It shouldn’t be hard for me to write. I have ideas all day every day, and now that I have to be awake in the night often (either nursing or lying awake imagining horrible things happening to my family), I have them at night too. Nevertheless, I have a huge block when it comes to writing. I love to write. I practically live to write. But I don’t do it.
When I was young, I wrote all of the time. I filled blank books with journals, stories, poems and even faux worksheets I created for younger playmates. When I was in 5th grade, I wrote a novel. It was typed up and published in the Crow Island Elementary School Library in Winnetka, Illinois. For all I know, it’s still there. It was called Comet the White Stallion and it was shameless rip-off of Walter Farley’s The Black Stallion, but imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and that’s how I wrote back then.
Shortly after the success of my first novel, I read Gone With the Wind for the first of many dozen times and that became my new style: Civil War romance epics. I wrote a book about a woman who starts her own cat breeding enterprise during the Civil War and makes a fortune, turning her into the most sought-after war widow in town. I was proud of this book. I spent most of my time thinking about it and adding to it. I knew nothing of story structure back then (conflict, resolution, denoument). I imagined scenes and conversations. My inner monologue as a child was in the 3rd person.
It was my turn to spend the weekend with my dad’s mom. The three of us sisters took turns, giving my parents a much needed break from 3 kids and my grandma a wonderful opportunity to spoil us. Turns out that, with me at least, Grandma wasn’t the "spoiling" kind. I don’t remember how or why I gave her my book to read, but I did. I turned it over happily before going to bed that night.
In the morning, my grandma pronounced it the worst thing she’d ever read. She even mocked my ideas. "Breeding CATS?" she cried, "Where the HELL did you come up with that idea?" and then she roared with laughter. Not the "with you" kind. The "AT you" kind. She also offered her critique that it was just a rip-off of Gone with the Wind, and that I needed to come up with something original. Finally, she told me the story of how she won an essay contest in high school and won $100 dollars during The Depression, which was A LOT OF MONEY BACK THEN.
My sisters, Grandma, and our dog. Obviously.
I think everything was a competition for my grandma. She used to tell me her red hair was prettier than mine. That I was going to be "small-busted" like my mother. That I had my mother’s ass (believe me, she did NOT mean that as a compliment). That my feet were wide while hers were narrow. She’d even whip off her shoe and show me the "N" for narrow next to the 9. She showed me the engagement ring her father had given her mother. "Try and put that on your fat finger," she’d say.
All of these put downs were things I heard every time I saw her. My grandma was like a video you watched over and over. There was no variety to her conversation. It was just 3 or 4 stories and then statements like the above. I know my grandma loved me. At least, I assume she did, but I never felt loved by her. Only criticized.
The most crippling of them all was her criticism of my writing. It made me afraid to show it to anyone. For years, I continued to keep journals, but I stopped writing creatively. I wrote one short story in college, entered it in a contest and was a top ten finalist. That gave me the courage to apply for a weekly columnist position. Which I got. I don’t think my grandma ever read any of my columns.
I know this because she never told me what crap they were.