The Writing Life. It’s Harder Than It Sounds.

I am awake. My husband has left for work. I am out of bed. I have made my first cup of tea. The familiar sounds of water boiling, tea bag bobbing, spoon clinking against cup, sugar dissolving.

The cup makes a thud as I place it on my desk and sit down. I flip my laptop open. A blank document pops up. I expand it to fill the screen.

I have shown up to work.

I take another sip of tea. Settle into my chair. Stare at the screen. The cursor is blinking. I can hear someone sweeping stray leaves outside my window.

An hour passes, and I have opened multiple windows on Chrome. I am deep in Internet hell – a dozen unread, half-read articles are open. I can’t stop. I keep clicking open link in new tab. I am on page 5 of my ‘how to write a novel’ Google search results. My mind is cluttered and in unrelenting motion. I turn back to the blank screen. I type a few words. They sound sloppy, clumsy, childish.

 I am a terrible writer. I am not a writer at all. I will never write anything of value. I will never write anything at all.

I can see now how a writer could go mad.

Writing-process

As a writer, you are not just sitting alone with your thoughts. You are sitting alone with your fears. When you spend long spells of time in silence, exploring the contents of your mind, you are bound to find unpleasant things. Doubts. Insecurities. Uncertainties.

And when you feel this way, happiness is only a click away. And there goes your writing day, down the rabbit hole of the infinite world of distraction, also known as the Internet.

You realise an hour has gone by and you have not written anything. You return to the blank document. You write. You can’t write. You click your way to happiness again.

You get the picture.

writing fear

Nonwriters likely think of writers are people who have ideas, and like to write. A reasonable assumption. Writers have ideas and like to write, so on any given writing day, a writer will spend time plucking out ideas from their minds and writing them down. That sounds easy, peaceful and fun.

If only.

Many a slip between the idea and the written word (let alone the printed word.) The problem is that writing involves a lot of time notwriting, which is frustrating because you should be writing. And not only that, but you should be writing fantastic stuff.

Writers dangle in the space between the idea/feeling/image, and the written word. That’s writing. That’s the writing life. And it’s hard. Between fear and distraction, writers who finish anything resembling a book are performing miracles.

As I scribbled the beginnings of this piece in my notebook, a message popped up on my laptop screen:

Your start up disk is almost full.

Tell me about it, laptop. Too many thoughts. Too many books. Too many ideas. Too many tabs. Too many fears.

In her wonderful memoir of the writing life, Still Writing, Dani Shapiro asks us not to be fearless, but to be courageous. “Courage and fearlessness are not the same thing,” she says. “Courage is about feeling the fear and doing it anyway.”

Doing it anyway.

“The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” Sylvia Plath

Shapiro goes on to quote Buddhist writer Sylvia Boorstein, “who talks to herself as if she’s a child she loves very much.”

Sweetheart, she’ll say. Darling. Honey. That’s all right. There, there. Go take a walk. Take a bath. Take a drive. Bake a cake. Nap a little. You’ll try again tomorrow.

I’ll try again tomorrow.

(Hey, at least I got this piece done.)

4 Comments

  1. […] (Bad writing days happen too. You can read about them here.) […]

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  2. […] Being a writer is hard, but we already know that. And like any skill, it takes practice; a lot of what we write is practice. (Musicians practice all the time, and never think of it as waste.) A lot of our writing has to do with giving ourselves room to develop, to grow, to experiment. To follow a thought or an image. Sometimes it’ll work and sometimes it won’t. And when it doesn’t, we need to be able to discard it from the final printed page, even though it took so much to get it out in the first place. The reader doesn’t need to see this practice, the lines we followed. Everything we write won’t be published, and we shouldn’t be writing everything as if it will be published either. […]

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  3. […] become writers? How do they deal with writer’s block? You will see yourself in all of them. Writing is hard, and we all need someone to understand what we’re going through – as only another writer can […]

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  4. […] or even how to write; instead, they explore what Anne Lamott calls “the writing frame of mind.” Writing is hard to separate from the writing life. Unless you’re one of a handful of lucky prolific and productive people who can remain sitting for […]

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