Writing about writing

Here’s how I used to write in college:

Whenever I had a story due for workshop, I’d hole up in the library for an entire weekend. I’d leave to eat and sleep and stuff like that, but mostly I’d just stay there. Some of my favorite college memories took place in an empty library on Friday and Saturday nights (when everyone else was out partying) or on Saturday or Sunday mornings (when everyone else was hungover). Clearly I was a crazy party animal; like, tone it down, college Kerry! Don’t be so buck wild.

I liked sitting in one specific cubby because it was the one of the few where passersby couldn’t easily see what you were writing, and I’ve always hated writing where people can see me. One of my brothers, as a baby, used to hide behind the couch when he pooped, and I’ve always thought of writing kind of like that. It’s a gross process and I need to hide behind a metaphorical couch to do it. In this particular cubby, someone had scratched the words “WHEN I SAT HERE I TOUCHED MYSELF.” I ignored that and tried not to think about some strange college bro’s penis. I was mostly successful.

I’ve always been a slow writer, and my writing process has always been “Start writing one thing, write it for several hours to a day to a week before realizing what you’re ACTUALLY supposed to be writing and then write that quickly.” It’s not an efficient way to write, but it’s my ~*~style~*~ and I can’t change it, try as I might. This means I have a lot of frustrated break time and I often feel like giving up and/or reading something. So that’s what I’d do. I’d write a bit, go find a short story collection or a literary magazine and read a story, go write some more, read another story, repeat, repeat, repeat.

I loved the weekend I spent writing a story for my junior year creative writing workshop while reading every single Miranda July story at the library. This was before her short story collection came out, so her stories were spread out across various journals. I read every story the library had while trying to work out a story about how lonely and sad and directionless I felt. It came out as a story about a girl who worked for a phone sex hotline, and I don’t think I would’ve had the courage to write it if I wasn’t reading Miranda July’s fearless, weird stories about strange women and their strange desires. The story wasn’t really about anything I knew, but the feelings were, the feeling voiceless and small. It felt good to get that out, and it felt like she was holding my hand the whole time and telling me I could do it.

That’s how I wrote everything–with the whole library full of writers cheering me on and giving me hope. I could’ve written stories at my weird, raccoon-infested apartment, but it wouldn’t have been the same.

I don’t write at the library much anymore, but my writing style is still the same. I still read while I write, just hoping the writer will help me keep my head above water while I’m confused and lost and doubting myself. Even if the story or book is nothing like what I’m writing, it helps to see that other people are doing it, too. I might feel like I’m all alone, but I’m not. Not at all.

3 Responses to “Writing about writing”

  1. Tim

    I’ve found that I’m always a bit hesitant to read while I write, for fear of whatever I’m reading invading my subconscious and change how I’m writing. That said, I’m with you in the needing to find somewhere quiet to write whenever I really need to focus. While I can write with distractions around, I certainly don’t do my best or most creative work unless there’s quiet.

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  2. Amanda

    Thank you for this post, now *I* don’t feel so alone!
    I also tend to write more slowly and have my own writing process that probably isn’t the best, but it’s my own approach that I think works out well in the end. I’ve been beating myself up about not being able to produce stories faster and not finishing the first blog post for my new website (which I just completed last week) that’s supposed to demonstrate my writing and help draw people and business my way… but I realize that beating myself up won’t help the situation any and that it’s okay if my process is a little slower, especially if it results in producing something better and allows me to showcase my voice.
    It’s important to remember that everyone has struggles, and while those struggles may be different from your own, you are definitely not alone. Thanks again :)

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  3. sn

    This was very heartening to read. I choose the same method of writing, hiding behind a “metaphorical couch.” My couch is typically a bag of dorritos I chow down on too fast and end up dusting nacho cheese on my keyboard. I am ashamed as I should be, don’t worry.

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