Incomplete Instructions for Girl Writers in Pain

Nonfiction by Janet Frishberg


  1. Do not write about an alcoholic mother if you’ve ever been mothered by an alcoholic. Especially if she’s sobered up now, or if she hasn’t.
  2. Turn all your ex-boyfriends into ex-girlfriends, so they won’t read your stories about only women and will never see themselves in your words. Anyway, they’d never believe what cruel women they create.
  3. Write with your thumbs on your phone on the couch when you have the cramps that make you take your pants off, make you swallow the CBD chocolate and later the THC chocolate, shut your eyes to world while world gets dark on a Saturday night.
  4. It’s okay if all you can write on a sick Saturday is about the living room: the couch’s radiating velour, too hot for this day, the giant lamp that looks like it’s watching you, a neutral look on its lampface, a non-judgmental lamp (this, at least, is nice).
  5. It’s also fine if all you can write on a sick Saturday is about the kittens who watch you from the carpeted floor, one black, one ginger. You hope you’re not scaring them; usually wrestling, snuggling, they’ve instead been sleeping for hours under the coffee table, you on the couch doing the same. How the time passes when you have no job and only six friends is a mystery.
  6. Move to a city that people like to visit, where you have only six friends. It will be a pleasure not to have to say no so much.
  7. Write on your phone. Write in a notebook, by hand. Write on your computer when your hands and wrists hurt, the joints unsupported for too many years. Write on a legal pad at work until you quit that work. All of it counts.
  8. People think you need to quit a job to be a writer, but you don’t need to do that, honestly. You just need to keep writing. And you were right, it’s nice to have your own money to pay for what you want, fancy face wash and simple silver rings in the shape of a person, cheddar chive biscuits and chai with oat milk, a ride home rather than walking scared, the way you always thought it could be when you were a little girl whose decisions and time were ruled by money and grudges. It does feel good to grow into a woman who isn’t ruled only by money.
  9. Your uterus likes rest. Your uterus will only cause you one day of manageable pain if you give it three to four days of rest before that one day. Late-stage capitalism doesn’t like rest, but uterus knows what’s good for you. You didn’t listen for so long; don’t waste time mad at yourself for all that pain.
  10. Write about internal organs, if you want. Write about bleeding and men and the words you were supposed to keep secret. Just write about them; you don’t have to do anything else, although you will probably want to soon enough, and that, too, is allowed.
  11. Also, you’re allowed to free yourself. To be confused. To keep reaching. You will still have friends. You will still have love.
JANET FRISHBERG is currently at work on a memoir about grief, writing, and friendship. Her writing has been published in Catapult, Electric Literature, The Rumpus, and Joyland Magazine. You can find more of her words at her website.