Thursday, July 31, 2014

I Can't Write (How to Write When You're Stressed)

I can’t write right now.

I’m staring at a white page and nothing is okay. My hair is white, weak and scratchy, burning my nose with the $5 bleach kit I put in last night. There are people demanding food at non-food times, people who want my attention though these are the minutes I’ve carved out for myself. This is the time when I’m supposed to be writing – the first time, in fact, that a monitor and a keyboard have been available to me in almost a week. But I am cold, I am uncomfortable, and if I’m being honest this morning, I am unhappy.

I don’t want to write right now.

Writing is hard work. Oh, not like working out. Working out, they say, is harder. It hurts your muscles. Makes you breathe funny. But while you’re doing that, everything else floats away, the pain, the thoughts, even the feelings. For a little while, you can stop being yourself.

Writing isn’t like that at all. When you’re writing, you have to dig down into your being. You take on the role of emotional spelunker. You’re not training your body to be obedient while focusing on muscle and pain. Instead, you’re tearing off delicate pieces of your soul, cutting random shapes into those pieces, and unfolding them into lacy snowflakes with which you will decorate other people’s lives.

Writing hurts.

And I am already hurting. I do not want to do it more.

In the two hours since I started writing this, I have made soup for two humans and boiled noodles for a third. I have opened the door for little hands twice. I have snuggled. I have kissed. I have indulged. And I have now reached two hundred thirty words, saying almost a third of what I wanted to say. I didn’t want to start. I didn’t want to put those words down. And if I was going to start, I sure as spice didn’t want to be interrupted. I didn’t want to have to pause from breaking myself into a thousand shards just to turn what was in my head into something real.

I did it anyway.

You knew that’s what I was going to say, didn’t you? Write anyway. Write through the disorganized misery of your broken-down life. Take the little pieces of yourself and order them on the page just so. While you’re doing it, you might find a new way to put them together. A better way.  Even if you don’t, you’ll have gained something. You were going to suffer anyway, why not have a permanent record of it? Something that can better others?

But how?

I’m going to make this very simple for you. At the end of the day, I’m a simple girl. All this philosophizing stimulates the crap out of my brain, but it only makes me ache for the practical consummation of an orderly 3-step plan. So here it is. Three steps to writing when you just can’t. Three steps to follow if you're like me and you just don't know how to write when you're stressed

   1)      Make it really, really easy on yourself.

Keep a blank notebook and sharp pencils everywhere you can find them. Right now I am separated from my computer so writing on it is almost impossible. My novel is suffering. My critiques are desolate. But I’ve got a fat blank notebook and fat yellow pencils that are right at my picnic table. That notebook is netting me flash fiction. Perspective practice. Juicy short stories I will be able to type in later, revise, and sell to magazine markets for real money. Not bad for a time when I just want to be MOPING about how I WANT MY COMPUTER BACK.

On the other hand, if you are working on the computer, keep your documents open always and hit save every time you do anything at all. Walk away to do dishes? Hit save. Pick up a kid to kiss a boo-boo? Save. Minimize the document because the boss is walking in? Hit save first! If at all possible, don’t close that document for anything or anyone. As long as it is open you can dive right back in.

   2)  Set goals for yourself

In times of great stress, finding motivation can be difficult. Set easy-to-hit but still meaningful goals for each day. Not only will you end the day with something accomplished (there’s a world of difference between 7 days of writing nothing and 7 days of writing 500 words each day) but you will also be giving yourself a reason to get up each morning.

Don’t underestimate the feeling of accomplishment you will get from meeting your goal each day. In times of stress, that kind of emotional currency will become priceless.

If you get to the end of the day and you haven’t been able to find motivation to write, sit down and write out a train of thought. Write what it was that kept you from writing. Lie about it if you have to. Write about a hurricane that drug you away from the desk. Write about how you’re dying from a vampire-velociraptor bite. Writing about how your employer is really the head of a zombie drug cartel and your busy work is a complicated money laundering scheme. Write ANYTHING. Once you turn the tap on, the words will flow, but sometimes you will have to prime the pump first.

   3) Write honestly

Don’t try to be something you aren’t. Want to know what hhe hardest part of writing this whole story was? Penning the words, “I am unhappy.” I’m a happy girl. That’s my personal brand. I have a beautiful smile. I wear bright hair and have a houseful of gorgeous, funny children and a happy marriage and God forbid I pretend for a second that any of that is only a fraction of the truth of who I am as a human being. But guess what? There’s magic in that honesty. I'll tell you what the magic is...

I’m not unhappy anymore.

Having put all those words down, having let them flow out of me and onto the paper, I feel happy again. Things aren’t hopeless. This time of trouble is only a season and it will pass. Had I not slipped open a vein to bleed the words onto the page, that poison would still be coursing through my bloodstream.

Listen, I don’t know what you’re going through. Poverty, sickness, fear, a lack of resources, a lack of time, a lack of motivation. I would like to offer a simple word of encouragement. Don’t give up. This is not the time to lose hope. Today is the day when you decide whether you are a writer or not. Anyone can write in a time of zephyrous inspiration. A writer will buckle down and write out the storm.

Now please excuse me. I am going to go put some red fire into my hair. I’m not a giving up kind of girl.


  1. Needed this one tonight. Thanks for commiserating and whipping me back into shape at the same time.

  2. Great stuff. Thank you for writing, I'm glad you found your happy again :)