Scars: When Writing Hurts


When writing hurts
Writing: pleasure and pain

Therapeutic writing has been part of my “mental health” routine for a long time, as it is for many other writers. I have written about my soul scars, healed an unhealed: about my less-than-perfect relationship with my late father, about my perfectionism and the myriad of unfinished novels and stories that are languishing in files and notebooks in my office, about my sugar cravings and about those days when all I want to do is lie in bed, reading Terry Pratchett’s novels because the world outside is ugly.

I write every day: a few lines or a whole chapter. I’ve been doing it since I was a young girl so I’ve had time enough to reflect on the act of writing. As far as I can tell from my own experience and that of other fellow writers, writing can be:

  • necessity: something we cannot stop doing; separated from our notebooks and word processors, we suffer. We’re addicted to words because they let us say what our mouths won’t say.
  • An outlet: we write because it’s liberating. There’s something in the mind-eye-hand coordination that writers find relaxing as if all the tensions and nasty experiences could evaporate once our thoughts are on paper (or on the screen).
  • job: but not in the sense of “what a fabulous job I have: I am a writer!”—although this also happens. It’s more like “I can’t believe I accepted writing 2000 words on the sexual life of the rhinoceros beetle. I hate insects!” Writing, then, feels like a chore, like a punishment. We even forget those days when we’re flowing and flying with the words.
  • As a stressful, anxiety-provoking activity: this happens when we dig deep down into those sensitive areas of our life, those past experiences we have swept under our psychological carpet. Such introspection is usually part of therapeutic writing: you’re asked to unearth an uncomfortable episode from your past suddenly realizing that it hurts much more than you expected. It hurts like crazy.

I had such feeling a couple of weeks ago. I was writing about my tendency to procrastinate —something I’m not proud about but which isn’t a big worry, either. As words and lines went on, I realized that in fact, I was writing about opportunities lost, about being a failure, and a lazybones, too old now to reach my goals. The next minute, I had this choking feeling in my throat, as if I were about to cry.

TLC for writers
Love yourself. Love the writer in you

Sometimes, taking it all out into the light is not a good idea. What shall we do when writing suddenly feels like picking a scab?

  • Stop writing: Obvious, isn’t it? But you’d be surprised to know how many writers just can’t leave a paragraph unfinished. When it hurts, please stop. You can always come back to it later.
  • Change scenario: Leave the room; leave your studio or wherever you’re writing. Go take a walk around the block or get yourself a chilled beer. Just being in a different place will soothe your emotions.
  • Move your body: What I did was putting on my training gear and hitting the gym. A sweaty Zumba class can clear up your head and help you get rid of your gloominess.
  • Cry your sadness away: crying can be really liberating and a very good way of letting all that emotional pressure off your soul. A good cry is nothing to be ashamed of.
  • Write a short story on a different subject: children’s stories work best for me (there’s something truly optimistic about a talking frog or a stupid, little princess), but choose any subject you like. Sci-fi, maybe?

Once writing has become your major vice and greatest pleasure only death can stop it.

Ernest Hemingway

Remember that writing shouldn’t be an act of masochism: if dumping your feelings or memories on paper is making you unhappy, stop doing it. Little is gained by writing bitter words.

Have you ever felt uncomfortable or sad when writing? How do you cope when writing hurts?


Part-time writers

Part-time writers

Writing is hard work. But if you want to become a writer you will become one. Nothing will stop you.

Dorothy Day – Journalist & Social Activist

Most aspiring writers also have a full-time job, which means that writing is their full-time passion but their part-time job.

Ideal writing place
Photo: Gabriel Beaudry (Unsplash)

As enthusiastic writers, we’d all love to get up in the morning, do some yoga stretches (or go out for a run), brew a wonderful cup of coffee (or herbal tea) and sit at our desks in our light-bathed studio facing the beach (or a trendy street in New York or Paris), where we would produce page after page of great prose for three or four hours a day. Then we would go for a walk, spend the afternoon gathering tons of wonderful ideas for new novels or articles and read by the fireplace in the evening enjoying a glass of red wine.

The reality, however, is pretty different. We wake up in the wee hours of the morning, grab a mug of instant coffee and open our laptops praying for an idea, any idea to make writing time worthwhile. We spend the next eight hours working in a job we don’t like very much only to arrive home too tired to do any revision or rewriting at all. We might be passionate writers, but we’re not very happy.

I wonder why do we keep showing up in our day jobs at all.

I keep my day job because…

Dilbert by Scott Adams.
I believe Dilbert is an undercover writer.

There’re many reasons —some would call them excuses—to go to that energy-sapping workplace every day. Losing my financial independence worries me because it means that I’m not able to make a living as a writer. Others are afraid of failing to support their spouses and children or worry about what their family and friends would say if they quitted their day jobs to become full-time writers.

And then, there’s my all-time favorite: I keep on commuting to that ****job because I don’t believe in myself as a writer. After all those articles and posts and books edited and written, I still feel insecure about my writing skills, I still hesitate for a moment before pressing the “send” button. Then I press it and everything turns out all right but that second of doubt is hell.

A dose of reality

Fly from the cage…and have a tree nearby.

Dear newbie, amateur, enthusiastic writer, let me give you a dose of reality: writing is hard work, and it’s even harder when you are away from your laptop and your books for ten hours a day.

Am I telling you to resign and go home to write? No. Unless this is what you really want and you’ve analyzed all your options, it might be wise of you to stick to your crappy job and your even crappier boss for a while. Still, while you’re trying to become a full-time writer, you might very well make this transition easier:

  • Create a realistic writing routine: even half an hour a day will do if you show consistently.
  • Embrace a healthy lifestyle: eat well, sleep more, move around a little and don’t push yourself hard.
  • Accept your day job as a necessary evil: thanks to it you have food in the fridge and a roof over your books (you’re a writer —having a roof over your head is not so important).
  • Rest: take a day off your writing routine, take a sabbatical week, declare Saturday a non-laptop day. Go out and enjoy life.
  • Plan your day around your writing, not around your job. Writing comes first; then come pressing customers and demanding bosses.

You should be proud of every page written, every hour spent at your desk, every notebook full of ideas…because you’re doing it the hard way.

Do you have a zombie job? What are your reasons for not quitting? I’d love to hear from you!