I have a chronic case of bronchitis. It likes to pop up every fall, right around November. I hack until I’m blue in the face and my back is out of place, every November, like clockwork. Like many, I suffer from chronic depression and anxiety, caused by a chronic chemical imbalance in my brain. And ever since I was little, I have battled chronic headaches, believed to be caused by stress or hormones, and only later in life discovered to be a result of my chronic muscle tension stemming from an irregularity with my spine.
Still, what annoys me most of all is being chronically stuck.
It started as a series of doubts. Every time I sat down at my computer, I would think, who am I to tell this story? What could I possibly say that hasn’t already been said? It’s not worth writing if it isn’t written right, and Lord knows, I’m not likely to write it right. This litany of demeaning thoughts only increased when I read exceptionally good writing, at which point I would think, why even bother? I’ll never write anything as good as that.
When it finally occurred to me that I was effectively abusing my own creative self, I bought a sign to hang over my desk. You know the quote—“It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves who am I to be brilliant, talented, gorgeous, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?” (Marianne Williamson). There, I thought. That will show me.
Once more, I sat down, ready to write. Only now, I would look at the sign on my wall, and think of all the ways the world expected me to be brilliant, and how nothing I wrote could ever live up to that expectation. And so, I remained stuck.
I bought ALL of the books on writing. I followed all of the suggested bloggers. I even created a Pinterest board entirely dedicated to writing, you know, just in case someone on Pinterest had the answer to the eternal question. I mean, it has the best cookies, so you can see where one might hope. Despite all this, I remained stuck.
For two years post-graduation, I wrote nothing. I spent my life stuck. Until this June, when I had a little breakdown (thanks PPD) and I started on some medication. Let’s just go ahead and say right here that the medication is not what made me unstuck. It did, however, create a bit of a situation. My own inciting incident.
You see, my doctor forgot to mention a side effect of starting on anxiety medication. Apparently, it can make you a little manic in the beginning. Apparently, feeling really good for the first time in a long time, can make you feel on top of the world, at least for a day or two. And because no one warned me, I sat down at my computer, pulled out every draft I’d ever written of my WIP, read through all of it, and thought, oh hey, this isn’t half bad. I can totally finish this. So I lined up some beta readers, and I told them I’d send them a finished copy. You know, in a month.
I’ll leave my thoughts the day I came down from the medication to your imagination.
I had two options. I could email all of my beta readers back (one of whom was my high school debate coach who has been on my butt for years to finish a draft) and tell them I wasn’t thinking straight and thank you but no thank you, or I could buckle down and finish the book. For the first time in a long time, sitting down to write sounded like the best option.
In a span of 24 hours, I went from not writing at all, to writing every day. Every single day. Baby’s naptime became my new writing time, and no matter the condition of my house or the amount of laundry that needed washing, I sat down and wrote. I didn’t worry about how brilliant I was or wasn’t, or who’d written what before me. I didn’t have time to worry—there’s no way to know how long a nap will last, and I only had a month! And sure enough, the more I sat down to write, the easier sitting down became.
Until one week when my mother came to visit. For six days, I didn’t write a word. When she packed up and headed back home,
I thought, I should really sit down and write, but as soon as I sat down, all my doubts came back.
I always thought that rule, write two pages a day, was dumb. Why would you stop yourself at two pages? Why would your benchmark be a page count? I write in beats and scenes. I could never stop at something as erroneous as a page break. But now I’m coming to understand that it’s not so much about the page count as it is about the habitual act of writing.
Jordan Rosenfeld states in his book A Writer’s Guide to Persistence: How to Create a Lasting and Productive Writing Practice that how we value our writing shapes how we approach it. “The moment you see it as a ‘practice’ that derives from an authentic place inside you, you step outside the bounds of success and failure and enter a wholly new, deeper territory in which everything you do for and with your writing is part of a greater sum” (12).
When we view our writing as practice instead of product, no word is ever wasted. A regular practice means, so long as I sit down and write, I can write what I please. I can journal, I can blog, I can write love letters to my daughter. All of these options are valuable because they are all part of a greater whole—a regular writing habit.
I won’t lie, I didn’t finish that draft by the end of the month, but I am banking on finishing it within the next two weeks. Since indulging in a regular practice, I am no longer chronically stuck. My expectation shifted. I no longer concern myself with writing art, focusing instead on the regular art of writing. I focus on writing chronically.
Leah Hilsabeck-Lowrey graduated from the Hamline MFAC in January 2015. She lives in South Dakota where she is a full-time mother and a part-time writer and blogger. You can follow her on Instagram @leahelizabethwrites or follow her mom blog at lottieandme.com.