Why am I blocked, Lord? What’s going on? I came here so full of hope and excited for what I thought you were leading me to, but now I’m feeling blocked from moving forward. Am I too busy? Is there too much in the way? Am I not listening, allowing distractions to close my ears? What can I do? Or should I simply wait?
I don’t know what to think…
I need to admit something. It’s been a while since I had a true blogging confession, but I’ve been convicted and I need to get something off my chest:
The reason I write is because I don’t know what to think about something until I write about it.
Yes, it’s true. I’m that sort of writer. I accept your pity. Or maybe I should say, I have been this kind of writer up until very recently when I realized it was my problem. It’s not a fun admission for me, not a mature problem to have. But I wonder if you’re a writer who shares this particular defect. Maybe you wonder what to do about it.
Honestly, I’m not sure I can tell you. We’ll see by the end here. And just so you know, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being a “scriboprocessor.” But eventually I had to face it: this motivation isn’t enough to make the struggle to write worthwhile. Multi-published authors may share this quirk, but they’ve built upon it, and thus acquired the requisite antibodies to fight off NGS—Navel-Gazing Syndrome. Don Miller talks about this very thing in A Million Miles. Good read if you haven’t yet.
But I thought about all this again when I came across Neil Genzlinger’s guidelines for memoir writers in NYT, “The Problem with Memoirs.”
Bitter medicine maybe. But prescriptive nonetheless. The comments here were helpful too.
It’s easy to dismiss the writers who write to figure themselves out and let them either grow through it or give up. Experienced folks know it’s simply par for the course. Eventually those who keep writing will move on to a more interesting motive like taking on inner city poverty or totalitarianism. There’s a maturing process required in choosing one’s grand cause. But the personal reasons for writing remain.
“Cogito ergo sum” is little more than a solipsistic platitude until it’s matched with a broken heart. Grand, you want to write, but do you also want to right the injustice, spread the gospel, and make life better for your fellow man? And how will you do that with the little story, the little life you have? After all is said and done, there’s a bigger reason to write that cures the self-focused writer of his need for proof and permission—and I think this is the next step I’m in right now.
I’ve mentioned it before, but in The Catcher in the Rye, Holden is told “the mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one.” Just beyond the urge to write for yourself, you’ll begin to hear a small voice. I already know that if you listen to it, it will grow and soon you’ll be able to make out what it’s saying. And the less you think while this is happening, the better. But keep writing. The better writing is just on the other side.
I still have to remind myself that thinking about myself while writing only doubles the effort of editing. The more I get outside myself, the more useful I become. And happier. I’ve found great power in speaking the mantra, “Not for self, but for others…” I breathe it in, I breathe it out. “…all for others, not for me.”
This doesn’t mean my own story isn’t important. Just the opposite, my story is given its importance by the selfless life I’m demonstrating. People are heard, seen, and they respond—they want to know my story. How did a painfully shy, sheltered, selfish kid from Podunktown get there? Stories only matter when the life that birthed them is real, humble and honest.
How easily we forget this.
I think the problem with memoirs is that we think we’re supposed to be what they’re about. They’re not really about ME at all. Really, they’re about everything besides. In the writing is denying yourself. In the editing, you’re serving the reader. And the living it out, you demonstrate by example that when you live, write, work, and fight for others, you do it for a higher purpose.
Maybe you’ve realized this too. I hope you have. I think this is the way. I think this is how the best memoirs, the best stories, reveal to writer and reader alike what to think.