A Guest Blog from Ellie Stewart
I had writer’s block for two years. I finished university and suddenly found myself faced with an open world I couldn’t navigate: I couldn’t see a future in it. This was brought on by many things – one was the delayed grieving for my mother who had died seven years before.
The block was, I think, not so much caused by the fact that I had nothing to write, but because I didn’t think what I had to say was remotely important. I was depressed because I thought I was worthless, and because I thought I was worthless, I felt all of my writing was terrible and of no consequence at all.
I would write dark little poems for myself alone, and showed my writing to no one. Whenever I tried to write anything ‘good’ (that is, not personal and not about what I was feeling) I was stumped. I’d sit in front of my computer for hours while my boyfriend drifted further and further away from me in another room, and I’d crunch out four or five insignificant lines.
I thought: what I really want to say is shameful. This is what distances me from other people, this is what makes me small and unloveable – these are the words I can never say.
It was actually in the darkest depths of this swamp that I found the power to write. It was summer, and my cat had set about on a murder spree of the mice that lived in the gardens along our street. For months she brought in these tiny, perfectly formed little creatures: sometimes still alive, often dead. It was deeply upsetting to see such wanton cruelty and such suffering, whilst at the same time realising that these animals were small and unimportant and, after all – this was life. One day I was looking at the dark little eyes and miniature feet of one of the mouse corpses left beside my bed and I suddenly saw the world with absolute clarity. Bleak – of course – not full of love: but it was my truth, and suddenly I didn’t feel ashamed.
And I wrote a snip of story about a mouse called Walter who decides one day that he wants to die. And then I wrote more stories about animals, and about death, and I started a blog. And from that day on I was able to write. I wrote and I wrote and I’ve got better and better since then.
What did I do? I wrote the truth. I wrote what I knew, what I wanted to say. I suddenly realised that I didn’t have to feel ashamed for writing stories that were sad, and bleak, and made people feel uncomfortable. This is a conviction that I have held ever since. I think it applies to everyone who is worried that their life story isn’t interesting, or that what they have to say isn’t important, or because they want to write about themselves that somehow makes them selfish. Everyone’s story is important, and deserves to be told – I believe that’s true.
Ernest Hemingway had some good advice on writing and the self-doubt that prevents its creation. ‘All you have to do is write one true sentence, ‘ he said. ‘Write the truest sentence that you know.’
And of the living souls, I recommend a speech made by the genius Charlie Kaufman (screenwriter of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Adaptation) for the BFI in 2011. He is an utterly endearing man: one struggling with self-doubt, who has a desperate desire for love and approval (like most of us), with honest and insightful things to say about the process of writing. His advice to the aspiring screenwriters who had gathered that evening was this:
‘What I have to offer is me, what you have to offer is you, and if you offer yourself with authenticity and generosity, I will be moved.’
So – write what you want to, write it true, but above all: write.
© Ellie Stewart 2013