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?

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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

bird-flying-from-cage
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!

 

 

 

 

Writers, resist!

Writers, resist!

Where there is power, there is resistance – Michael Foucault

Paraphrasing Oscar Wilde, writers can resist everything except those traits that make them so special and unique. Being a writer usually means knowing what impairs your stories and your writing life —after all, we’re very reflective people— and still, having to battle day in day out with such circumstances.

As writers, we have to learn to fight our limitations and to resist whatever gets between us and the stories we mean to tell.

Writers must resist their own minds
“The Thinker” – Mats Erikson

The writer’s mind

Our mind is our first, and maybe the most important, antagonist. From the outside, writers are perceived as a happy bunch, always ready to sit at their desks and let their imagination pour a rain of characters, situations, settings and scenes with almost no effort on our part. The reality, however, isn’t so pretty:

  • We compare ourselves to other writers –past or present–, or to our colleagues –who obviously write better than we do… and publish much more.
  • We procrastinate to no end. In fact, we’re the original procrastinators. We say we love writing, but we’d rather do the laundry, or take our mother in law out to lunch than finishing that damned story.
  • We can spend hours talking about a novel that’s only in our heads, without ever writing a word because telling everybody how fabulous the story is, saps our creative energy.
  • And we can even stop writing altogether. Driven by our fears, we decide we’ll never be good enough and we start looking for a decent, nine to five job.

 

Resist the urge to commit writing sins
Even Julio Cortázar had to battle with some “writing demons”. So do we.

When writing…

Even if we’re the champion of self-confidence, we’re sure that we’ll be awarded the next Nobel Prize in Literature (in ten years or so, because we’re optimistic but not stupid) and we possess that kind of iron willpower that has us up and writing at 6.00 sharp every morning:

  • We start writing without a plan, so we get lost; we have to start all over again…only to get lost for a second time before deciding that planning isn’t for losers after all.
  • We over research. We might not be writing a word yet, but we’re working like crazy gathering data. We are bookworms, sure, but are we writers?
  • We stop writing to pursue a competing idea. As writers, our eyes and ears are always open, and our mind is always active. So much that we get carried away by any new idea that crosses our path, even if it has nothing to do with the story we’re writing. So we end up having scores of notebooks but no book.
  • We overwrite. A simple, straightforward style looks so, well, simple, that we cram our stories with unnecessary adjectives and adverbs, or we use an obscure language trying to look intellectual.
  • We create loaded characters, extreme, suffering, agonizing, over-the-top types because what’s the point of writing about ordinary people in an ordinary style? As a result, our readers get tired of that unbelievable people, or we cause them a headache!
  • We edit on the go. Everyone’s favorite. I haven’t yet met a writer who hasn’t edited a paragraph or two before finishing the story, the novel or the article. However, early editing can only spoil a good page by overwriting it or –if it isn’t good enough– it’ll make us lose momentum, concentration, and inspiration by going over the same lines, again and again trying to polish them.

Yes, we’re writers and because we write we can all commit a couple of “writing sins” once in a while. The idea is to try and resist the impulse of doing so. We’re human, after all.

 

Writing Time, Sacred Time

Writing Time, Sacred Time

Art class was like a religious ceremony for me. […] The instruments of work were sacred objects to me.  Joan Miró

Wherever two writers meet, the time –or rather, the lack of it–arises. “I could write much, much more if only I weren’t so busy” –says June, the Day Job Juggler. “Oh, sure”, says Peter, the Perpetual Procrastinator. “The only thing I really need to finish my novel is more time”.

Time is the enemy to be defeated; the barrier between us and our stories.Time is a woolly ball inside our creative pipes that prevent our best ideas from flowing freely. For most writers, time is nearly everything but sacred.

People have lost their sense of what’s sacred. For most of us life is a chain of similar days, none of them particularly memorable. Without rituals, without ceremonies, it’s no wonder that time seems to us a swarm of identical moments, all flying by. It’s no wonder that life –and creative life in particular– seems so meaningless sometimes.

