My Persistent Problem

Submitted by Laura Seaberg (Junior Actress)
Gail Carson Levine, a children’s book author, once remarked that she had to do something boring and menial in order to get ideas for her stories.  Because of these words of wisdom, at age nine I began to feverishly chop vegetables for dinner every night in hopes of coming up with a mind-blowingly original story.  Despite my efforts, every night my budding sprouts of ideas wilted after a few words.  My one persistent memory from that period of my life is my thought that if only I were a little bit better, I might be able to write something good.  As I reread today the surviving pieces of writing from that epoch of my life, I still feel the pangs of embarrassment and shame that I did as I took the time to painstakingly create them.  From my fourth grade tribulations, I learned that the truly paralyzing part of writer’s block is not the lack of ideas.The persistent problem that lies within the greater entity of writer’s block is the crippling self-doubt that pertains to one’s own creations.

 Judging by the fact that ancient rhetoricians had to create a system for coming up with new ideas, the problem of not knowing what to write has affected humans for most of recorded history.  The most precarious and nerve-wracking part of creating, though, is not the formation ofan idea, but the miles of distance between a coherent idea and a coherent draft.  A student can fill notebooks full of brainstorming, racking his or her brain for hours, and still feel no closer to developing a workable essay.  A popular sentiment regarding a brainstorming session is, “I have lots of ideas, just not any good ones.”  The exquisitely textured world of concepts does not lend itself to the clunky mechanism of expression that we call language.  One may labor endlessly andnever find just the right way to say something.  And the struggle to formulate ideas does not discriminate against experience levelyoung schoolchildren and seasoned professors alike can both fall prey. In response to this commonplace problem comes a storm of ideas and methods aiming to break struggling writers out of the grip of writer’s block.  A simple Google search brings tens of thousands of websites aching to tell you just how to miraculously overcome a blank mind.However, each one comes with a tiny caveat at the end.  The writer of the website, after confidently detailing what needs to be done, will admit that “every person is different, and there

is no one tried-and-true solution.”  What happens after a writer tries everything and still cannot create?  While many examples of our culture celebrate the idea of the lightning bolt of inspiration, or even the hand of God, all of a sudden reaching in to spark creativity, few humans ever experience the phenomenon. In reality, creation is rarely a product of inspiration and is instead a desperate and uncertain product of necessity.  As a consequence of pursuing such afutile activity, writers are vulnerable to the notorious inner critic, or the little voice of doubt thatfinds fault in any choice one can ever make. The relatively low self-esteem of many authors exists in popular culture as the stereotypeof the writer as a moody, alcoholic recluse.  F. Scott Fitzgerald is said to have suffered so acutely
from writer’s block that he convinced himself that inspiration was like a well, slowly being used up and soon to disappear forever.  Indeed, the feeling of being incapable of translating thoughts to words can be an isolating and even a depressing one.  Humans have an instinct to express themselves, and it is because of the desire for self-expression that cultures today present such a wide array of literature, music, and other forms of art.  To be unable to express oneself, perhaps,feels like a failure to be human.  Even more than a personal failure, a creative road block introduces the horrible issue of impressing an audience.  Art is rarely created to be observed by only the maker, and the subjective nature of artistic creation begs for harsh judgment from renowned critics to average passersby alike.  It is no wonder that artists, and writers in particular,are prone to pessimistic mindsets and incur the stereotype of substance abusers. To this day I still feel the familiar, aching pressure of a blinking cursor on a blank page. However, the idea of an open-ended writing prompt no longer induces a state of mild panic in me, and I no longer assist with cooking in search of selfish, authorial gains.  I have come to believe that, as with all human qualities, the trick to overcoming self-doubt lies within a series of small skirmishes, as opposed to a large-scale battle.  One would not pretend to overcome a period of depression with an isolated happy thought, or break a habit after only a day of refraining from indulging it.  Mark Twain agrees: “The secret of getting ahead is getting started.The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.”  While advice of this type is easier said than done, resolving to take action in many cases counts as that crucial first step.  For me,writing is never a single challenge.  Writing is a system of smaller challenges that can be broken down and triumphed over, provided that I can allow myself to begin.