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.
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.
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.
At this point, I do not know what to say. I am probably struggling to even write an appropriate response. It is hard. It is difficult to even breathe at some moments. All I end up doing is stare at a blank document or watch the cursor moving from one point to another. But it feels great to know that one is not alone in the struggle. Indeed what really helps is mere acknowledgement that things are difficult, it is not just about us and it is okay to not perform at your peak in these times of pandemic. I am not a professional writer but the struggle to produce, create, write or reflect is real.
Thank you for sharing. I'm not a person who makes goals just on New Year's Eve; I sort of make goals year round. However, in addition to my goal to drink a little less wine and exercise most day (both of which I have proudly accomplished), my goal this year was to have a quiet, drama-free year with no change, and to be more productive with my writing. The reason: Too much change the previous years, and devastating changes at that. My 17-year-old daughter died by suicide in August 2018. The following February I filed for divorce. That was finalized in April 2019, and then I moved into a humble house that needed a lot of work. Plumbing kept breaking, and I learned that water, proper drainage and my use of water in the house is pretty darn important. Through all these changes I wrote (I work full time as a science writer at a university and also freelance) and even took on an adjunct position teaching science journalism. But I had not been nearly as productive as I could be. So 2020 was going to be my YEAR. Doing fun things on the weeks that my younger daughter was with her dad, not being tied down to someone else's expectations. Writing at least 2 major freelance pieces. And clearly the pandemic has dampened that. The daily struggle to put out as much writing as I want has been real. I managed to finish a lengthy profile (freelance) that will be out in January, and I have never been so excited to be at the fact-checking stage in my life. I'm not stuck, but I am....slower. Here's to hoping things improved for all of us. I think if we keep showing up, putting one foot forward, we'll eventually all make it through this stronger than before. I am feeling the call to start on a book project in 2021 and hope I have the fortitude to buckle down and hash out that plan.