Writing? Stop. Reassess.

Writing books: The Right to Write and The Writing Diet Photo by: Celes

Oh my god, just shut up already. Three weeks into my writing class, I was almost horrified to find that thought springing—completely unwelcome—to mind. It wasn’t directed at our instructor during her lectures, or even at the other students as they read through their weekly pieces. Nope, it came up at the worst possible time for someone really working on crafting her writing: whenever I was writing. Every week, I’d sit down at my laptop to work on something worthy of 15 other people’s time and attention. Every week, I’d begin working. And every week, without fail, I’d hear myself say “Oh god. Just shut up already."

This was (obviously) not the way I’d planned the experience to be. About a month before I moved back from Ireland, I was wildly making lists and plans about all the things I wanted as part of my life back here in the city, and among those plans was taking several writing courses. I was thrilled when I contacted Janis at the San Francisco Writer’s Grotto and she told me that I could have the last available seat in her novel class. This is going to be amazing, I thought. I’ve always been a writer, but I’ve been craving more direction and really wanted to focus on honing my skills with the help of an experienced writer. The first class left me motivated and ready to kick some serious writing ass. My mind swam with plans to block off my schedule for hours of deep-dive creative time, to write something that felt like I’d just dug my fingers into the earth and pulled up something wonderful. I was completely inspired.

And then.

Panic mode.

It’s that terrible excuse: life got in the way. I had a few of the most stressful weeks I’ve ever had. (I really don’t stress—it’s a new feeling!) My writing got pushed to the side, and I found myself pulling away from whatever I was immersed in an hour or two before class so I could write and have something—anything!—to read for critique. (I was mortified at the thought of showing up and being the only person with nothing to read and would rather read some awful drivel I’d spun up just an hour before than go empty handed.)

The weeks went on, and I found myself in something of a writer's existential crisis. Why am I doing this? I'd ask myself. Do I even want to write? Do I even like this? To be frank, it was depressing. Pair that with the Oh my god, just shut up mantra that arrived in my desperate flurries of writing, and you don't have a pretty picture. My writing wasn't improving, I wasn't giving it the attention it deserved, and the fact that the story I was crafting was still in discovery mode became painfully clear as compared to other students' work. By the end of the class, I was ready for a reprieve from the very thing I'd attended for.

Girl writing on bus

Photo by: Prayitno

The course ended nearly a month ago, and I still feel like I'm in recovery mode from coming to terms with not meeting my own expectations for the entire experience. While I'm glad I went for it, the class definitely put things into perspective for me. I can't say I'll take another any time soon, but it was useful to meet weekly to discuss writing, receive and give feedback, and simply learn more about the way I prefer to work. I've always been more of a lone wolf, and this experience has confirmed that for me. Writing can't be done in a black hole, but when it comes to the process and pacing, it's an individual thing.

But so what?

Going through these types of experiences—all the self-doubt and internal questioning—is one way for us to reassess and reposition ourselves in light of our goals. This class has made me pause and take stock of where I'm actually standing—it's as if I had decided at some point that following that stream was going to get me to where I wanted to go, and I've now realized that the stream turned due east several miles back and I need to be going north east. I'm so happy to have taken this course and discovered more about the way I prefer to work. If I'm totally honest, I'm also grateful for that wee writer's existential crisis so I can put the brakes on and reassess.

For the next few weeks, I'll be writing solely when I have the urge and am going to explore all kinds of visual inspiration. Instead of focusing on words, I'll be taking my own advice on just shutting up for a while and spending time paying close attention to the experience of things.

Have you had your own writer's existential crisis? How have you dealt with it?

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