Tag Archives: how to write

Of Force & Faith: Writing & Creativity Blocks

ceremony script - sha sha chu

photo by Sha Sha Chu via flickr Creative Commons

Writing is a fickle mistress, and hard to keep happy.

I have much work to do but I’m like an athlete in training, and forcing myself to write something on a daily basis. Right now, it’s all of a personal nature. Opinion writing, observations, that sort of thing. So in a way, I’m “forcing myself” to write, but in another way, the pressure to do so is because I’ve had many “I want to write” moments of late. I’m inspired, and often, but I’m also beholden to work, leisure, and other living-in-the-real-world distractions.

The old “find the time” conundrum. Ahh, adulthood.

Which brings me to the idea of Writer’s Block. The nefarious “block” is a topic that makes me laugh because it’s something I know all too well. I find myself annoyed at smarmy, smug types who tell you “There’s no such thing as writer’s block,” because I’m not sure what they deserve more — a face-punch or a logic-restoring slap upside the head.

Of course there’s no such thing as writer’s block. Don’t be an idiot. There’s nothing that stands up inside you to shout YOU! DON’T WRITE ANOTHER WORD! NOT A LETTER! STOP!

Of course not. But that doesn’t mean you should be writing when it ain’t nothing but grunt. You know you’re writing shit when you’re writing shit. Why push the matter?

Wait Till You Can’t Wait No More

I’ve been forever misattributing a quote I read once, and I guess I’m so far from the original quote now that it’s unGoogleable (and all instances trace back to ME), but it went “A writer ought not write until the thought of not writing becomes unbearable.” Maybe I’m the one who said it after a fevered night’s dream.

Still, I’m not sure if I agree with that quote either, or its limitations of “wait till not doing it’s unbearable,” which sounds like the literary equivalent of blue balls. Somewhere in the middle of the extremes of workaholic craft-maintaining and waiting for the sheer passion to write is the sweet spot of creation.

I’m old enough now to understand that the life of a writer comes in waves. I’ll probably never be a write-all-the-time-forever writer, but I suspect I’ll have five-year windows where I’m on, and a little while when I’m off. Or maybe it’ll become more constant the older I get, as I learn about balance and understand what this craft does for me on so many levels. Maybe I’ve been out of the game enough to last me a lifetime.

I haven’t wanted to write for so long. I can’t explain how it is to understand that your creative self just isn’t what, or where, you want it to be. I can’t tell you how I knew I had to walk away and just rekindle my place in the world.

I can’t explain the loss of confidence I had in what I do, in how I write. I don’t give a fuck if you understand how pervasive such a thing is for a writer. It’s not about you.

Fake it Till You Make It? No.

Lighthouse on a ferry sail.

Lighthouse on a ferry sail.

My walk-away wasn’t all about confidence or the loss thereof, but that certainly played a role in the beginning. I totally lost my mojo in 2010 / 2011. I had grown angry at life and didn’t know how to feel other things or express more than that.

Real writing is about going to those netherworlds inside you. Dark places, places where we don’t sell admission tickets. So if what’s inside you is just blanket-angry and one-tracked, and you don’t approve of that anger, or worse, you disrespect yourself for it, it’ll be a really hard road to scrounge up personal writing that’s worth reading. I never found that road.

After I moved to Victoria, that bitterness began to vanish. The anger started to evaporate and I found myself lost in this new world around me. The will to write popped up at inconvenient times, but very fleetingly. It didn’t stick around. I didn’t get that “where’s a pen?” twitch, or that niggling sense of “Huh, I like that idea…” that made it worth the effort of recording.

Creativity was nebulous, at best.

When the desire to write started to return, my confidence issues returned too. I felt an imposter in a wordy world. Every time I wrote something, it’d be like I was walking through a garden, noticing things, enjoying the moment, then suddenly there’d be a 4-foot wall. Instead of looking for a way around or over, I’d go “Well, huh — there’s a four-foot wall. I guess that’s that.”

I wasn’t following it through, and worse, I felt I couldn’t.

And Then One Day

Writing is like anything else in the world. If you’re a writer and it’s really, really good, you just know it down inside you. It’s a feeling on a cellular level, an almost-religious experience. It pops.

I didn’t have that feeling again until I wrote Unmerciful World on Medium. Seymour Hoffman’s death hit me like a brick, and within 15 minutes I’d sat down to write in a daze. A trance, maybe.

It was the shot of confidence I needed. Arrogantly so. I was impressed with myself. I remembered what it used to feel like to crank out promising copy on a daily basis, on topics that mattered to me, rather than just work that would satisfy clients. (Which I pride myself on delivering often.)

So began the journey of trying to reconnect with writing. I started doing more, but they languish now as incomplete topics in my drives. And then I was writing a lot. But still not for your enjoyment. I started a very personal project I think will become an ebook by Christmas, for instance.

Still, writing for yourself, in silence, gets a bit masturbatory and creepy. It doesn’t take long before objectivity vanishes and a me-me-me mentality storms in.

Now I’ll need to find a balance between the two. I’ve alluded to projects I want to write and share with you. I have two books I want out this fall. (And since, unlike cooking books, there are no product testing, re-testing, photographing, or complex layouts involved… I expect it to be a much simpler and far more fulfilling experience! And quicker to bring to fruition.)

