Tag Archives: writing life

I Took a Break From Writing to Take Care of Myself

14 Jun
Laptop computer and desk

My laptop is taking a break from writing.

Sometimes, I blatantly contradict myself.

Like how I used to say it was so important to have balance in your life.

Then I went on this kick like, fuck balance, it’s all about the passion.

And now I’m kinda into the balance thing again. Or trying to be at least. Living a life of balanceĀ  is not the place I naturally default to.

But, both things are true. Balance is nice. Passion is cool, too. Balanced passion may be something to strive for, although sounds like something that’s probably impossible to achieve.

Or when, several years ago, the married man I was having an affair with abruptly ended things. I was devastated to the point of barely being able to function, but I was also relieved — relieved that I no longer had to spend agonizing days waiting for his texts, calls, or emails, or hours lost to fantasy, obsession, fear, and worry. I was devastated, but I was also free.

Both were true.

I learned this from my therapist, she says it a lot. Life is big and complicated enough for seemingly completely contradictory things to both be true at the exact same time.

The last blog post I wrote was about how I always need to be writing. I wrote this almost 9 months ago. So you can see already: contradiction.

Shortly after writing that post, things fell apart, as they sometimes do in my life. As a freelancer, I was doing work that I loved, but unfortunately not enough of it to support myself. I have a high tolerance for deprivation in service to following my vision; if I’m doing work I love, I can make do with very, very little in terms of material gain.

But at a certain point, the chaos of financial instability starts to interfere with my creative process. Waking up every day in a state of panic tends to make me shut down, writing-wise. As someone I know once said, “You can’t write a novel if your house is on fire.” And based on my own experience I can say: tru dat.

Not knowing how I was going to pay the following month’s rent, and with my financial house up in flames, I set out looking for work. Once I’ve reached this point of complete desperation and panic, I can’t like, casually look for work and keep writing on the side. At that point, earning money requires all my time and attention.

I got temp work right away, and a month later, a full-time job. My first full-time job in over three years, I now had health insurance, paid time off, and some stability.

Although I hadn’t written in a few months, I decided to consciously continue my writing break so I could get acclimated to my new job. Also, I wanted to be a normal person who went to work and then had a life — time for socializing, dating, and decluttering my apartment — instead of this person who has a day job and then in every moment of her free time is trying to make things happen with her own creative projects on the side, living multiple lives and driving herself to exhaustion.

But after a month at my new job, my friend said to me, “Jen, I think you should start writing again.”

Because what happens is, not writing takes on its own crazy non-momentum momentum. If you don’t write for long enough, it turns into this really huge, daunting deal, and you can’t imagine how you ever wrote anything in the past or will ever again in the future. I said something along these lines to my friend right before she said, “Jen, it’s time.”

So, I wrote my dating profile for OkCupid. It was kind of fun. It made me laugh. I thought, This is good and I can write.

Inspired by my success writing my dating profile, I dipped my toe further into the writing pool, and wrote an essay about writing my online dating profile. Then I wrote a few more things, like this, and this.

It felt so good to be back. I was on a roll. Sort of. I still start and stop. Write, take a break. Struggle with writing/self-care. Balance/passion. Working hard/rest. Being consumed by creative projects/having a life. I write, but then I have to take mini-breaks. Because I work full-time and have activities and commitments almost every night after work, and I get t-i-r-e-d and need to rest. Not be so busy and striving all the time. Just be.

Last Sunday afternoon, I planned to write. But I was exhausted. So I took a nap instead. By mid-week, I was aching to write. I’m doing it today. I may need to take a break tomorrow.

Taking breaks from writing can be good self-care, and necessary periodically, but still, still, if I go too long without writing, I feel really shitty. Sometimes I need to take a break from writing to pay attention to how I’m going to pay my rent. But when I’m not writing, inevitably, I hit a point where I start to get angry and filled with resentment. I feel invisible, unseen, unheard, disempowered, like I have no voice. And the only way out of this is to USE MY VOICE and write something.

I need to be writing all the time. And I need to take breaks.

Both are true.

