You know when you first fall in love and it feels like your heart will lift you up and carry you away? Well, that's what writing is like for me. Recently I began a new book project and a close friend joked that she thought I was having a tryst with a new lover.
From the outside I see how it may have seemed that way. I went into hiding, completely throwing myself into my writing, not letting anyone know where I was or what I was up to. All I wanted was to be alone with this work that I was creating, and that was (and is) creating me.
Sometimes passion for what I write carries me almost to the middle of a project before, that is, I begin to have doubts such as, why would anybody want to read this? Why do I EVEN think I can write?
Does it sound like any relationships you’ve had? You know the ones that start off with you thinking the person is perfect and that she or he’s your soul mate. You love the way she brushes her hair from her face, or the way he laughs. Then, two years in you find her hair in the shower and think, this person’s annoying the crap out of me. Or his laugh that you once found irresistible is now like an earworm you can’t shake.
In Alain de Botton’s The Course of Love he writes, “...love is a skill, not just an enthusiasm.” While I tend to agree with this author’s thoughts on love, I also recognize that writing’s like this for me as well. If I look at my writing as a relationship that actually takes work, then it makes so much sense when things inevitably go to shit. Because they always do at some point.
Just like a relationship you have with another person, after the love-struck euphoria subsides, then comes the real work of loving this person, warts and all. Which by the way is code for also loving yourself!
Of course, there may be times when you just need to cut yourself loose because no amount of fixing will make the relationship better. I’ve done this a few times with my writing where I get past a certain point and then realize I can’t go any further. My heart’s not in what I'm writing and I haven't the strength to carry on, yet then I discover that the project in question takes me to another project where my heart IS in it.
For the love relationships worth sticking it out for, deepening that connection often happens after upheaval. We come to know more about that person and ourselves through the aches and pains of living with them. If we (or they) decide to stay, and if it's a healthy kind of love, then those feelings can only grow stronger. Yet, what happens if there’s still love there though you still don’t feel like carrying on?
With writing there are many reasons why you may stop working on something that you STILL love. For one, it’s REALLY hard to write and it takes time away from other things that are in themselves really important. Also, you may doubt your ability to actually reach the finish line.
When I’m feeling stuck with a particular project I sometimes ask myself what are the moments I most value or cherish about the writing process and about what I’m working on.
I've worked with this question in writing groups, and it takes some digging to discover what you value most about writing.
Prior to splitting with my fiancé I had written out a list of things I most loved about him, because, given all the stresses we were under at the time, I began to forget what attracted me to him in the first place. If you're running up against a wall with your writing and in that place where you question why you even started, make a list of things you love about your current project. Why do you feel it's important to keep going? Where can you see the story taking you, and eventually taking your readers?
Draw on the list below for whenever you feel your relationship with your writing needs some extra spicing up! Remember that, like any relationship, you need to work at it. Love (and writing) expands with gentleness, care, and some craftiness.
1) Tell your writing that you have a standing date for 6 a.m. (in my case) every morning and then fool her/him by arriving at 5:45. Because you want to spend every waking moment in her/his embrace.
2) If your writing asks to take a break, tell her/him that she/he's your love slave and pretty much has to do what you want. Of course you both know this is BS and that you’ll always chase your writing under the covers, as she/he will always surprise you. And because a little mystery is lots of fun!
3) Your writing likes the odd treat such as chocolate or cookies and teas, so when you really want to turn on the charm buy her/him some treats from a fancy schmancy shop. Of course, some flowers on your writing desk would be totally in line, too.
4) Set a timer so that you and your writing can have uninterrupted quality time together. This ups the ante and makes it more exciting so that every moment counts.
5) There's nothing sexier for one's writing than a clear mindset. Meditation helps with this and allows you to be more limber with your language and more present for your love.
6) Dress in your most posh, sexiest outfit. For starters I suggest lace stockings as your writing likes to be turned on. Of course I’m teasing, though I do dress up most of the time to write. It makes me feel like this is actually my job and not some hobby I roll out of bed and pull on some sweatpants for.
7) Treat your writing to good quality lighting so your eyes can focus on the task at hand and not tire too quickly. Also, good lighting makes both of you look more attractive.
8) Exercise helps you be particularly flexible when you’re working away on your word processor. You may even flaunt your acrobatic skills by typing extra fast or sitting on a Swiss ball, bouncing while you type.
9) Go on retreat with your writing. Even if it’s only a weekend getaway, your writing will benefit from the fresh air and change of scenery, and will probably return home rosy cheeked and with a spring in her/his step.
10) Often tell your writing that you love her/him. Sometimes we forget to do this and can take our writing for granted. Remember that she/he’s a precious gift that must be acknowledged.
11) Don’t break a date with your writing because she/he will not be happy and this will in turn make you unhappy as well.
12) Listening is one of the most important skills to have in any relationship. Ask your writing what it wants to show you. If at first you don’t hear the answer, then ask again.
13) Think back to your current relationship with your significant other, or to the last relationship you had. What you’ll often find you most cherish with that person are (or were) the moments of just being together. Not even so much being together as being together. The best intimate moments are those in which we’re simply present—being ourselves, not having to do something, not having to prove anything—and sharing those moments with someone we love. Try this with your writing and you’ll find that just being with him/her can deepen understanding and connection.
14) Put away your devices and don’t check email, surf the Internet or look at Facebook or Twitter. You want to give your writing your undivided attention and for him/her not to feel that he/she’s not valued or respected.
15) And when your writing has had a particularly arduous day then a bit of bourbon is always nice. Or whatever your poison is, perhaps it will also be your writing’s poison.
16) While we’re in the thick of our writing process, don’t forget that we’re unfinished beings. In the process of becoming just like the works we're creating. Remembering this will help you be more present with your writing and not as judgemental about where you are in the process.
17) Once you’ve been writing for a while you’ll know that some days are better than others. Acknowledge when you’re having a not-so-great writing day and be bold about complimenting your writing and YOU for having shown up to write in the first place.
18) Never blame your writing for being rejected by a publication or an agent or a publisher. Your writing is a free spirit that needs space to breathe. Blaming your writing just makes it harder for him/her to express himself/herself in future.
19) Allow your writing to be herself/himself. As in any relationship, having too many expectations can lead to disappointment down the road. Instead, encourage your writing to be the best she/he can be. This will win you BIG points in the bedroom, er, writing space.
20) Make yourself some writing vows that you can read aloud when needed. Like these ones in Alain de Boton’s book, The Course of Love, make sure they’re REAL and honest: “In an ideal world, marriage vows would be entirely rewritten. At the altar, a couple would speak thus: 'We accept not to panic when, some years from now, what we are doing today will seem like the worst decision of our lives. Yet we promise not to look around, either, for we accept that there cannot be better options out there. Everyone is always impossible. We are a demented species.' ”