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Reader’s block and writer’s block

My back was feeling quite a bit better today so I took a half-price bus to work. (What’s up with the bus fares anyway? Some days it’s free, some days it’s half price, some days City Council votes to vote again tomorrow on whether or not to change their minds again. It’s confusing.)

The highlight of my workday was when Louise showed up at my cubicle with another box from for me. Books! I’ve been on a bit of a book-buying binge lately. One might think this would also mean I’ve been on a bit of a book reading binge, but one would be mistaken. For some reason, I’m spending a lot of time reading book reviews, perusing book lists compiled by other customers, and moving books between my wish list and my shopping cart, but remarkably little time actually reading books.

When I push the “Order” button I feel both excited and guilty. Excited because Books Are Coming! Guilty because I don’t really need any more books; I’ve got lots of books sitting around waiting to be read. But, I tell myself, books are inexpensive and taxes are light on books and there’s no shipping charges if you spend $39 or more, and sometimes books can change your life.

And therein lies the crux of the matter. I’m on a book-buying binge because Something needs Changing.

The nice thing about expressing your repressed needs through compulsive book buying is that you don’t need a psychiatrist – or even any special insight – to figure out what’s bugging you. You just look at your books. If they’re all about healing your relationships, then you might have a relationship problem. If they’re about managing your finances, maybe you have a financial problem. Etcetera.

So I’m looking at the 10 books I’ve bought in the past two weeks. Two were gifts, so they don’t count. Of the remaining eight, three were computer manuals (PHP/SQL, CSS and Mac OSX), one was an art book, two were about writing creative nonfiction, and two were works of creative nonfiction.

I think I bought the computer manuals because I want to put them under my pillow and absorb their contents through osmosis. God knows I don’t want to actually read them. (But I want to want to read them. You know what I mean?)

(Someday, instead of books, they’re going to sell knowledge modules that you plug into your brain, and then you’ll just download information directly into your brain and bypass all that struggling to actually learn stuff. It’s going to be such a boon for those of us whose attention spans have been fried by the Internet.)

There probably would have been more art books in this most recent delivery from Amazon except I’ve already bought most of the art books I want. I don’t know if I’m the only one who does this, but often when I feel like making art, I buy stuff instead. As a result, I have tons of art books and art supplies but hardly any art to show for it. I’m sure it’s not healthy and I keep vowing to stop, but you know how it is…just one more colour, one more brush, one more tool, one more book…

The rest of the books in the delivery are about writing. Honestly, I think my real problem is that there’s a book stuck inside of me somewhere and I don’t know anything about it. I’m supposed to write it, but I don’t know what it’s about or who’s in it or even if it’s fiction or non-fiction. I’ve been saying ever since I was in the first grade that I was going to be a writer when I grew up. (Actually, that’s not entirely true. For awhile I said I was going to be an engineer’s wife, but that’s because I confused the words ‘engineer’ and ‘millionaire.’ I think my plan was to write books while my millionaire husband entertained himself. I also, for a time, thought I’d marry a guitar-playing fireman, live in a bright yellow house, and have five children – Harry, Pansy, and the triplets, Timmy, Tammy and Tommy – who would busy themselves with all kinds of Enid Blyton adventures while I wrote books.)

Anyway. I think I’m hoping all these books about writing books will somehow dislodge the book that’s stuck inside of me, because I’m pretty sure I could write it if I just knew what it was about.

9 comments to Reader’s block and writer’s block

  • Gwyndolyn O'Shaughnessy

    “often when I feel like making art, I buy stuff instead.”

    Yes, i’ve noticed this too. Shopping sometimes fills in for creativity. I think there’s a bunch of things going on: shopping’s easy; you have to shop ANYway because you’ll be missing a vital piece of your project (eg, yarn). You get something new and you didn’t even have to make it yourself. Buying the materials has so much creative potential: it’s the rock at the top of the hill: all that kinetic energy is ready to roll!

    The scariest reason is that when you’re done shopping, you get a finished product that your Inner Critic doesn’t have to tear you down for. Once you begin the art, the Inner Critic says it’s not good enough, it’ll turn out horrid, you should’ve just bought it anyway (it would have been cheaper). Sigh. (Of course, after the shopping, you have to listen to your Inner Miser.)

    I think i’ll go do the Happy Dance for my finished, not-so-perfect socks again. :-)

  • Nat

    I’m the same way with books. I buy to fill the creative void. I have a large stack that I have yet to tackle and someone just sent me some recommendations…

    Amazon here I come. :)

  • Arden

    It’s a good thing you never had those triplets. They’d probably gang up and murder you for naming them such!

    I definitely buy way too many books, but 99% of them are fiction, of all different varieties. I suppose that means I just want to escape my life? Sounds apt.