Advertisements

If You Feel Stuck, It Could Be Your Voice

26 Sep

Woman screamingI get stuck a lot. Tripped up in fear, anxiety, obsessive worry. Paralyzed by perfectionism. Waylaid by depression and absolute apathy, where I can’t muster up the motivation to do or care about anything. Not even writing. Sometimes I deliberately take a break from writing to focus on more responsible, possibly more remunerative pursuits. But whether it’s deliberate or not, if I’m not writing I often sink into depression, fear, stuckness, I-don’t-give-a-shit-about-anything-ness. I feel like I’m alone, without a voice, this invisible, forgotten, forsaken person.

Even–especially–when I don’t feel like writing, the way out of this apathy and despair is usually writing. This reminds me of a time 10 years ago, when I decided that I was going to give up acting and write instead. So I quit acting for a summer, and was totally blocked and couldn’t write a word. That September I signed up for an acting class, and soon after started writing my heart out, so inspired by the words in the scenes I was memorizing and performing. I wrote monologues and scenes and plays until the only words I was performing–in and out of class–were my own.

Sure, then it was acting that unblocked me and gave me back my voice and today it’s writing, but the message is still the same–the thing I avoid is the thing that sets me free.

I get very despairing when I feel like I don’t have a voice. When I feel like I’m not heard. When I feel like I’m all alone. In my obsessive worry and depression. This is not a fun place to be.

A few weeks ago, writing and I were on a little break. I put it on the side burner, or maybe even the back burner. It’s not you, it’s me. I just need some space. To focus on other things. And then that familiar despair crept in. I didn’t want to do anything, didn’t care about anything.

Day in, day out, my life felt like drudgery, comprised mostly of crying and naps (you know how exhausting crying can be). What’s wrong with me? I thought, even though this has happened before. Longing to give a shit about anything at all, to feel even the slightest desire to write again. Crying on the subway, something that used to be more of a regular occurrence but I hadn’t done in a long time. After getting off the subway I stopped at a Starbucks, red and puffy-eyed. I knew I was nearing a bottom and something had to change when the barista rang up my water bottle, looked at me sympathetically, and said, “Feel better.”

So I decided to end my break and go back to writing. I had to make the decision first, before I felt like it. But it didn’t take long for what I felt like doing to catch up, to want to write again. To feel inspired and idea-filled and excited and energized. To remember what it feels like to have a voice. To not feel invisible and powerless anymore. To be strong–and unstuck.

Writing, once again, is the solution. That thing that I sometimes avoid, resist, resent, and can’t even find the tiniest spark of inspiration for, is the thing that makes me feel better. This doesn’t last if I stop writing, though. Whenever I feel like I don’t have a voice, I’m on the path straight to despair. To claim my strength in the world, to get unstuck, to feel like myself, I have to go back go back and go back again to writing. I have to remember that I have something to say, and say it. I have to return to my voice–and use it as if my life depended on it.

Just Write the Next Thing

24 Jun

Computer screen

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post about how I stepped on a rat, and then met my favorite singer, Maxwell. I loved this post. And not just because I love Maxwell. I loved everything about it. It was an unbelievable, miraculous story. I wrote it well. The twists! The turns! The dramatic arc! The culmination in a life lesson! I felt like it was possibly the best thing I ever wrote or would ever write again. I wanted to relish it and bask in it and savor it.

What I did not want to do was write the next post. I always want to go out on a good note, quit while I’m ahead. Like being the one to get off the phone first when I’m talking to a guy I have a crush on–right after I’ve said something charming and adorable and funny, and before I turn tired and boring and run out of things to say. I wanted to freeze my writing with my Maxwell-and-the-rat post, hold onto it so everyone would think that everything I write is always that perfectly crafted.

The thing to do in this situation is to just sit down and write that next thing. Get over the hump, break through the resistance.

So I sat down, and wrote about going to a vision board party. I liked this post. It was honest. Open. There were some funny parts, and a pretty kickass playlist. It wasn’t the most amazing thing I’ve ever written, would ever write. There were lots of reasons to scrap it (there always are) and they all seemed valid (they always do). Like, posting my vision board felt like taking a picture of my journal entries and publishing it. Like, nothing spectacular or miraculous happened. Adam Levine didn’t show up at the party and make out with me or anything.

