Writing. It’s my favorite thing to do and I hate it.
I don’t think there’s anything that makes me feel more complete than finishing a piece that I’m really proud of. But how often do I feel proud of something? How often do I finish something?
I’m not even fully concentrating right now. I’m searching through my iTunes library for the perfect classical music to listen to while I work, pretending I’m going to pick anything other than Bach. I’m trying to find the perfect position for my back in this desk chair. I’m feeling the breeze of the perfect weather through my window and wishing I were outside, hating the pandemic for forcing me into a situation where I have to actively seek Outside Time.
Outside Time used to come naturally in my day-to-day life. I experienced it en route to and from work, walking to the train instead of taking the bus to enjoy that extra dose of Vitamin D. Now I have to plan for it. I need to set aside time to go outdoors and…do what, exactly? Sit and read? Go for a walk? Treat it as a leisure activity and do nothing productive with it? What right have I to exist without producing something?
I could write a piece about that: the pressure to feel productive even when we feel like the world is ending. Some online publications might be interested in the topic. Stick “the pandemic” or “COVID-19” at the end of any pitch and an editor might read it.
But that means I have to find a place to pitch it, write a pitch, figure out what my audience is, figure out how to style the piece – is it an essay? A humor piece? A rant? A screed? A plea? And I’ll have to write it and rewrite it until the idea is no longer enjoyable for me and I’ve come to hate my own creation…and, by extension, myself.
Is this the life I want to live? Do I want to put myself through these cycles of insecurity? Haven’t I suffered enough with my mental health issues? Haven’t I earned the right to put down my pen? (A metaphorical pen. I mostly type.)
But if I go a few days without writing, I feel empty.
There’s nothing that brings me more satisfaction than finding the right words to convey my idea, my characters, my deepest desires. I can scroll through my blog and find posts from ten years ago that make me cringe, where I tried too hard to be funny, too hard to ape the style of other bloggers as I struggled to find my voice. But I can also find pieces that hold up well. I can find reviews and essays and satirical pieces that are well-expressed, or moving, or funny, or sometimes all of the above.
I try to remember that all writers feel this way. No one is proud of their work all the time. No one should be proud of their work all the time. We all make mistakes and good final drafts don’t happen without shitty first drafts.
I’d wager that most writers are unsatisfied with their work most of the time.
Why do we do this to ourselves? Writers’ workshops should be recovering writer support groups. “Hi, I’m Theresa.” “Hi, Theresa.” “It’s been twenty days since I last jotted down an idea in my notebook.”
That could be a piece in of itself. But then I have to find where to pitch it, write the pitch, find the right style, and I’ll have to write it and rewrite it until the idea is no longer enjoyable for me and I’ve come to hate my own creation…and by extension, myself.
Why do I put myself through this?
And yet, even as I’m questioning myself and lamenting this, I’m googling the search term “productive pandemic” to see who else has written about the internalized pressure to achieve creative peaks while hundreds and thousands of people around the world are dying.
I’m even wondering if this piece, this unedited rambling of my disordered mind, can be a piece I pitch somewhere, or post on my blog.
Because when I look back at the above paragraphs…for a first draft, it’s not bad.
(Okay, that’s a half-truth. This is the second draft. Most of the words are the same, but the “Outside Time” reflection is new. In the first draft, I went on a different tangent and wrote a different idea. I changed it for this draft because I might want to pitch that other idea, and I don’t want to give the game away in this piece.)
Anyway. These paragraphs I’m writing now, this half-stream-of-consciousness, half-confession, isn’t bad. If I share this, I can connect with other writers feeling the same way.
But then I have to find where to pitch it, write the pitch, find the right style, and I’ll have to write it and rewrite it until the idea is no longer enjoyable for me and I’ve come to hate my own creation…and by extension, myself.
Vicious cycle, rinse, repeat.
Always repeat, because I will keep going.
I may stop for awhile. I may bury my head in the latest book I’ve borrowed from the library, written by my favorite author, Better Than-Me, and ignore the calls from my characters to return to them and tell their stories. I may turn my phone on silent or block them for a few days, a week, a month…but I will always come back.
Does this sound hopeful? Does this sound like determination? Right now, it feels like grim acceptance of a Sisyphean fate.
I can’t NOT write, even if no one reads my work but me.
But if I can cut down on my periods of inner torment, shut out the self-doubt, hush the well-meaning soldiers in my mind that encourage me to quit so I don’t put myself through pain…
If I can spend more time writing than feeling bad about not writing, or not writing well enough…that would be great. That would be swell. That would be…
Oh, spite. Oh, hell. I can’t find the perfect sentence to end this piece and that’s going to bother me for the rest of the week.