Monday, September 21, 2015

When Writing is Painful

This is what writing has been like for me lately…

Pysch myself up to write. Sit down at the computer, ready to DO THIS!

Stare at my computer screen and watch “The Story of the Day” stare back at me.

Shoo my cat off my keyboard and delete all the extraneous characters that now pepper my manuscript.

Consider thirteen reasons why Story of the Day will not work or why I can’t possibly execute it properly. Abandon it for new Story of the Day.

Stare at the computer screen some more.

Type two sentences—three if I’m really on a roll.

Check Twitter. Check Facebook. Check email.

Compose a Tweet so that I can share with the world that I actually, truly #amwriting.

Walk the dog. Let the fresh air and the quiet and the movement inspire me. Have a breakthrough for how to proceed with the new Story of the Day. Come back from the walk with a happy dog and a feeling that THIS story will be THE story, that I can do it! Give the dog her post-walk goodie and return to the computer, recommitted to the current story.

Forget everything I just thought of while walking.

Stare at the new Story of the Day and watch it stare back at me.

Contemplate another dozen or so reasons why that story won’t work.

Contemplate why I am being so indecisive and have so much self-doubt. 

Contemplate the other nine story ideas that are kicking around in my brain and search for all the notes I’ve jotted down about said stories. Contemplate why maybe none of those stories will actually work.

Have a mini anxiety attack.

Write another two sentences just to show anxiety who is boss.

Shoo my cat off my keyboard and delete more extraneous cat-paw-generated characters.

Muse about the fact that my cat has officially written more words than I have today.

Give up.

Okay, so that’s been my typical writing routine for longer than I’d care to admit. And while I’ve never been a believer in Writer’s Block, there are definitely times when I find writing more painful than others. And days like these, when every word I type feels like someone jamming pins beneath my fingernails, it’s hard to even sit down at the keyboard—or with pen and paper—and work on a story.

I think it happens now and again to most of us who write. And while I can’t speak for everyone, at least for me I think it’s caused by some combination of real life obligations, distractions and stresses, and maybe some general burnout. Also, I can't forget the voices in my head created from years worth of critiques, reviews, rejections, industry news of new trends, disappearing trends, market viability, the whisper of “will my agent like this,” plus just the assorted other mental clutter that accumulates in my brain. Oh, and there’s that whole cat on the keyboard thing, which is another whole story.

If I were a shining, perfect writer in an ideal world, I would just push those things out of my mind and write. Sheer joy of telling a story and all that.

And there is a sheer joy in telling a story, of finding the right words, of filling a blank page, of creating. But sometimes it isn't so easy finding the way back to it.

For me, that’s where discipline comes in. Brutal, butt-in-chair, fingers-on-keyboard-and-don't-you-dare-move discipline.

And don’t get me wrong, because I’m not always disciplined. In fact, many days I am about as far from disciplined as a person can get and not fall off the edge of the world. Many days I give in to my own well-established avoidance techniques with a gentle reminder to myself that my creativity has always ebbed and flowed in cycles and that soon there will be a creatively fertile cycle to replace the torture that writing is in this moment.

But mostly, I've learned to trust myself to know when it’s time for real discipline, time to stop humoring my insecurities and neuroses and to switch into suck-it-up-and-deal mode.

So today, in the spirit of kicking it into high gear, I have set two goals for myself today, rigid goals, goals that I absolutely must achieve before the clock strikes midnight.  One, is to write a blog post, and in a few sentences, I shall have put that one to bed. The second, is to crank through a short story that I’ve been puttering around with for months now, to actually finish it so that it can be edited and sent off on submission, something I haven't actually done with a short story in several years.

Those two goals may not make today’s writing any less painful. But I do know several things. One, by pushing through, I will open myself up to the days when writing is like flying, when there truly is sheer joy in the act…and two, if there’s one thing that can override just about any negative feeling, it’s the sense of accomplishment that comes with completing something

Now, onto that short story!