Writers have to learn to think about their writing time as sacred, as a time to be honoured and separated from the rest of their everyday tasks and worries. Going to our studies and opening our laptops shouldn’t feel like another line in our daily planners to be erased as soon as it’s completed, it shouldn’t feel like “Oh, dear, writing time again. Just right now that I have all this receipts to check, and I really need to take the kid to the park because he’s driving me crazy, and shouldn’t I phone aunt Peggy to check how she’s coping with her new hip?”

When we trivialize our writing time and it’s not sacred anymore, writing loses its meaning and becomes something we do, instead of being something we love to do, a beacon that bathes our ordinary days in creative light.

Sacred writing time
Sacred writing time lights your ordinary days up

Create a ritual

A writing ritual, one that suits your personality, will help you throughout your creative life. When ideas are flowing, and you’re in the zone, your ritual will fuel you; when your Muse refuses to visit, and writer’s block is looming over you, your ritual will reassure you. Only make sure that you feel comfortable with your practice. My writing ritual includes vanilla scented candles, binaural music (which is said to boost creativity) and sitting at my desk at the same time, every day. For you, it might consist on running 5 miles, doing yoga, drinking black coffee or handwriting your first draft on a yellow legal paper. Whatever it works for you, do it!

Make time

The famous creativity coach, Dr. Eric Maisel says that people who want to create, make time. If you really want to write that novel, that poem, that story you’ll find the time. Maybe you don’t have three spare hours every day, but I’m sure you have 30 minutes right before lunchtime, or once your kids are safely in bed. I’ve been writing all my adult life and I’ve discovered that one hour a day is my minimum to feel like I’m moving forward with my writing projects while managing my business and my private life at the same time. All I have to do is blocking that hour (from 6.00 to 7.00 a.m.) every day in my calendar. After 7.00 I move on to other tasks, but I still feel I’m a writer.

We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. 

Martin Luther King Jr.

 

 

A Marathon of Words

A Marathon of Words

We are different, in essence, from other men. If you want to win something, run 100 metres. If you want to experience something, run a marathon. (Emile Zatopek)

5.30 a. m. My alarm clock goes off. It’s dark and cold outside and my bed has never felt so warm and cosy. I stretch my arm outside the duvet —gosh, it’s really cold—and reach for the alarm clock. 5.40 already. Now, I’ve got this marathon to run so I really should be up by now.

I finally manage to get myself out of the comforting embrace of my bed. Sitting on it, I look for my gear: a pair of sweatpants, a warm sweatshirt —not matching, of course. I am still fashion conscious—. Now, where have I put those darned…fluffy slippers? Yeah! Have you second-guessed that I am a runner? No way! The only time I ever run is to catch the bus!

I am taking part in a marathon, though. Only mine isn’t about kilometres, hamstring cramps and sore feet. It’s about thousands of words, hand cramps and, once in a while, a faltering self-confidence. I am not a runner. I am a writer.

For me, as for most writers, writing can feel like running the longest, most demanding run ever. As if we were athletes, we have to be committed to our intention to write, visualize our finished stories, show up every day, train hard, cheer up ourselves (and, sometimes, other fellow writers who really need some rah-rah to keep going), fall, get up again, and give everything we have for the sake of getting our stories out of our heads and onto the paper.

Writing, as running, has its ups and downs. Sometimes, discipline wavers, and we don’t feel like working. Some days our writing sucks, our mental muscles ache, we’re not in the zone, and we have to battle with words and ideas. We’re tempted to call it a day, and go watching some gossip TV programme.

Write as if you were a marathon runner
“Writing is its own reward” – Henry Miller

But, just as it is for runners, there’s a huge reward waiting for the writer who perseveres. When you outline your book, keep your writing schedule, sit at your desk every day and honour the gift you’ve been given, that of being able to use words to bring ideas, people and entire worlds to life you feel like a super hero, you rise above those who don’t write. It’s this simple, this magically empowering.

In his book Born to Run, Christopher McDougall writes about human beings being natural runners, and while I’m not sure I’ve been born to run, I’m sure there are people who’ve been born to write: those who feel the itching of a story wanting to be told, those who get lost in their worlds of words, losing track of time, those who keep on writing when it’s bliss and when it’s hell.

To such people, I can only say, keep on writing. Not all your writing days will be perfect, but all of them will be worthy. Running this marathon of words is worthy.