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Writer Therapy: Rainbow Sparkles and Unicorn Fairies
I'm a writer who hates writing. That's a terrible cliche, I know. But I'm exhausted. I'm angry at myself for thinking that this was something I should do.
My story is, I'm a recovering journalist turned corporate communications writer. Writing is how I pay the bills, but of course, like an idiot, I had some kind of dream that I could do more.
So I did an MFA. I spent twenty thousand dollars. And what do I have to show for it? A shitty, terrible draft of a novel that I hate and is a terrible mess that I can't even bear to look at, let alone revise. Why did I do this to myself?
Listen, I tried. I've tried to come up with new projects, but they are all terrible. I signed up for writing prompts, but every time I sit down, I think, what is the point? Writing for the sake of writing something that's also going to go no where and do nothing? No, thank you. I have done enough of that. I spend the whole day writing stupid things for my corporate overlords anyway.
Maybe shitty corporate communications is all I am good for. Maybe it's pointless, but it's still writing, and at least they pay me. That's something. Isn't it?
Defeated By Words.
This isn't so much a writing problem as it is a relationship problem. Bear with me on this metaphor.
You are in a long-term relationship with writing. You all have been through some stuff. You had some dreams about this amazing life you'd have together, that have not come true. In fact, because you write for a living, it's like working with your spouse--there is no escape. Especially in a pandemic where now you work from home together. You're always together doing your job, so whatever was left of the fun, romantic relationship you once had, has gone toxic and dark. You sound like you're at that point in your relationship where you look at your partner and think, why the fuck did I waste my life on you? I gave you the best years of my life, and for what?!
You can't really leave because your work and business is all tied up in them. But in some ways, that just becomes a mocking echo of the silly dreams you had at the start of all of this. Oh, I'm going to be a writer. Ha! You're a writer of shitty reports now. So much for the years in journalism and the twenty thousand dollar MFA.
It's a dark, bitter place to be. And it's not an easy road back to the hope-y dream-y place of Rainbow Sparkles and Unicorn Fairies. Does that place even exist? Are the people who talk about writing that way for real?
But just like any long relationship, you have to go back to, why did I fall in love in the first place? What did I see here? How do I feel anything good about them anymore?
You need to have dates. Be silly with it. Have fun again.
(This is the part, Defeated, where maybe you're going to snort derisively at me. Bear with me a second, though.)
It's not going to be better right away. It will be awkward and weird as fuck at first. It will probably feel terrible and stupid. Also, you will have a part of you sitting there thinking, what the fuck, I did not spend twenty goddamn thousand dollars and years of my life and hours of just grinding away at my motherfucking thesis to metaphorically go ice skating with my writing. Are you fucking kidding me? Going for a fucking picnic won't fix this.
But keep doing it, even if it feels pointless and purposeless. Try to make it as fun as it can be. It doesn't have to have a point. It will probably feel like a lot of going through the motions at first and that's fine.
Along the way, talk to other writers. If you have no other writers to talk to, talk to trusted friends. Journal. There are things sitting in your brain and getting in the way of wondering why you wanted to write creatively in the first place. A fear of failure, maybe. A desire for concrete success to justify why you wanted to do this in the first place. Difficulty reconciling the gap between how you thought it was going to go and how it went.
I am not great at writing for the sake of writing either, so don't call it that. Call it writing for the sake of healing your relationship with writing. Just to find something to like again. Maybe it will lead to something new. Maybe it will lead you back to your novel, but in a way that you can feel okay working on it again. You don't know until you experiment with writing some. Don't worry about something meaningful or successful or that's going anywhere yet. Noodle around until you find something that entertains you enough to want to actually do it, even if you have to push yourself to start.
You have not failed--yet. You have a long, long way to go before you can declare that you've failed. You are in a horrible limbo where there is this giant project you've worked on sitting there, and it's not what you want it to be, and also you don't know if you want to look at it again. It's a relationship limbo as well--do I stay or do I go? Can I rekindle this or was it all a stupid mistake? And if it was a mistake, how do you make yourself okay with that and let it go in peace.
I hit that with my novel--this rewrite is me returning to it after not touching it for more than two years. I had some legitimate good reasons (I have to potty train one of those reasons soon) but honestly, I was just stuck for a long time. And I felt like a massive fraud because here I was teaching this stuff and yet I was also not writing and stuck. For me it took a global pandemic to push me into getting even a little bit unstuck, but my pandemic experience was different from yours.
But there was a bunch of stuff, some legitimate, some maybe not, about the pointlessness of writing the stupid thing, but what it came down to was that I found the whole thing fucking daunting. I was afraid of it, I was afraid that I was a lot of nice-sounding talk covering a big bag of suck, I was afraid that I could spend years more fucking with this thing and it would still be horrible, I was afraid that I had entirely wasted whatever talent I had because I couldn't put together the discipline or even desire to write the dumbass thing, I was afraid was putting another entirely needless story that has been told to death in the world... I was afraid of a lot of things. And also tired.
I don't know what getting out of limbo looks like for you, but I do know, you have to find the love again. And you do that by trying stuff even if it seems dumb, until something clicks a little bit. And like with relationships, maybe it isn't all the rainbow sparkles of our twenties when we were all naive idiots. Maybe it looks different now. That's fine.
But I know it's still there. Because this is where writing isn't like a relationship. Writing never leaves. Writing doesn't hold grudges or tell you you're turning into your mother. It's just there, waiting for you, whenever you're ready to try again.
So try again. You are more than your corporate communications job. You are more than a former journalist. You are a lover of words who has not--yet--been able to put a novel into the world. The process of doing it is never quite what we think it will be, because would we even do it if we knew that sitting in a toxic pit of self-doubt sometimes is part of the process? Fuck no.
Listen, you can quit. Writing will never force you to stay in this relationship. Writing will always set you free. But you wouldn't feel so defeated by it all if you didn't still want to do this. Why did you think you could do this? Because you can. Because you want to. And wanting to is all the point you need.
Sonal Champsee is a real writer and a real writing teacher, but not a real therapist.