Lately, I think I’ve been approaching writing the way I used to (unhealthily) approach dieting. Self doubt and self hate are actually very effective motivators and very easy feelings to tap into … but there is definitely a price. If (and by if I mean when) I don’t spend as much time as I planned writing or hit my daily word count I end up thinking things like:
- Why am I not disciplined enough to just do this?
- This must mean I don’t really want to be a writer bad enough.
- I guess I’m not really a good writer, because a good writer wouldn’t be procrastinating like this.
These are definitely not fun ways to feel. But, just like getting mad at yourself for not exercising or eating something you “shouldn’t”, it can push you to be more productive … at least in the moment.
But when the moment is over, I think it ultimately harms your productivity. Because for me using these kinds of thoughts awaken a horrible inner editor who starts telling me: no one is going to like this chapter – that sentence is horrible – you aren’t as good as everyone in the class – you are getting to do your favorite thing all day so why aren’t you doing it/enjoying it/making the most of this opportunity.
It’s not like I always feel this way, but it is a spiral. And when I’m in the spiral, sometimes I feel the answer is to be more and more regimented and mean to myself. But this week something happened that totally shook me out of this – thank goodness.
I went to meet a friend to write, feeling stressed because I felt behind on a submission for workshop. I was fully prepared to make myself be serious and really get some good work done. Instead, when my friend asked my how I was doing I basically burst into tears. *Yay for public crying in New York City* We talked for two hours about a lot of non-writing related things that have been stressing me out lately (some that I didn’t even realize were stressing me out).
Drill Sargent Alison was totally ready to beat myself up for wasting the writing time, but then I ended up writing nine and a half pages in the next 24 hours (a personal best for me since coming to New York). What’s more I liked the pages more than anything I’ve written in weeks. I had a lot of fun writing them.
This is not new information, but it does seem like a lesson I have had to and probably will have to learn over and over and over again: SELF CARE AND SELF LOVE ARE IMPORTANT FOR WRITERS.
They are important for everyone, but since writing requires a certain mental state I think they are vital for creating our best work. Yes discipline is important, but sometimes being stuck isn’t the result of being lazy or not caring or writer’s block (which we are told over and over again doesn’t really exist). It could just mean you are too tired or stressed or whatever to get into the right headspace to work.
So as a reminder to myself and others (and because I don’t want to be the type of person who only blogs about how things are going well) I wanted to write about this week and say sometimes the best thing you can do for your writing is take a bath or a 20 minute nap or meet a friend for coffee. Writing is important work. But taking care of ourselves is important work too. Would love to know in the comments if you have favorite treats or rituals that help you.
Okay, now I’m going to get back to writing my next chapter … which right now doesn’t feel like a chore. It feels like something I’m actually really excited about.