Bad Writer Stopped Writing

I’m not on strike. I’ve been reading Sylvia Plath‘s The Bell Jar, and the writing is so damned good, I get overwhelmed and feel such a waste. I dream of communicating what’s in the heart as she did, and she thought it wasn’t a very serious book (HA!). She haunts me. She’s not the only one.

I try to learn from her. Every sentence is perfect. Every sentence makes me laugh or makes me cry. Sometimes I read a sentence more than a dozen times just to soak it in. In the end, I feel such a waste, like a gold fish in a shark pond, but I retain this love of writing. I cycle like this. I long to create, realize I can’t, spend great amounts of time with great art, and then get tired of not participating and long to create again. I’ll be back soon. Maybe tomorrow. I don’t know.

When I was in music school, one day my composition professor and I were having one of our modernism discussions and he asked me, “Have you thought about doing something else?” To this day, I find that hilarious in the obscenely funny honesty, but I always remember it with distinct sadness whenever I don’t measure up. I know that no one could measure up to Plath; there was only one Plath, but I just want to be decent. Well, I am doing something else. I have a day job, and I’m pretty damned good at that! They like me; I color inside the lines.

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  1. #1 by Hudson Howl on July 25, 2011 - 10:42 pm

    This made me smile, I have a day job, which literally requires me to colour inside the lines. But a job is a job, even if we find it somewhat fulfilling at some level. Creating, questioning, rearranging the bits of we know and the bits we discover, that is what we do as creative individuals. Which we will do, till the brain and body says, enough already, give it a rest. I do it because I must, but don’t ask why.

    I like the way you think.

    • #2 by Carl on July 26, 2011 - 9:54 pm

      Yes, I love that compelling I must. I miss it today. I might just be needing a rest. Thank you for commenting.

  2. #3 by scribbla on July 26, 2011 - 3:46 am

    I could never write like the authors I admire most. It was a horrible realization to make. I am now on a quest to find my own voice. If I had only one word of advice, as cliched as it is, I’d say you have to have faith in yourself. When you have absolute faith in yourself, you will say what you need to say the way you need to say it.
    I’ve been following your work for a little while. I know that you have reached that point of absolute faith in yourself more than once. Keep going. Keep writing. Your voice is not Sylvia’s or anyone else’s. It’s yours, and unless you believe in what you’re writing, you cannot ask your audience to.

    • #4 by Carl on July 26, 2011 - 9:55 pm

      Your voice is fabulous. And you are right: Faith is a bottom line requirement.

  3. #5 by Kathy Boles-Turner on July 26, 2011 - 8:45 am

    Plath struggled with believing in her creative abilities as well, did she not? So many great writers reach a point of debilitating self-doubt — that makes me sad. While I cannot say that such a tangle of emotions and doubt will stop plaguing you, I would (and will) encourage you to look away from what you consider ‘perfection’ and look to your innate necessity to create … it is there for a reason.

    By the way, this is a beautifully expressive note of insight you’ve written here. Thank you for sharing and please accept my sympathies. My heart breaks for you.

    Now, get up dammit. Go write 🙂 🙂

    A Fan

    • #6 by Carl on July 26, 2011 - 9:58 pm

      You are inspirational, dammit! I have debilitating self doubt most of the time, but it’s getting better. Usually, writing helps alleviate that pain. Thank you for commenting.

  4. #7 by Kay Camden on July 26, 2011 - 9:34 am

    I’ve never read her but now I must check her out. When you finish The Bell Jar, read some bad fiction. It will make you feel like a writing god.

    And I have to say, your poetry is the only poetry I have ever found that has kept me coming back for more. I hope this doesn’t come off as patronizing. It’s simply the truth. I also love your essays and wish you’d write more of those. I envy your creativity and often wonder, “Where does this stuff come from?!”

    • #8 by Carl on July 26, 2011 - 10:00 pm

      Kay, your words are comforting. It’s funny that poets tell me I don’t do poetry, but that’s not bad when someone like you says that she comes back for more. I wasn’t trying to whine or look for compliments, but your words are soothing. Thank you.

