I originally embarked on writing a blog last year because I had taken on a large writing project—a novel—and I decided that I needed a touchstone to remember why I was doing what I was doing. I originally used the blog to connect on a regular basis with something about myself, or about life, that made me smile. Or else I would offer my perspective on issues such as feminism today, or else the importance of being a diligent student of history. I even added a few posts about writing and my own writing process. Meanwhile, I continued to pursue my dream of writing a book and sharing my work with the world.
I have discovered something about myself. I am extremely good at talking and thinking about writing. Resistance to writing for me too often comes in the form of analysis, which keeps me happily and busily dissecting just why exactly it is that I’m not writing.
God, I find myself saying. Creative work is so hard. If only I could get past this block and just feel free to write and create…think how wonderful that would be! I wonder what’s stopping me. Maybe I need to be more disciplined. Or maybe I need to start a yoga practice. Or maybe it has something to do with my childhood…
Boy, it takes a lot to get me to the page. I am often struck by this fact. I hem and I haw; I do the dishes and I clean my room and I take naps. I do my laundry. I rearrange the furniture. Some days, I would probably redecorate an entire house if given the chance rather than pick up my pen. My aversion to starting my writing is just that strong.
However, sometimes I find that if I rush into writing, I am so tense that what I write is stilted and forced. So I guess what I’m saying is that there is something to be said for taking a bit of time to prepare myself mentally for the task for writing, for allowing myself a certain amount of happy puttering around the house before I sit down to write. It feels more gentle than the other approach, in which I force myself into the chair at the same time every day or else reprimand myself for wasting time on other tasks. It’s not as kind, this approach. It leads to desperate, unhappy and resentful writing.
In Zen Buddhism, there is a concept known as ‘monkey mind’, which describes the constant background chatter in our minds as our consciousness swings from thought to thought just as a monkey would swing from tree to tree. I have been struck recently by the capricious nature of my own monkey mind, particularly when it comes to my writing.
In short, I’ve been thinking. And this is not always a good thing. I tend to think a lot, and sometimes it ends up getting me into a rut of sorts. I overanalyze, and this turns into worry, which in turn becomes fear about the future. I write one piece that doesn’t meet my exacting standards, and pretty soon, I have decided that I am no good at anything at all and might as well despair because I’ll never amount to anything anyway.
I have been writing pretty much every morning, and I feel like a mess. It’s never good enough. But I want to give myself credit for showing up to the page, because, frankly, my writing will never be good enough in my eyes. I have started to realize that trying to prove myself to myself is a losing battle.
The page always stares me down. The blankness of it. And you know what’s funny? Not having anything to write about often makes me feel like I’m going to die. It’s one of the worst feelings in the world. I think I’m a failure and a mess and I am going to die. I start to panic and then I resort to blaming myself. (Really productive, I know.) Why is it always so hard? And why do the stakes seem so, incredibly high?
The trouble is that I want to write great stories. This is a problem. If I just wanted to write stories, or words, or maybe a few sentences strung together into a paragraph or two or three, then it would not be a problem. Do you see what I mean? The pressure is paralyzing. I sit myself down in the morning with my cup of coffee to do my writing, and I think to myself:
“Okay, then. Time to write a great American short story. You have one hour. GO!”
It doesn’t work. Time and time again, I find that I write:
I have been struggling with writer’s block. Only perhaps calling it “writer’s block” is insufficient. It’s more like “writer’s complete inability to stomach sitting down in the chair to face the notebook.”
There are times in my life when I have pushed and pushed and pushed so hard that my ability to convince myself to just buck up and power through simply dries up and disappears. At a certain point, it becomes too much, and I have to put the pen down for a while: maybe for the rest of the day; maybe for a week; maybe more. In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron talks about cultivating practices that refill one’s creative well. She emphasizes how important it is to feed and nourish ourselves when we are doing creative work. She says it is not just important, but critical.
Discipline is my friend. I really mean that. My relationship with Discipline has improved somewhat in the last few years, ever since I sat her down and told her what was the what.
For a while, I was in rebellion against discipline. If she suggested something that I should do (for instance that I should eat nutritious food and also exercise and also write daily) I was like “Oh hell, no.” I was like, “I am going to sleep in, and then I’m going to make me some pancakes. And then, I’m going to take a nap.”