The Blog Post I Couldn’t Write

The Blog Post I Couldn’t Write

My muse tried to tell me, but I wasn’t listening

I woke up this morning thinking about a conversation I had yesterday with two of my writing teachers.

They asked, “What are you working on?”

I said I’d been struggling with a blog post I’ve been trying to finish for a week. What ensued was a lopsided dialogue where they spoke directly to me in live stream video and I typed furiously in the chat box, trying to explain my issue.

In short, my issue is this: I had been posting daily articles that will be published on Amazon in October as a collection of personal essays.

My topic is racial justice and healing — specifically my stories and insights about how I’ve been conditioned as a White woman to see race. I’ve been working in this field for decades and have hundreds of stories to share. Some of them have already been published in the book my husband and I co-authored, but all the others have been bouncing around my brain for years, waiting impatiently to be written.

One of these stories is about how racism is like cancer.

This idea had been brewing for so long that it took on Big Meaning. Heft. Merit. Noteworthiness. It would surely be one of my most important pieces of writing ever.

Then three years ago, when I was diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer, the story became even more significant. Now I understood in a personal, concrete way how racism is like cancer. I dreamed up enough analogies, similes, parallels, and brilliant insights to fill a whole book. My Medium blog post would be a stunning contribution to the public discourse on race.

Instead, it somehow became an indicator of my racial awareness — or lack thereof. In other words, the story grew into a monster that scared the living sh*t out of me.

I gave it way too much Big Meaning. Every time I started to write it, I felt intimidated. I decided to save it for the end of the project, the final story in the series — the one that would wrap everything up.

When I could no longer put it off, I managed to come up with a title and subtitle. Then I began writing My Very Important Story.

But all my brilliant insights fell with a dull thud onto the page and sat there, sneering at me. Every word I wrote seemed either insipid or boring or just plain wrong.

The more I wrestled with it, the more my creativity shriveled. After an hour or so of thrashing about, I would close the document and go on with my life, only to repeat the same agonizing process the next day. Meanwhile, nothing was getting published.

Where was my muse?

She’s usually right there, pouring words into my brain. I guess she gave up on me because I’m so dim-witted.

Such was my state of mind yesterday morning after what should have been an hour of writing but instead was an hour of beating myself up and bullying my story. I was wiped out.

I wrote in the chat: “​I’m still busting my brain over this irritating blog post I’ve been trying to fix for a week.”

To which these insightful teachers responded with golden nuggets of wisdom:

  • Beware perfectionism! If that’s what’s happening, the best thing you can do is set a non-negotiable deadline.
  • Blog posts have a very very very short shelf life. The longer you keep trying to fix it, the more disappointed you’re going to be if you don’t get the reception you expect in return for the amount of time you’ve put into it.
  • The best way to promote your blog post is to keep moving forward.
  • When you sit on it and keep tweaking it, trying to get it right, it’s a disservice to your audience. They’re getting less from you while you are focusing on that one thing.
  • Sometimes good enough just needs to be good enough.

At this point, I jumped in and reminded them that I write about race, which is risky and requires my full attention. They agreed, then continued:

  • True, but this is your field and you’ve worked in it for years. Trust what you know and what you’re learning.

That’s when the fog cleared and I rolled up my wrestling mat.

I think I heard my story breathe a sigh of relief.

You see, normally I do trust myself — and my muse — to know if an idea is ready to be pulled from my brain and launched into the world, whether I’m speaking or writing.

So what happened this time? Oh, just my ego. My irritating, sneaky, ever-lurking, attention-seeking, pain-in-the-butt ego. That’s all.

It’s not that my muse had abandoned me; it’s that I wasn’t listening to her. She’d been trying to tell me something and I was so intent on writing my masterpiece blog post that I couldn’t hear her.

And here’s the thing about muses — they may be quiet, but they’re surprisingly good wrestlers. Once I stopped struggling, there she was, and there was no mistaking her message:

“This story is not yet ready to be written. Give it time and space to evolve. And for goodness’ sake, stop acting like a fool.” Love, Muse

What have I learned from this frustrating experience? You can’t beat a story into submission.

Also I have a new motto: If it doesn’t flow, let it go. Catchy, isn’t it?

My racism-is-like-cancer story has been turned loose to frolic in the pasture. I realize now that it was still too wild to be tamed. One of these days, when the time is right, it will be a good story — maybe not my best, but good enough.Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels

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