Writing on Writing

By Lilly Gelman

My friends call me a writer✍🏼. Since a pretty young age I have kept a consistent journal. As a writing minor I write countless papers every semester. I serve as an editor for two Yeshiva University publications. I fell into writing towards the end of my high school career because it came easy to me. English composition assignments and college application essays never presented a challenge. The ideas seemed planned out in class or outlined with a college guidance counselor, and putting them into words was no trouble at all. My teachers encouraged me to develop and fine-tune my writing, taking what started as a natural inclination and shaping it into a passion.

Teachers and professors from all academic fields endlessly stress the importance of acquiring an ability to relay an idea or instruction clearly through writing. Biology 🔬laboratory reports, Psychological experiment summaries, and critical literature analyses all require a similar skill of coherent expression through writing. I consider myself extremely lucky to have found an interest and a skill in writing. I fell into it because it came easy to me, but I developed an eagerness and enthusiasm for writing by working on and developing my ability and my creativity as a writer throughout the years.

Up until this year, my writing 🖋 practice as well as my spirited desire to constantly write, publish, and continue to improve has kept me motivated and productive. I have written countless articles in addition to my daily journal entries, and took pleasure in completing long papers for my Stern courses. Beginning this past fall, however, my journaling became more sporadic and writing turned into a tedious requirement for my classes and extracurriculars; an annoyance more than an accomplishment. Looking back, it appears that this faltering fervor and motivation partially stemmed from an over-busy schedule. Between my seven classes, two labs, and an internship, schoolwork overwhelmed me and my time, leaving minimal scheduled space for focused writing, but this was not the only reason. On the rare occasion when I would pencil in several hours for a paper or an article, my mind would go blank and my fingers would remain paralyzed above the keyboard. I could not put more than a few words down on a page before immediately erasing them and starting over.  

Over time I have developed a specific writing process. Sometimes I outline, and other times I do not. Sometimes I write my essays from introduction to conclusion in the correct order, and other times I write every paragraph individually before weaving them all together to develop a logical flow. Nonetheless, I always begin by envisioning the piece in my head like a painting. The words serve as the colors on an artist’s palette and my sentences act as the brush strokes coming together to depict a landscape, a portrait, or an abstract painting of a plain black square on a white canvas. When I begin writing an essay or an article, I can see entire sections, paragraphs, or even pages in my head. They are not fully written, but exist in mental fragments that act as a guide for the rest of my writing.

The writer’s block I experienced at the beginning of this year felt as if the paint on my palette had dried up, preventing me from beginning, or the bristles of the paint brushes had crumpled, leading to rough sentences. I feared I had lost my creative edge, or exhausted all of my possible article topics. What had happened to my ability and passion?

Maria Konnikova writes in The New Yorker 🗞about a psychological study, performed by Yale University psychologists Jerome Singer and Michael Barrios, examining the causes, effects, and solution to writer’s block — a term coined by psychiatrist Edmund Bergler in the 1940’s. The study showed that blocked writers usually suffered from some form of clinically definable unhappiness. Whether this negative emotion manifested itself in anxiety, stress, or depression, the unhappiness led to increased self-criticism, lack of motivation and excitement, and a feeling of helplessness. While creative exercises turned out helpful in removing the writer’s block, therapy and the solving of the deeper emotional issues causing the unhappiness proved to address the writer’s block by eliminating the deeper underlying issues.

Reading this slightly daunted me and caused me to stop evaluating my writing in a vacuum and look at it from within the wider narrative of my life experiences. I felt reinvigorated to begin a journey to discovery. Konnikova’s article resonated with me on many levels, even though I still cannot exactly pinpoint from where my underlying blockage is stemming . But knowing that my block need not be attributed to my writing ability has offered some relief. I am still a writer.


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