Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Writer's Block

Around the same time I was commissioned to write a feature on the East London food scene for a travel magazine, I suffered my first real case of "writer's block". Prolonged periods of reading too many blog posts and Instagram captions, leaving inane comments like, "Stunning, babe!" "Looks so cute, love!" (I mean, there's only so much you can say about a frill-sleeve), left me paralyzed by the fear that I was incapable of writing anything of substance.

At all.

When I thought about how to describe a plate of food, for example, or a restaurant's decor, the only adjectives I could call to mind were, 'amazing', 'stunning' or (the worst yet) 'chic'. That's it.

As the magazine's deadline loomed over me, I became desperate, snatching the most recent issue of Conde Nast Traveller and analyzing every single adjective used by the writers to describe dishes, restaurants, and hotels. So desperate, I remember stealing a copy of the Easyjet in-flight magazine from the seat pocket on our flight over to Reykjavik and flipping to the food section, reading - no, memorizing - the articles' choice of words; the pace, the flow.

And the whole time, this vicious voice sneered in my mind: "You're not a journalist. You're not a writer. You don't count. Do you have a journalism degree? I didn't think so. These people are trained. They're professionals. They know what they're doing. You don't."

I stared at the profiles of the Conde Nast Traveller contributors in bed, wondering what their CVs were like, half-ready to pounce on LinkedIn to stalk details of their formal training and experience. 'A Conde Nast staffer for years, Francesca now writes for ...' read one bio, showing a portrait of a beautiful woman with windswept, black hair smiling ruefully into the distance as if to say, "Oh, look at me. Just here. You know, a travel writer. Doing that thing I love. Jetting off to far-flung locations on the company's dime and being a generally crafty wordsmith."

The Sunday before the first draft was due, I'd managed writing a few feeble sentences before collapsing in a dramatic heap at the top of our stairs and FaceTimed my dad, who - over the years - has become somewhat of a beacon in a creative crisis like this (actually, it depends. Sometimes, he'll listen and consider my panicked rant before staring directly at me through his camera phone lens to say, in a very firm tone, "You're screwed." Which is never helpful, really).

"Daaaad," I pleaded. "You must experience this too, right? As an architect? Have you ever had a client ask you for something that you couldn't deliver because you were so mentally ... blocked?" I told him about the mean voice in my head - the one that said I was kidding myself if I thought I could write this piece.

My sage, non-word-mincing dad mopped up his egg with a piece of toast and said, "Yeah. You're just overthinking things. They chose you, right? They wouldn't have chosen you if they didn't think you were capable of doing it."

And with that, I felt a little better, closing the FaceTime portal between us, and sitting down to write again. On Monday morning, I emailed the article over to the editor. I dreaded her feedback, which I received late Wednesday evening, due to the time difference. When I opened the draft with her comments and annotations, I drew a sharp breath. Nearly every paragraph required revisions. But once I got over my initial shock, I realized that I'd simply been too conservative in my descriptions, and that I needed to provide more detail in each instance.

Suddenly, I realized that what the editor had given me was gold. I could use this as a learning experience. I could see what my writing lacked, and rectify it. For the first time, I felt inspired by constructive criticism, rather than let down.

My second draft returned a more positive response, which buoyed my confidence.

I guess what I'm trying to say that it's hard working alone in a creative role, sometimes. Unlike working in an office, there's no one to immediately bounce ideas of off, or receive feedback from (thankfully, I've got John to read through my article drafts to make sure the language isn't too flowery or, the opposite - too staid). It can often feel very lonely.

But it's exciting too. I've always wanted to write. More importantly, I've always wanted to be a better writer.

Maybe it's time to start learning how - beginning with this article.

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