We writers can get pretty weird about our work. Depressed. Anxious. Neurotic. Self-obsessed. Hysterical, even.
If writers had enough money for therapy, the mental health field would be booming. But instead what we have is an entire readers market dedicated to writers who write about writing and the struggles we writers face.
Ours aren’t your normal professional struggles. You’ve never seen your plumber or retail manager having a nervous breakdown about a deadline or a line that wouldn’t scan. Lawyers don’t wake up and go, “Maybe I should get out of these pajamas and get a real job?” And no one other than a writer really understands. It’s just part and parcel of the gig.
My students at the community college think I’m nuts because I’ve given myself life-long writing assignments, often with little or no pay. Like this blog here that I ‘m writing at nearly 11 pm on a weeknight after I spent the whole day writing to finish up a year-long project, my Practical Magic for Writers book.
Before I even turned in my final grades and declared school out for the summer, I’d taken on another deadline: Write Club, a head-to-head writing competition that is billed as literary bloodsport. There are chapters in Chicago (where it started), Atlanta, and here in Los Angeles. Basically: Two writers. Two opposing ideas. Seven minutes.
Contestants get a week. I was assigned “Overt” and my opponent, “Covert.”
In a nutshell it was a crazy week: I sat for full days with a lap top heating my thighs. I wrote decent poetry, then terrible prose, and finally decided to stick with poetry. A day before the competition, I only had a solid 2 minutes of stuff I liked. Writing five more minutes of poetry – good poetry — in just the space of two days? When I hadn’t written a poem in like a dozen years? Um, hella hard.
The night before the competition, I sat in my meditation group with anxiety so intense that I couldn’t breathe. It felt like a giant rock was sitting on my chest and like I needed to run for a very long time. The next day, the day of the main event, I got up early and took the run my body craved, though I hadn’t run in months, and then I wrote some more. The anxiety wouldn’t let go. Nothing I did would shake it. I kept lowering the stakes:
1) It doesn’t have to be a good poem, just the best you can do.
2) It doesn’t have to be your best, you just have to have something finished.
3) It doesn’t have to be finished, just read what you have and have fun.
But the anxiety wouldn’t let go no matter what I told myself. Even while I was trying to have fun. It didn’t soften until I got on stage. Stage fright has got nothing on real anxiety — in the face of the latter, the former wasn’t even noticeable. The anxiety evaporated somewhere in the stage lights, I think. Just like that.
And then I won.
The moral of the story isn’t “anxiety = winning.” Not at all.
The point isn’t “anxiety = pointless, so why am I so silly?” either.
My point here is that anxiety is something that I’ve learned that I just have to live with sometimes; writing and performing have seldom been comfortable for me. Facts are, it’d be nice, but I don’t write to be comfortable. I write because I have to. It’s who I am. Sometimes being me is pretty fabulous, and someone gives me a trophy or a paycheck for it.
You know how beauty queens and glamour girls say, “You have to suffer to be beautiful?” I think what they are saying is about perseverance – that sometimes things are really uncomfortable. Whether it’s a girdle or performance anxiety, it’s hard to breathe, but you tough it out anyway.
Writing is hard. For me. For lots of writers. For those who say it comes easily, well, I really can’t say I like them much. Nor do I trust them. I think they are probably lying.
But what we have, friend, is intestinal fortitude. It’s a Fire Element quality — much like anxiety, which is also the result of excessive Fire energy — that I discuss in my workshops and book Practical Magic for Writers, which will be finished this summer.
Summer: the season of fiery solar energy! What better time to summon our inner creative warrior? Have writing anxiety or need some other writing help? Hit me up. Seriously. I luuuuuvvvvv to help.