As I write this, the sky is filled with smoke from fires in Washington and Oregon, smoke that is reaching all the way across Canada. It’s hard to go outside, even to walk to the car, never mind go for a walk. Living in a rural area, the fact that we can still get outside and hike, go to the beach and the many parks in this area has made the pandemic somewhat bearable.
Now it really feels like the world is ending. That the smoke is so dense and the fires are not near here reminds me that we are all in this together. We all breathe the same air and it’s the only air we’ve got.
I’ve got the whole day to write, and aside from a few calls, the only thing I plan to work on is a few blog posts. But I am struck down with WHY BOTHER? Why bother writing? Why bother sharing with others?
Why bother doing something that can only count as a luxury, when the ground is literally on fire? What is the point, when so many are having trouble even breathing? When the places in our communities where people would congregate to escape the smoke – the churches, libraries, community halls and rec centres – are all closed or have limited access because of COVID measures?
For several weeks I’ve wanted to write a series of posts about how to overcome writing avoidance and resistance. For some of us, the need to write is urgent. We are called to this. Desperate to tell stories — our stories, others’ stories, the stories borne from our imaginations — and yet, sitting down to write is a battle.
There’s always something that gets in the way. Today, for me, it is grief. Grief that all my places of reprieve – my garden, the trails, the city park, long walks with my friends – have been taken from me. How long will it be? Days, weeks, months? The grief would keep me from writing if I let it, but I will not let it.
You see, I have, for the most part, figured out how to get around the resistance that comes up with writing. It’s taken me years and a lot of practice, but I have found a way that works for me. The only thing keeping me from retreating to bed today and watching Faulty Towers until the sun comes out is that, by writing down what I’ve learned and sharing it here, I might help someone else.
Someone who feels that same urgent call to write, but gets caught in the weeds of resistance and expectation. Faulty Towers will have to wait. This post feels as urgent as climate change all of a sudden.
Has this happened to you?
When you really want to write, it stays with you all day. For me it used to go something like this: I’m going about my day and everything I do — the kids, the day job, chores and social obligations and exercise— for all of it, I’m just biding my time until I can get to the writing.
But then it comes time to write, and first thing I do is open up Twitter. It’s like my chair is on fire and it’s torture to sit down and concentrate. I’ve spent hours or days looking forward to this moment and now that it’s here, I’d rather do anything else. Literally anything. Scrub the bathroom tiles? Empty the litter box? I’ll do it! Anything and everything is better than writing.
Maybe for you it’s more of a seasonal thing. You’re a teacher and you can’t wait for summer so you can write. Or, maybe it goes on for decades — you’re waiting to retire and you’ll do all your writing then. But when the fateful time comes, when it’s just you and the table and chair and the blank screen, you can’t get anywhere. Before you know it you’ve joined three boards and trained as a hospice volunteer and you’re way too busy to even think of writing.
Why is writing so hard? What is that anywhere-but-here feeling and how can we get over it?
The long answer to these questions is coming up in the next few weeks, but the short answer to what stops us from writing is: resistance and expectations.
We think writing should be easier than it is, because know how to write. We write all the time. We write emails, we write Facebook posts, we write to-do lists and instructions, procedures and legislation. Sure, maybe our grammar is not the best, but we know how to write. How hard can it be?
When we finally sit down to write, it turns out it’s harder than we expected. The rewards that we’re after — the acknowledgement, the accolades, the bestseller lists — these are a long way off. There are no gold stars for sitting in your chair and forcing out a thousand words. There’s nothing finished, so nothing to check off a to-do list. And these are just the internal expectations.
What about those around us? They love us and want to protect us from hurt, and this writing thing we are so hell-bent on seems to be causing us a lot of pain. Plus, our long-suffering loved-ones are used to more of our attention. Why pay extra for a babysitter when all we’re doing is writing? Why aren’t the dishes done? Why can’t we take the grandkids this weekend?
Really, if we just stopped with the writing already, it would be easier on everyone. External expectations like these have stopped many a would-be writer in their tracks.
Plus, there’s that brick wall of resistance that comes up every time we sit down to write. What is that and where does it come from? Is there any way around it? Does it ever go away? The guilt, shame and anxiety. Oh, and let’s not forget the fear in all its glory. (Did I leave the stove on? Will my mother disown me when this gets published? Will this ever even get published? I’m terrible at this and should stop. I always wanted to do this and now I’m terrible at it and who will I be if I’m not a writer?) I’ll stop now. You get it.
We are going to talk about all of these things, and how to overcome them in the coming weeks. Since it feels like the world is ending out there though, I don’t want to leave you hanging for the answer.
The answer to all of it – ALL OF IT – is routine and practice. Find a routine and settle in to it. It could be half an hour, three times a week. In that half hour, you write. Keep your expectations low. Just do something. Write a list of ideas. Interview a character. Pretend you’re writing a letter to a friend about the story in your head, and write it down.
Keep it simple, quiet and regular. Show up when you say you will. Your body and mind will come to expect it. Your loved ones will get used to the idea. Your inner critic will cross its arms and let you do your thing, whatever. Even the wall of resistance will move back a few feet and give you a little bit of space.
That’s all you need. A tiny bit of room to breathe. That’s all any of us are getting right now anyway. Take it. Do something with it. It’s yours. You can watch Faulty Towers later.