When Writing Hurts

I’m tired, I’ve got a cold, I’ve had a really bad week, yet here I sit with coffee coming fast and strong and hammering out a blog post.  Why?  Because  (cue up James Brown) I feel guuuud.  Now, isn’t that an odd thing to say on the tail end of so many words of woe and such a sad title?

Yes and no (writers should always write with authority — uh-huh).

Being sick and/or dealing with sleep deprivation are part of a writer’s life, part of the writing process.  Move along, little doggie.  But bad weeks, weeks spent in a fugue state where one considers tossing this writing business in the gutter for the sake of something more invigorating, motivating, stimulating, and all sorts of other gerunds is just not right.

And that’s where I’ve been.  Again.  I’ve written before about my brother Daniel and the PTSD-type world I’d slipped into when he suddenly entered my life after disappearing 10 years earlier. I wrote about evil and how it walks this earth.  Well, it happened again, but this time I caught it before it swallowed me whole.  Thanks to Facebook, my journals, and the blessed calendar, I was able to go back and trace when I started starring at a void where my writing mojo should have been.  It was Dorner and his eventual capture in Big Bear, California.  The San Bernardino Mountains, the same mountains where Daniel lived, where the property was that brought him back into my life.

But this post isn’t about me.  It’s about you.  The writer.  It’s about all of us in creative fields who find our creative natures turning around and hurting us.

If we’re creating anything of substance, really digging down in the dirt of our lives for a memoir (that’s one of my current WIPs) or the phantoms of our imaginations, we’re bound to step on something that bites.  Something that hurts.  Something with venom that makes us believe such a thing as writers block is a reality.  It isn’t.  I’ve never had zip-my-jeans block or tie-my-shoes block.  I’ve never been blocked from being human, or a woman (the equipment is always there), or vulnerable.  But those things do get stuck and knotted and scary.

Case in point:

Years ago, when Robert Stone was at the top of the literary heap, I had the opportunity of participating in an intimate Q&A with him.  Questions about his inspiration and process and books flew around the room like paper airplanes, then I got my chance to ask the question I’d been wanting to ask a “real” writer for a long time:  Have you learned anything unexpected about yourself through your writing that surprised you.  I’d just finished my third major project and saw a reoccurring theme I never imagined was hidden in my psyche.

Stone flinched as if hit in the belly, hung his head, remained silent for a very long time, then looked up and said, “Yes.  Next question.”  Uh-oh, that hit a sore spot.  At the time he was writing Damascus Gate, but it would be quite a few years before he published anything again.  If you read the review I’ve linked to the book’s title, it’s impossible not to wonder just how deeply he was digging in 1997, or the internal turmoil he was going through at the time.  It’s downright spooky where his writers mind had taken him before the rest of the world caught up.  That had to be a rough and painful ride.  His writing hasn’t been quite as powerful since that book.

The literary writer Darrelyn Saloom writes in her blog and on Cynthia Newberry Martin’s blogCatching Days, about the stutter in her writing while she tended to her aging mother.  Writing is not what we do, it’s who we are.  Sometimes parts of who we are swell, dominate, and take on a life of their own.

Even Rachel Thompson, known for her humor, has written a bold and brave book about the Broken Pieces that lie beneath the laughter.  (She took quite a risk with her audience with that memoir.  Brava.)

So what are we do to when we dig down into the specifics of our lives or our stories in search of the universal, hit something and get hurt or overwhelmed.  When we stop.  When we spend compulsively on books and suck our local Starbucks dry?

I agree with all the tips and tricks to be found on the web, especially Rachel Thompson’s suggestion to step away.  At the very least, we’re taking an active roll in an inevitable part of a writers life.

But sometimes that intense writing life folds and makes a glued envelope of that clean sheet of paper we’d intended to fill with words, and it stays that way despite our best efforts.

Now what?

Get busy and do nothing.  Roll in it.  Wait.  There’s something in that void, and eventually the light will come on and you can see it clearly.  It will always play into your writing because, honey, there’s nothing in our life that isn’t part of of who we are, and we are writers.