    I have that problem with art supplies/craft supplies/etc. We have supplies for nearly every craft and art imaginable, many high quality things, but I never get around to working with them, partly because I like the skills. Knitting has been the first time I’ve been able to succesfully create something artistic, and mostly that’s because there’s very little actual art necessary for the basics of knitting (not to say knitting can’t be extremely artistic, but following patterns is a bit like colour by numbers, only more awesome!)

  • For me it was magicians. I always ended up getting the wrong part in school plays because I misheard when the teacher said “okay, now who wants to be musicians?”

    Also, I buy groceries obsessively, with the intention of cooking something interesting with them. I like being able to go to a grocery store after a day at work and finding things that I might want in the next few days, which I might be able to assemble into a meal, even though I’m usually grumbling and mumbling about how too big the store is and how I can never find the thing I want.

    At least with groceries, though, they don’t accumulate much. You either eat them or they go bad and you throw them out. For me it’s often the latter because I get home late most nights. 😛

  • Helloey. Barbara told me about your blog and I’ve been catching up a little. About this post, I soooooo understand.Listen, here’s a thought. To begin digging for the hidden book, how about looking at your award-winning posts? I think there’s a memoir in you. Don’t think book, think “piece” (I feel great relief in thinking “piece”). I came across this great memoir book (and you can borrow it from the library, eh). It’s great because it is focused on your experience and how to translate it into writing that works. With writing examples and guiding questions, too! Very down-to-earth. It’s by Sheila Bender. It’s called “Writing Personal Essays: How to Shape Your Life Experiences for the Page.” But don’t think essay, think “piece”!

  • I’m so happy I’m not the only one with this affliction!

    Gwyndolyn, your inner critic sounds much like mine, and I have an inner miser too.

    Nat, send me your book recommendations! 😉

    Arden, it sounds like you might have an inner critic too, one who’s telling you that knitting isn’t artistic. (For what it’s worth, my inner critic agrees with your inner critic, but only with respect to MY knitting.)

    RealGrouchy, I never even thought about this carrying over to food, but you’re right, it does. I feel so virtuous and ripe with potential when my fridge is full of food. But then I feel so guilty as it starts rotting almost immediately. I deal with it differently than you: I rarely fill up my fridge anymore. Just a bit here and a bit there. (Never quite enough to make a meal without going shopping first though…)

    Hi Marta, welcome to my blog, and thanks for the book recommendation. Personal essays fall nicely under the creative non-fiction umbrella. I’ll definitely check out that book, since I’m on a creative non-fiction roll. [heading back to now…]

  • XUP

    Are you familiar with Stanislavski’s quote: “Love the art in yourself rather than yourself in the art” The thing about creative stuff is that we all like to think of ourselves as writers or artists or musicians because it feels fulfilling and enriching and soul nourishing, etc., etc. In reality, it’s all hard work like everything else. Being creative requires hours and hours of being on your own, all by yourself, with whatever art you’re producing and just doing it day after day, week after week, month after month. Just like a job except there’s no guarantee of a pay cheque at the end of it. I’ve always envied those people who NEED to write or paint or compose. They can’t let a day go by without pounding out 30 pages or having a brush in their hands or sitting with their instrument for most of the day. They can’t not create. The moral of the story is: stop buying books and start writing one. Designate at least 4 hours of your day to sitting in front of your computer and writing the story you have inside you. That’s really the only way it’s going to be told.

  • Arden

    LOL. When I was about a year and half old, my nanny sprained her back, and mum (a uni prof) ended up holding a couple of classes in our living room (oh for the days when university classes were small enough to fit into one’s living room!), including a seminar class. I apparently sat through a seminar on Stanislavski and seemed to listen, and act interested in the seminar the whole time.

    I tend to find knitting can be both creative and non-creative depending on the precise details. (I.E. Knitting a pair of Fetchings is not particularly creative, as it’s both simple, and you’re following instructions to duplicate what someone’s already thought up. Yet somehow, I think knitting something with intense colourwork, lace, cabling, or shaping, even one that’s been written up in pattern form, is somehow creative, although still less so than designing your own pattern, or free-form knitting! Perhaps this is why I’m attempting inevitable suicide by complex lace shawl?)

    I have found my worst habit this last year has been spending more time browsing ravelry than knitting. I think it comes from that exact same mind-set! 😛

    But yes, I agree, you should just start writing. Don’t erase as soon as you’ve written it either (as is a habit of mine!) I think you’ve already started that process with the blog (I mean, there’s a reason you get awards for your posts!!!)

    Now if only I could take some of my own advice! 😉

  • grace

    I detect a theme in the last few posts . . . I think February has you down.

    I’m reading Malcolm Gadwell’s “Outliers”. He makes the same point as XUP that success in anything follows hours and hours of hard work. About 10,000 hours actually. And if February hasn’t depressed you, I now have.