But it was a solid post, and the most important thing was to get it down. Disregard the reasons to hold off and wait for some elusive bigger, better idea. Just write the next thing. And then keep writing.

The longer I go without writing, especially after writing a piece I’ve fallen madly in love with, the harder it gets to write that next thing. The more of a big deal it becomes. The more I need to have some fabulous idea or riveting story or life-changing lesson. The more I get bogged down and stuck, rejecting every possible topic that is anything less than off-the-charts incredible. The more I don’t write.

For writing to not become a Big Deal looming dauntingly in front of me, it has to be a regular part of my life, something I am consistently doing. Even on those days when I’m not sure what I’m going to say, and in those moments when I question if I have anything to say.

Writing my next story or post or kernel of an idea, I write my way through resistance. Through good enough writing. And I write my way back to writing that makes my pulse race, lights me up, gives me chills. To the best thing I’ve ever written or will ever write. I fall madly in love again. And then I keep writing some more…

Saying I’m a Writer

30 Apr

Nine years ago, I wrote one of my first published articles about a musician for a major magazine, and I was invited to the photo shoot. Sitting there, I excitedly watched the glamorous goings-on and chatted with other people on set when someone asked me what I did. I wrote the article. That the photos were being taken for. That’s why I was there. But instead of saying, “I wrote this article,” or even, “I’m a writer,” I said, “I wait tables. And I temp.”

“Why couldn’t I say, ‘I wrote the article!’?” I lamented to my therapist that week. And I knew this was something I had to work on.

Over the next several years, I worked as an administrative assistant in publishing as my day job while I continued to write on the side, and then I started my own business teaching writing classes. So I wrote, and I taught, and when people asked me what I did–or when my students asked me what I did–I could sometimes say, “I’m a writer and teacher.” Sometimes. But when I did, I felt like I was lying. So sometimes I bit my tongue and just forced myself to leave it at that. And other times I felt like I had to say, “But really I’m an administrative assistant.”

After years of living the parallel lives of assistant by day, writer and teacher by night, my careers finally collided and I got my first job as an editor. I’d been in the publishing industry for so long, but had always felt like I was on the sidelines. Instead of filing expenses reports and making copies, I’d longed to be an editor, to go to edit meetings, to sit around a table drinking coffee and discussing editorial ideas. I was finally doing it, and it felt like a dream come true.

By then, I had a different therapist, but she was well-versed in my insecurities. When I got this job, she told me I had to go places where people would ask me what I do so I could say, “I’m a writer and editor.”

A few weeks into my new job, I was at Pret on my lunch break. As I was perusing the sandwiches and trying to decide which one to buy, I ran into a woman I knew from high school and a woman I knew from college who happened to know each other and be having lunch together at Pret. They told me that they were lawyers and worked at the same firm, and asked me what I did.

“I work next door,” I said, nodding towards the publishing building. And left it at that.

“I missed my chance!” I said to my therapist that week. “‘I work next door??? That could mean anything! Doing what–washing windows?!”

Soon after, I was writing a freelance article for my favorite website one Sunday, and decided to take a break and get a cheeseburger at my favorite neighborhood burger joint. I usually chatted with the manager when I was there, and on this particular day she happened to ask me, “What do you do?”

Since I was spending the day writing an article I said, “I’m a writer,” and then, for practice, threw in, “And an editor.”

“That’s so cool!” she exclaimed. “What are you writing?”

“Today I’m writing an article for my favorite website,” I said.

“SO COOL!” she replied.

Yeah. It is, isn’t it?

So now, NINE YEARS AFTER my first published article, I can say, happily, proudly, “I’m a writer.” I can say it and not feel like I’m lying. I can say it and leave it at that. I can say it know that it’s true. That I belong–at the photo shoots, in the edit meetings–because that’s what I do. I write. I’m a writer.

Are you a writer but can’t say it? Why do you think it’s so hard to say, “I’m a writer”?