For some reason, I have a block against writing narrative. I was reminded of this when Litlove wrote in a comment on her blog something about being able to write anecdotes and reminiscences but not “proper storytelling.” I won’t speak for what Litlove can and can’t do (and everyone who reads her blog knows not to underestimate her!), but that rang true to me — I feel that while I might manage an anecdote, a short story or a novel I could never do.
I’m not sure why this is. I remember having to write stories in high school and not succeeding all that well. I clearly remember one teacher wanting to know why I had some extraneous detail in a story of mine — although I don’t remember the story itself. I remember a lot of anxiety about her comment. As a junior in high school, I worked on another story, this time turning to something science fiction-like, as I’d been reading in the genre recently, and it got some rather odd reactions from classmates. I have no idea what the final thing I turned in was. And that’s it for my story-writing career. I had to write a few poems in my senior year of high school (and read them out loud in front of the class!), and I remember my teacher approving of what I wrote, but somehow I knew it wasn’t that good. I was good at following meter, but not particularly imaginative.
So I’m not sure if it was a lack of early practice and encouragement that turned me off story writing, or if I’m just genuinely not good at it. These days, I find that if I try to think of a story idea, my mind is blank. If I wanted to get serious about it, I could probably try some freewriting or other idea-getting technique and maybe come up with something, but the thought fills me with such anxiety that, since no one is making me write fiction, I won’t try it. And I don’t mean to imply that I think this is a failing of mine; I’m just interested in why I’m this way.
I think early on I got this idea in my head that I’m not creative. To some extent I still believe that, but I’m more inclined to think that it’s not that I’m not creative, but that I don’t show my creativity in traditional ways. And I’m interested in trying to get past whatever block I have when it comes to creativity and to let the creativity I do have out a little bit. Having a blog is a great way to do that, I think.
If I were ever to write a novel, or if, in some bizarre hypothetical situation where I’m forced to write one, or I’d get a million dollars if only I’d write one, or some such scenario, I would have to write something like what Nicholson Baker writes. By that I mean it wouldn’t be traditional narrative. It would have to be some mix of story and essay, like Baker’s story of the man riding up the escalator, which is the entire novel’s plot, with the rest of it made up of the narrator’s meditations. Something about the arc of a story eludes me, and this is where Baker is so brilliant — he replaces the metaphorical story line with the literal line of the escalator climbing from one floor to another, freeing up the novel to wander elsewhere.
I did have more success at personal essay writing; I took an advanced writing class in college where we worked on an essay over the course of half a semester, and I remember enjoying the process and getting really enthusiastic reactions from my teacher and classmates. I wonder if I’m drawn to this genre because that’s the way my brain works, drawn to an essayistic kind of logic or vision, or because with the essay I don’t have bad memories of anxiety and failure. Maybe the freedom of the genre frees up my imagination in a way traditional fiction doesn’t.