writing when the writing’s hard

Good morning over there. I’m going to work to get this blog post written before the puppy wakes up and begins poking me with her cold nose. Here I got all accustomed (after ten years I still haven’t learned not to get accustomed) to those sweet warm mornings we were having, and now it’s chilly again. One good thing about living in the Bay Area is getting to complain all the time about the fantastic weather we have.

This morning I’m thinking about writing and the ways we use writing to save ourselves and the way that writing sometimes can become a site of re-iteration, the way that writing can be difficult. A few years ago, I noticed that I was, in my morning pages, writing over and over (and over) about a situation in my life that I was unhappy with. I wrote into it and into it, I told the same stories over and over, I began to discover patterns and understand what I needed to do for the situation to change — and then I hit repeat: write the stories, look at the patterns, see through the words what I need to do to change, but I didn’t do those things. Instead I just kept writing. And the writing began to hurt. I didn’t feel as good after I finished writing. I stopped wanting to go to the notebook. I stopped wanting to hear those stories. Never mind that the writing (along with other voices) was pointing me toward a solution– I wasn’t ready to hear it yet.

I stopped writing in my morning notebook for awhile, and removed myself from what has been, for me, the safest and most consistent place of meditation, discovery, and support. Radical self care can look like not forcing yourself to hear something you’re not ready to hear — and, of course, there are times when that’s just denial.

Sometimes this happens. Sometimes the writing leads me to things I don’t want to know — in fiction or nonfiction. Sometimes when I follow the threads of my writing when I’m working on my novel, something happens for my characters that I didn’t want to have happen to them. I want them to just be all right, to be safe, to be well-loved: haven’t they suffered enough? But the writing tugs at me, it says: No, come this way — and if I’m really listening, I take a deep breath and turn away from the brightly lit street into the alley that’s all overgrown with weeds and broken glass and overturned garbage cans. I understand that the characters are going that way, and if I really want to know what happens to them, I better not be afraid to follow.

When it happens in morning/personal writing that I stumble upon some uncomfortable truths, that can be a bit harder. Sometimes I don’t want to write anymore — I think I should just turn on the television and forget all about this dumb word thing. Sometimes I try to write my way out of it (is that true? what does that mean, Jen?), maybe try and find another way out of whatever struggle I’m dealing with, some solution that doesn’t involve me having to change, even/especially if that change is having to see myself in a new way. Sometimes the writing can take the blinders off — and I’m not always ready to be in that bright sunlight.

Still, it’s ideal when my morning pages or personal writing is taking me into this sort of discovery place — it means I’m letting myself be present to the process. Even after twenty years in this daily writing practice, that’s not a sure thing. There are still days when I don’t want to open the notebook, when I don’t remember why it matters, when I feel too sticky and gross inside to let anything out through the pen. Sometimes, on those days, I won’t write in the notebook. And sometimes I’ll “force” myself — which means I take a deep breath, stamp my feet, grumble out loud, get the tea and the candle and a warm wrap around my shoulders and open the notebook anyway.  I don’t know that it ever gets easier to drop down into the notebook, especially during times of struggle — no matter how many times I’ve been reminded that the writing always leaves me better than it found me; I walk away from the notebook, even after the most difficult writes, feeling that something in me is lighter, more free.

How do you let the writing hold you when you don’t think you deserve? How do you bring yourself to the page when you are scared and overwhelmed? How do you remind yourself that the writing helps, even as it’s holding space for the hard stuff of your (or your character’s) life?

Thank you for your words today — because they make something better in you, they make something better in and for the planet.


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