  5. #9 by pattisj on July 26, 2011 - 9:40 am

    The successful people are the ones who didn’t quit, no matter how many times they got knocked down, they got up and did it again. Keep reading, keep writing–and your talent keeps growing.

    • #10 by Carl on July 26, 2011 - 10:02 pm

      Yes, Patti, Yes! I think I resist these periods and instead of giving up, I should see what else might be hanging around…Maybe a little bit of essay.

  6. #11 by Indigo Spider on July 26, 2011 - 1:03 pm

    Sylvia had doubts about her abilities and even she dealt with rejection. Don’t compare your writing to Sylvia, you will never be Sylvia, no one will ever be Sylvia but her. You have written poems and essays that have touched people, myself included, and you have your own unique voice. It comes down to the question, why write? Why do you write? Do you do it in hopes of being a best selling author, or because you want to write perfection like Sylvia, or because you feel compelled to write, to express, to play with words and create something that is your unique voice? Whatever your reasons may be, is it something you feel you can just give up, stop, throw away because it hasn’t achieved some vague notion of perfection? Perfection is a false ideal anyway. You may find Plath perfection and there are others who find it complete drivel.

    So, in my usual long-winded way, I’m saying, don’t use a writer you admire to beat yourself down. Instead, use her as an inspiration because you have something to offer despite your doubts.

    • #12 by Carl on July 26, 2011 - 10:10 pm

      Your words are so true. “Perfectly” true. I appreciate that. In the end, there is a compelling desire to create, and it’s not to create what Plath communicated but to be able to speak to another’s soul as deeply as she has to mine.

      Here is an example. It’s simple, but she says a million emotional waves to me with two sentences:

      “I liked looking on at other people in crucial situations. If there was a road accident or a street fight or a baby pickled in a laboratory jar for me to look at, I’d stop and look so hard I never forget it.”

      It’s magic to me…

  7. #13 by Carl on July 26, 2011 - 10:24 pm

    Okay, I had to look at the Saved Inspirations page, and I say to myself, why do you think you saved these anyway???

    “Not everybody thought they could be a dentist or an automobile mechanic but everybody knew they could be a writer.” ~~Charles Henry Bukowski

    “That’s why I read, as a stranger,/My being as if it were pages./Not knowing what will come/And forgetting what has passed,/I note in the margin of my reading/What I thought I felt./Rereading, I wonder: “Was that me?”/God knows, because he wrote it.” ~~Fernando Pessoa

    “Don’t bend; don’t water it down; don’t try to make it logical; don’t edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly.” ~~Franz Kafka

    “The world today doesn’t make sense, so why should I paint pictures that do?” ~~Pablo Picasso

    “In spite of language, in spite of intelligence and intuition and sympathy, one can never really communicate anything to anybody. The essential substance of every thought and feeling remains incommunicable, locked up in the impenetrable strong-room of the individual soul and body. Our life is a sentence of perpetual solitary confinement.” ~~Aldous Huxley


    “But sometimes when I was starting a new story and I could not get it going, I would sit in front of the fire and squeeze the peel of the little oranges into the edge of the flame and watch the sputter of blue that they made. I would stand and look over the roofs of Paris and think, ‘Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to write is one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.’”~~Ernest Hemingway

  8. #14 by Carl D'Agostino on July 27, 2011 - 6:07 pm

    “Have you thought of doing anything else?” is a standard rejection line I have received from submissions. Have you thought if other endeavors related to writing? Perhaps working in a paper mill or pencil factory.

    • #15 by Carl on July 27, 2011 - 8:49 pm

      I thought about paper recycling – How’s that for 21st Century?

  9. #16 by Indigo Spider on July 27, 2011 - 9:06 pm

    You said, “there is a compelling desire to create, and it’s not to create what Plath communicated but to be able to speak to another’s soul as deeply as she has to mine.” If it is any comfort, you have touched my soul deeply with some of your poems because they hit me in that place that can’t be described. I’ve said before that sometimes it feels like you are ‘in my head’ because you seem to capture many of my feelings and encapsulate them in your poetry. So, you have already achieved your desire with one small person 🙂

    • #17 by Carl on July 28, 2011 - 8:51 pm

      That’s a big deal! It’s not the number of people, it’s the quality, so I feel very lucky.

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