but I watched things I had never seen, things I had never heard of.
And, I spent a lot of time working. I spent more time working than I did sleeping, and that was a first for me. My job has not required creative writing lately. It does sometimes, but not often.
I began to feel accustomed to the absence of words.
I began to think that the new creative environment I had found myself a part of could fulfill that nihilistic urge in my life. I began to forget that I am, in fact, a writer.
Perhaps, it would make me a better writer, and even then, a better person, to say that it was of my own accord that I pushed myself out of this rut, that I fought my way back to not only claiming my identity as a writer, but to actually want to write. But, it wasn’t me.
It was the combination of three things:
1. John Green published his first book in 7 years, and I read it.
2. “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” came out, and I saw it on opening night.
3. I applied to MFA programs.
Turtles All The Way Down is John Green’s latest novel, which I feel safe to say has been anxiously awaited my people everywhere. While I, as many do, have opinions about it, I will not be sharing them in great details, as this is not a book review. I did, however, like it. It’s not my favorite John Green novel, but it changed my relationship with my own writing.
For the past 7 years I’ve been writing about mental illness, and I had never seen another YA book that was from the point of view of that person with mental illness. It made me feel less alone. It started to remind me what it’s all about. I started to remember why I started.
I feel confident saying that Star Wars was my first favorite story. I remember my dad showing me the original films when I was young. It was long for someone with such a short attention span, but the second it was over, I remember thinking that I had just experienced something phenomenal.
The latest resurgence of Star Wars and therefore the Star Wars craze, has awoken that love within me. I’ve always loved Star Wars, but in forgetting myself, I have forgotten things that defined who I was so long ago.
I went to go see the film on opening day, and went to Disneyland that same weekend. I kept bringing up the film to my roommate, who is virtually unaware of most things Star Wars. I was going into great detail about the hero’s journey and the power in a narrative of the hero being submerged under water and coming up newly baptized, in a way, as the hero. It was something I had used in one of my novels and was one of my favorite scenes to write.
Even with her limited knowledge of Star Wars, she said something to me which struck me in a way I didn’t expect. She said, “I know I don’t know much, but I honestly believe Star Wars is the most creative and original story I’ve ever heard of.”
She asked me my opinion, and my mind was reeling with all of the stories I had ever heard, and I wanted to disagree, because I was sure I had a better example. But, even though I tried to, I couldn’t.
Stories are built on stories. If you looked up the inspiration of any book you loved, it would send you down an endless rabbit hole of novels and film and poems and tales of years gone by. You would never stop, because storytellers create storytellers, and its one of the purest cycles I’ve ever experienced.
(I could say so much more about Star Wars, specifically about villainy, but that will be another post).
I decided a few months back that I would pursue storytelling as a career. I knew that I was still in my slump, but I would force myself out of it, because I knew I wanted to be a writer, a storyteller. My break had provided me with that insight, even if I hadn’t broken through the wall yet to sit down and write.
Deep in research for MFA programs and what to expect from them as well as researching how to write a Statement of Purpose, I read some advice from one graduate advisor who was detailing what candidates that school was looking for. “Write the story only you could write.” That was their sentence describing the kind of candidate they wanted.
Even though it was just meant to be a direction to how to apply, to aid you in your chances of getting in, to me it was deeply inspiring, empowering.
Each and every one of us, writer or not, have a unique story to tell, because we are all built off of our unique experiences. I’m not the only person in the world who grew up loving Star Wars, wielding a blue plastic light saber, but I am perhaps the only person who did that while also reading Captain Underpants and watching The Marx Brothers’ “Duck Soup”.
We are each built up and around the stories that define us, whether they are the ones of the boy who lived, or the ones of our immigrant parents. There are thousands of stories within each and every one of us, and it is the desire to tell those combined stories in our own defined voice that makes some of us writers.
I realized that it is not the actual act of sitting down to write that makes me a writer, and therefore I didn’t give up what I felt defined me. I gave up the act to discover something deeper about myself that I didn’t realize, and maybe this will help you too.
Definitions are fluid. Rules are made to be broken. There is an exception to everything.
Writer, Actor, Artist, Doctor, Teacher. These are words we allow to define us. They are not solid, they are not the same from one to another. In a John Hughes, cheesy kind of way, we are all different within. It is these stories that help to define us. Not one word or one title, but hundreds of stories.