For All of Us Who Are Struggling to Write Right Now...

Maybe one key to being productive is acknowledging how difficult this moment is — and hearing how hard it is for others, too.

I’m thinking of starting an interview podcast called “How’s the Writing Going?” either as a paid feature of this newsletter, or as part of a second newsletter, or maybe on some podcasting platform if I can get one interested.

(^^^Let me know if you are someone who can and would like to make that happen.)

I know I find it comforting when I learn that other writers — especially celebrated ones — are also having a hard time of it, particularly these days. Which is why I save links to tweets by established writers about their struggles. (***Be sure to scroll down to the bottom, where I invite you to tell me how it’s going for you.)

In the mean time, I’ll confess that I’m struggling with my book. I’m making progress every day, but it is not easy, and I never make as much headway as I’d like.

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If you know anything about me and my relationship to first-person nonfiction writing, you know I was never going to have an easy time of working on my own book. At no time in the world was I not going to be hopelessly neurotic about revealing painful and embarrassing experiences from my past, even in my signature funny/sad voice.

But this time in the world — in this godforsaken country — poses a whole other ordeal for a writer, especially an already anxious one.

It’s not lost on me that I’m exceedingly fortunate a small press wants my memoir-in-essays, and that I’m able to make time to work on it between the editing and teaching gigs I’m also fortunate to have. My deadline is March 15th and ultimately I know I can do this, and will be glad I did. What’s more, I’ve worked my whole career toward this. I asked for it, and finally it was given to me. It’s an honor and a privilege, and I am not going to forsake it.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t wrestle with tremendous doubt at some point each and every day.

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My daily crisis of confidence has become so predictable, I can laugh at it — even if I haven’t yet found a way to short-circuit it, or forego it altogether. It goes something like this:

Why am a writing about myself while the world is seemingly coming to an end?

Who cares about me, my life, my perspective on things?

What makes me think I have permission to do this?

How do I write this without upsetting every single person in my life, past and present?

What if jerks make fun of what I write? (Who am I kidding? Jerks will definitely make fun of what I write. Bullies have gained a lot of power lately, politically, and that actually makes writing memoir even scarier than before.)

What if I get so deeply immersed in my writing that I flake on all my other obligations?

Other people have it much worse than you right now. Get it together.

When I’m done tormenting myself, I switch gears and move toward self-compassion. I remind myself of everything that’s happened in the past year, and everything I’m up against (along with everyone else in the world), such as:

Beginning last December, the final six months at my last job — when everything turned and the rug was slowly, then quickly, being pulled out from under us — put me on edge and shook my confidence.

Since June I’ve been grieving the end of that job, missing the team I loved working with, and adjusting to no longer being part of a team, full-time.

Since early March, the pandemic has altered life in myriad ways, including forcing me to close the co-working space for writers I operated here in Kingston. Losing day-to-day contact with both my work team and my co-working buddies has left me feeling isolated and depressed. It’s also screwed with my writing process; I’m someone who gets so much out of a) leaving the house to work and b) being around other people’s focus.

I am deathly afraid of contracting Covid, and of my family members contracting it, especially my octogenarian parents. People around me are suffering and dying from it. And there are other people around me who still think it’s a hoax.

We’re in the midst of an autocratic coup, and it’s terrifying, and there’s not much any of us can do to stop it. I am taking whatever actions I can — writing postcards to swing states, text-banking, posting insightful articles on FaceBook with the hope of getting through to some undecided people there. (It seems like I might be getting through to a few, but boy is it exhausting being on there.) I’m trying to be hopeful, but even if we can win, we still have big hurdles ahead.

The police are sill terrorizing and killing Black people, and brutalizing peaceful protestors, and other than attending protests and marches when I can, and making donations to Black Lives Matter and other organizations, I feel powerless to change that.

All of this happening at once is rendering me constantly adrenalized, making it difficult to sleep and to relax, both of which are so necessary for being creative and feeling comfortable going deep.

Oh, and mercury is in retrograde, and will be right until election day.

When I’m done going through the second list, I’m able to forgive myself for my resistance, and get going…until the next day.

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I’d love to hear from some of you who are struggling with your writing goals. Please comment on this post, telling me what your litany of self-doubts looks like, and also the list of things you’re up against right now.

I hope recognizing the extraordinary obstacles we all face at this fraught time might allow you to forgive yourself for being less productive — and ultimately help you to become more so.