This time around, I turned to Jung, the psychologist, and two of his quotes that rarely get passed around.  He was asked when he determined a patient was cured, and answered, “When they run out of money.”  In this writer’s life, time is my currency, and I can’t afford wasting any more of it on this stuff that hurts.  So I went into it with another of Jung’s quotes tied around my waist so I wouldn’t get lost.  He said nothing in our life is ever cured, but we do find greater life forces that pull us past the broken bits unharmed.

I took two days, on purpose, and watched a bunch of TV, played with the dogs, ate potato chips for breakfast, and set my unthinking mind to work on cultivating a greater life force to get me over this hump and any other hump like it that might come in the future.  Tick-tock, wait it out, tick-tock, watch the dogs, tick-tock, so cute at play.  Tick-tock, tick-tock.

Knock-knock, open the door.  Open the next and the next and the next and keep walking the hallways of silence and places of fear.  Scream and wake up the life force that’s sleeping.  It’s needed.  Now.

And it did.  And it grew.  And I remembered I would never go without a fight or buckle under any threat, not even a sentence or scene that would not behave.  I had to back off and let who I am — in all four corners — wake up and come together.

That’s it.  It’s that simple, and that hard.  And you can sing along with James Brown if this is of any help to you.  Or sing your own song, once you find it.

Wake up that writing part of you that’s bigger and tougher and stronger than any wicked witch that doesn’t belong in your story, that story you dug down so deep to find and tell, even if every single word of it is a truth that never happened.

photo credit: Mysi(new stream: www.flickr.com/photos/mysianne) via photopin cc

11 thoughts on “When Writing Hurts

  1. A nice surprise, Cyd. Thanks for the mention.

    I love your advice on what to do when stuck:

    “Get busy and do nothing. Roll in it. Wait. There’s something in that void, and eventually the light will come on and you can see it clearly. It will always play into your writing because, honey, there’s nothing in our life that isn’t part of of who we are, and we are writers.”

    And the way you show us your waiting:

    “Tick-tock, wait it out, tick-tock, watch the dogs, tick-tock, so cute at play. Tick-tock, tick-tock.”

    Through the pain, you find humor, which is why I enjoy reading your blog posts (and Facebook comments). And it’s why I can’t wait to read your memoir.

    1. Thank you, Darrelyn. You’re very kind. Of course I want to re-write the entire thing :-) Sometimes we get stuck for little reasons that don’t hurt, other than how frustrating it can be when we want to write and the words aren’t there. I just hope others find their way of dealing with things that works for them. Although scoring a bunch of books and coffee is kind of nice. Thanks for stopping by. It’s a treat.

  2. Cyd, The intensity and razor-sharp images in your writing makes me anxious to read your memoir. What a great post on the agony and ecstasy of the writing process. It reminds me that the only way to the other side of the pain is through and therein lies the challenge for writers -to stick with it and power on. Like Joseph Campbell says … Go to your source of pain, the abyss, and therein lies your treasure (paraphrased) Write on, my friend!

  3. Thanks for the mention, Cyd. Wow, your voice comes through loud and clear in this post, as if the words are tumbling out one after the other and you just can’t stop them. I appreciate your sharing your bad days and how you got out of them. I agree. Doing nothing and stupid TV are often exactly what I need.

  4. Oh my God! I read your post again. This time I spent time actually pushing into it more deeply than before. I don’t think I was fully ready to accept your post the first time.

    Today I feel it.. deep in my core. It inspires me to push harder, stop lying to myself about what I can and can not do. Pain hurts.. life hurts.. but the writer, the real writer will use both as fuel for the fire that burns deep in them and demands they write or burn up within those flames.

    Thank you.. I look forward to reading more from you and hearing your story of your brother and your life.

    1. Thank you, Crysta. What a lovely response. There are so many obstacles we’re going to face, and without that fire we won’t push through them. Uh-oh. Crispy critter time :-) Keep those fires burning, girl. Let’s give this world some light.

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