Writing Through the Darkness
My regular readers, if there are any such people, may have noticed that my generally consistent, if slightly haphazard, publishing schedule has been a touch unreliable of late.
Here’s the thing — writing takes a surprising amount of energy for an activity that is most often undertaken whilst sitting down. The cerebral strain of the act is such that, as any writer will likely tell you, tiredness, inebriation, and pretty much any sensation other than bright-eyed and bushy-tailed is not ideal.
Emotional tiredness, too, is an issue here.
I have suffered with mental health issues for a very long time now. I know the ebb and flow of a depressive episode, I know what the light at the end of the tunnel actually looks like and how it feels when the void is nipping at your heels. Lethargy, by this point, is an old friend who invites himself to stay every month or two. A favourite sport of this unwanted guest is to whisper criticism in my ears until no word fits right and no sentence sounds complete. After a while, even my ideas begin to succumb, coming and going, unnoticed, as the world drifts by my half -hooded eyes.
Writing, in such circumstances, is something of a herculean task.
Recently, a bereavement in my family and the upheaval that followed took its toll just enough to let lethargy slip in. Now, even as I write these words, every fibre of my being wants to give up and go to bed, turn out the light and wait for a better, brighter day.
Sounding familiar to anyone?
I have yet to meet a writer who has never struggled to write. In general, it's such a personal experience that if things aren't quite ok personally, they won't be ok on the page either. Sometimes the words flow effortlessly from our fingertips but, more often than not, writing good prose takes concentration and time. There is an effort expended there that many who do no write cannot quite fathom.
Writing is also, however, quite meditative and cathartic. At least, it can be. Online writers like those of us on this platform might well have begun writing as a hobby, a creative endeavour that we enjoyed and wanted to share. Medium is not my day job, but I am a writer there too, and yet even after a long day of work I still find myself drawn to writing as a way to relax. It's almost an addiction.
This presents something of a dichotomy. While writing can be immeasurably difficult when struggling through emotional and mental upheaval, the natural response of many writers, myself included, to these kinds of problems is to write about them. Our troubles make the one thing we naturally want to do harder to achieve.
It’s sucks. Big time.
So, what to do?
My suggestion is to write.
Yes, yes, I know. That sounds like a stupid remark given what I have just said, but bear with me on this.
See, I don't think that writing while feeling less than ok is hard. I think writing well and consistently when in such a state is hard. There is a really important difference there.
When I sit down to write, I have expectations of myself. I await a certain amount of quality and productivity from my work, and failure to reach those levels leads me to believe that I may be failing. You might well have similar feelings about your own writing.
This is why, when I sit down at my computer with my mind firmly in the void, I am so often disappointed with what comes out on the page. It's always too little, or too disjointed, or too abstract, or just generally too… bad. Frustration at my inability to produce good work while feeling down only further entrenches my feelings of inadequacy.
So, to counter this, a suggestion.
Write, but without expectation.
Before I settled on this article I wrote hundreds of words across multiple draft articles that may well never see the light of day. They were paragraphs of hyper-poetic self-pitying or disjointed arguments that were clearly unformed. They were the necessary outlets of emotion that I needed to then think clearly enough to compose this piece. I wrote without expectation of quality or success until I eventually found myself writing an article that did make sense and that might be worthy of publishing — this one.
In the end, we are writers, and so it is only natural that we tend towards that very act in times of stress and strife. We pour ourselves into our work on any given day and we deserve to be able to do exactly that when we don't feel our best. Not everything has to be perfect, not every word has to be carefully chosen to please an editor or to maximise SEO.
Sometimes it's ok to just write and see where the words take you. They might lead you down a path of unpublishable imperfection, which is completely ok if that's what you need. Occasionally, though, your melancholy musings may help you to discover works and words that are more than just catharsis.
Writing through the darkness is possible, just as long as you do so without holding yourself to the same high standards you usually do. Just because you write for a living doesn't mean that every word you write has to be publishable. It's ok to just write for the sake of the act.
That's how we all started out, isn't it?