In this post, J reflects on their writing processes, and asks readers to reflect on these aspects in their own lives and the way writing or feeling unable to write at a given moment feel and take shape in our own lives.
How do you go about writing? What is your process? What do you do when you cannot write for any given reason? Do you look forward to writing or is it something you have to make yourself do? Do you operate via a structured schedule, with set time limits and goals, and other rules to keep you on track? By contrast, do you operate in a more fluid manner writing when the feeling comes or an idea presents itself or some combination of these and other factors? Do you need to be indoors, outdoors, anywhere specific to write? Do you keep little handwritten notes or recordings on your phone or maybe a journal littered with in progress ideas and analyses? These are simply a few of the multitude of options and variations I have come across among other writers over the years. In this post, I want to share my own experience to encourage others to reflect on how you go about the process of writing and what writing is like for you.
In my case, writing is simultaneously a major part of how I make a living and a huge chunk of my personal life. Very few things that I have encountered in this world can match how wonderful it feels to write. I write creatively, academically, publicly, privately, empirically, theoretically, collaboratively, and solo, and attempt to write as much as possible because it is a prime site of fun, pleasure, and enjoyment for me throughout my life. Despite these lovely aspects of writing in my world, it is also deeply painful for me when I cannot write – I feel lost, like a part of me is missing – and no matter the reason, anytime I cannot write my moods, emotions, and even self concept (i.e., my own estimation of who I am, what I’m worth, etc) suffer greatly. Put simply, for me writing is a delicate ongoing balance between pleasure (when I can do it I am filled with joy) and pain (when I cannot do it I feel terrible). I can’t pretend this is the same or different for other writers, but this is what it feels like for me.
All of the above is complicated by the fact that I (best I can tell) have no control over whether or not I can write at a given time. Likely tied to other elements of the way my brain operates, I go through shifts or fluctuations wherein sometimes writing is the easiest, most natural, and smooth experience in the world, and at other times I just cannot do it no matter what I try or what deadlines or projects I have at my disposal at the time. In the former case, I’m basically in paradise writing every day and rather communicative in other ways. In the latter case, however, my entire mood shifts downward, I become very quiet and isolated, and I feel broken or lost. This ongoing experience means that I write in cycles – or bursts as a close friend of mine termed the process a while back – wherein the difference in me, in what I produce, in how I feel, in how I communicate, and in how I spend my time is noticeable to those closet to me (in fact, many times these wonderful people get very worried about me during “not writing” times because of how down, distraught, and isolated I become and I’m quite lucky to have people who care so much in those moments and reach out to check on me).
This cycle in many ways dictates or shapes the rest of my life. From August 2014 until the end of January 2015, for example, I could not write, and as is generally the case during such a “not writing” period I was very isolated, depressed (both emotionally and in terms of clinical symptoms) most of the time, and people I collaborate with had to basically wait until the part of me that writes – as one friend put it – “came back to life.” On the other hand, from February 2015 until the end of November 2015 I experienced a nonstop burst wherein I wrote every day, filled up the inboxes of colleagues, collaborators and friends, and felt happy, satisfied and able to be social (as much as I ever am). At present, I’m somewhere between the two extremes, which is honestly a new place for me. I can write a little bit, but its harder than when I’m “on” one of my bursts, but I also have days where I just stare at the screen and want to (or do) cry and scream. I don’t know if this is a new addition to the cycles or a one time thing, but I feel like I’m located in between the two versions of me I’ve become comfortable with.
This newfound in between “writing” and “not writing” led me to wonder what writing is like for other people. While this is something I have talked with many people about, I thought it might be useful to ask on a broader scale what the writing processes looks like for others, and also to offer my own experience for anyone who has yet to learn that there is not just one way to go about writing (a curious lesson I come across that some undergrad and graduate students have picked up from some unknown sources). After years of seeking advice, figuring out my own methods, and working with people who have very different methods (for example both Xan and Lain here at Write Where It Hurts have different writing processes and experiences than I do), I’ve become fairly certain that there are a wide variety of ways people go about the process of writing. As a result, I want to encourage others to think about these processes, what works and doesn’t work for a given person, and how we can utilize such insights to both Write Where It Hurts and manage the ways it may hurt when we have trouble writing.