Allowing myself to write, not forcing myself to write

Report from October 1, 2013:

I think I have been going at the writing, at least for the past month, all wrong.

Every day I sit at my computer as soon as possible after I wake up. Take pills. Swallow protein shake. Try to wake up – by surfing the net, answering email, pre-writing, free writing…

As soon as I’m ‘functional’ (a fuzzy definition if there ever was one), I block the internet with Freedom, and try to write.

This process of ‘getting ready to write’ can take from several hours – to all day (in which case no fiction gets written today), or at least to about 5pm, after which I usually declare myself defeated/written out – and proceed to try to survive until the next day. Or I manage to write another thousand words ABOUT 12.2. But not 12.2.

A pretty joyless existence, writing-wise.

It works better if I get a decent night’s sleep (hard with CFS), worse if I get interrupted a lot.

But even when I finally turn my attention to writing, it is STILL a slogging process, slow and painful.

I ask myself repeatedly if I want to stop writing (NO), writing THIS novel (NO), trying so hard (NO), attempting to use most of my ‘good’ time for writing (NO).

And I’m baffled by the answers.

I LIKE writing. I like having written. I like cleaning up and blogging a post. I like putting up another scene on Tuesdays, reminding myself I’m keeping to my decision of posting a polished scene every week.

Why am I doing this?

What I DON’T like is having spent the entire month of September NOT finishing Scene 12.2. It has become hard work that I can’t force myself to do.

I know these spells come to all writers. My character, Kary Ashe, even realizes, ‘Writing three novels had taught her to expect the deserts, but not how to find water from the rock.

But somehow I had lost sight of something important: I don’t have to do this. I don’t have to write. I write because it gives me pleasure, because I want to, because I can’t think of anything I can do that I would rather do (anything realistic, anyway).

With the CFS, if I didn’t have my writing I’d be a bitter, depressed, bored shut-in. Not a pretty sight.

What is the problem?

So I spent some time thinking, and I realized that I’m sitting down at the computer, doing all the right things as quickly as I can – food, water, medicine, environment – but have lost two important things in the process: My physical body. And joy.

The intention has always been: write first, then I can get to the fun part of the day. And then, when the writing doesn’t go well, the fun part of the day becomes more like surviving the day.

And taking care of the body is remedial.

And the joy isn’t there.

What is the solution?

So I thought about it (while taking a rest I couldn’t avoid, since I couldn’t write anyway), and I realized that my first task every day ISN’T to get to the writing.

It IS to get my brain going so I can write, but more it is to gentle my body into being ready for what I’m going to demand of it, i.e., supporting a CFS brain which is trying to focus on one thing for an extended period of time.

And I need to center myself, find today’s joy, and remember why I write.

So, since I couldn’t get right to the writing ANYWAY, I gave in. I took a 35 min. ‘rest’ – lying down, yoga breathing, with the eye mask on to block out light.

When I got up, I put every joint through its full range of motion, stretched every muscle I own, and did some easy yoga – just a few minutes: this is a warmup, not a yoga session. I walked around the yard barefoot ONCE: this is the loosening up phase of the day, not the exercise phase.

I breathed the clean warm air of the NJ October morning. I admired my plants, watered the mums that were a birthday present and the few pachysandra which looked parched, pulled a token number of weeds, checked that the hummingbird feeder was full.

I prayed, and I spent a couple of minutes feeling grateful.

Then I fed myself the perfect small meal and refilled the water and brought up Second Coke (diet) for sipping.

And I’m positively glowing – and, even including the nap, it took less than an hour. I waste more than that in fruitless surfing of the web every morning (okay, an occasional fruit, but it would have been there later).

Not wasted time

I feel so much better than I’ve felt at this point for weeks.

I think the meds (pain, B1, minerals & vitamins) are getting to where they need to be, and my lungs are fully oxygenated. My body is no longer tense and tight.

I dumped all these words about the process (getting the little synapses ready to fire is ALSO part of the process). I even checked the calendar and the To Do list (for later).

Now can we get to writing 12.2? Please?

Updated before bed:

I worked easily on editing 12.2 (still not finished) until 3pm. I left it ready to continue, and I figured out how the remaining part is going to go. It will only take putting in the time.

Then I took some time to do the paperwork – and wait on the phone for answers from Social Security, my employer, and Medicare – which desperately needed doing.

Got in two more laps around the yard. Didn’t eat anything I shouldn’t. Didn’t waste too much time.

Had a wonderful Facetime birthday chat with middle offspring. Watched a TV episode.

It was such a lovely, relaxed day – even though I got twice as much done as usual.

Insight?

I realize that, with no deadlines, this whole mess was just me. It has made me doubly certain I will self-publish – I couldn’t handle being on a required deadline (we PWCs are not reliable folk – so we do better not making promises we can’t keep).

I think I’m onto something. I WAS CREATING MY OWN STRESS. Tomorrow will tell.

Do you have to force yourself to write – and what does that mean to you?

Copyright 2013 Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

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7 thoughts on “Allowing myself to write, not forcing myself to write

  1. Sophi

    Great post. It reminded me of my own struggle, and how I realized trying to force myself in a structured box did me no good. Sometimes all you need is a change of scenery, a change of pace, just…a change. Also, good point about creativity: making writing a chore definitely kills the creativity.

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    1. ABE Post author

      Thanks. I figure the more I write it down, the easier it will be to fix the bad patterns and lock in the good ones – but stress helps nothing, and makes me even less functional.

      I forget how things really are if I don’t write them down WHEN they happen. The brain doesn’t WANT to remember the bad stuff, is incapable of remembering DURING the bad stuff.

      The reality is that I do it anyway – but I’m trying to find the way that’s easiest on me.

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  2. Tamara Staples

    Oh, I like this! This makes so much sense. Creativity wants to be coaxed out, not whipped out. I am going to try a version of this and see if I have the same success. Will report back in a few days. Thanks, Alicia!

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    1. ABE Post author

      I really hope it works for you: forcing yourself takes a lot of energy.

      I am not getting moving any faster than usual today (it’s 2pm), but I’ve done many of the same things as yesterday, including getting out for a few minutes, and I FEEL good, not stressed. If the brain wasn’t on and ready to work, the brain wasn’t on.

      I’m complicating my life by dieting, so it takes a couple of days to adjust to that – I can’t blame ONLY the brain fog.

      But I feel so much better stress-free.

      I realize people with real-world deadlines – where a book is owed to someone who already gave you an advance (trad. pub.) or you’ve been making big noises about releasing something for so long you feel obliged to (self-pub) – may not have the luxury of taking their time and smelling the roses.

      But I wasn’t making myself faster or a better writer or finished – just stressed. Duh!

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  3. Rachel6

    “My physical body. And my joy.”
    Again, thank you for an excellent blog post.

    For me, forcing myself to write means I pull up my story with a sense of resentment and duty and stare at the page for a while, because a writer must write, mustn’t she? Except that often, I just can’t think of words.

    I love your quotes folder. The one about setting a five-words-per-day goal was enormously helpful. I think I wrote about 100 yesterday, which is much better than five. BUT I can tell myself, “Five words today” and remain happy when I accomplish only five words that I will delete later when the scene clicks.

    Oddly, any poetry is strictly a writing freebie.

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    1. ABE Post author

      ‘Resentment,’ ‘duty,’ and ‘must’ are the problem, not the solution. Especially if you see yourself as a writer forever. Wrong rabbit hole.

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