And there are others. I have creative ideas for weird experimental writing I’d like to try. As my confidence bubbles up, I’ll put those in the mix too.

Boat at Fisherman's Wharf here in Victoria recently.

Boat at Fisherman’s Wharf here in Victoria recently.

But like a long-cooked stew, these sorts of odd projects are sometimes best when simmered on low in the background for a good long time. And so they are.

Writing is exciting again. The challenge is nearly titillating. I’m beginning to anticipate the onslaught of winter, where I won’t feel like two selves are pulling in me — the one who wants to scream FUCK IT ALL and go running for the beach versus the other who wants to pull the sunny windows closed, mutter darkly “Fuck it all” and stay at the computer, pounding out words.

And in between it all is that damnable presence of the bank and a life that needs to be earned before it’s spent.

Writing, like all things, needs to be bad and uninspiring for spells, so we creatives can truly love and appreciate these rare periods where inspiration comes knocking and our keyboards answer confidently.

I’m not upset that I’ve had such long durations out of the creative world. I won’t apologize for it or beg you to take me seriously after it. I think I’ll be a better writer for the experience. I’ll simply have to prove it.

It’ll be a fun ride as I find out.

In Which Steff Talks About Mental Health

Come Saturday I’ll be giving a talk at Vancouver’s “Mental Health Camp,” where the goal is to get people thinking about stigmas attached to a wide range of mental conditions — from ADHD and depression through to eating disorders and compulsions all the way to harder-core afflictions like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

Me, I’ll be talking specifically on two things — one, I’ll give a 45-minute session on blogging for therapy in my solo “Ripping the Scab Off through Blogging” talk, and two, I’ll be on a panel discussing how each of us 4 panelists have used social media to share our psychological struggles and what it’s meant for us.

This posting is sort of to just touch on both of those, in support of the event, and to let you know what’s going down.

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I’ll be honest: Yeah, I’m not particularly wild about talking at something called “Mental Health Camp.” There is stigma, yeah. Damn right there is.

I also know that if there’s anyone who can overcome such stigma, I’m probably at the front of the line.

I’ve spent much of the last five years already writing about myself in very open ways as I take the journey of going from She Who Was Very Unhappy to this much more interesting and fun-to-be-with version of self I’m excavating from under years of neglect.

Writing about myself has been a huge part in how I’ve been able to accept where I was, where I needed to be, and what it would take to get there.

By learning how to write in an open way while still hanging on to details that weren’t really necessary to share, I’ve managed to be open yet keep some of my struggles inside, too. Snapshots, that’s what y’all get.

In homage to one of the great Canadian writer Margaret Atwood, I call the writing technique “surfacing” and it’s pretty simple to do, it’s just a matter of perspective. Shifting that perspective ever so slightly creates a whole new reward from the writing.

I’ll be talking about it in  detail on Saturday, and don’t want to blow my hand by writing all about it here and now.

The talk will include a lot more than that, though.

I’ll look at the differences between journal-writing and blogging, and point out all the pros and cons of turning to the web for an audience. I’ll tell you who should be blogging more openly (almost everyone) and who shouldn’t (and there are some).

I’ll tell you the top 10 reasons I think anyone willing to blog should be willing to be more personal, and why blogging for therapy just makes sense from a societal point of view — both from solidarity and healing perspectives.

I’ll also share the prices I’ve paid while attempting to cash in* on living the revealed life. It’s not something one should enter with the foolish notion that “I’ll write it and they’ll read it.” There’s a lot that can go wrong. There’s a lot that can play out well. There’s much to consider.

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Later, I’ll be on a panel with three friends — all of whom have had far, far harder mental health journeys than I have — discussing how we’ve been “out” about our lives and the prices/rewards it’s cost/yielded us.

In both situations, I’ll briefly outline the facts: I lived with mild depression for most of my life. I’ve learned that, when it comes to natural depression FOR ME, it’s controlled with diet and exercise. I have indeed been medicated on a few occasions, both for “situational depression” as well as ADHD.

I’m on no meds now. It’s not a prize I’ve won for being a Good Mental Health Patient. It’s just that I’ve found a way to mostly regulate my chemistry.  When I was ON meds and began eating well and exercising, what WAS a good level of meds went sideways fast as I started building my own seratonin and dopamine.

Do NOT fuck with meds just because I’ve been able to get off mine. It’s NOT about the meds, it’s about what’s safe for you. Talk to doctors!

But all this is to say I’ve been to my mental health hell with a chemical depression that took two years of medication to regulate back to normal. I’ve been on the verge of suicidal with a desperate cry for professional help in the past, all while being an intelligent person who felt trapped in this chemical mood I couldn’t shake for months and months.

Before that, I had to overcome a head injury. Since the chemical depression, I’ve had to learn to adjust to an adult-ADHD diagnosis and how it makes me see the world.

So, I’ve had some experiences, and they’re probably more common to the general populace than my colleagues’ are, so I’m happy I can provide a “mental health light” perspective to balance it out.

Being on the other side now, I remember how hard it was to be in the chokehold the disease of depression had on me. I never thought I would escape. Suicide seemed like a smart plan.

Here, now, and looking back, it does shock me how putting my head down and keeping on keeping on, fighting the fight, eventually paid off and has brought me to a better sense of self than I’ve ever known before. Yeah, I’m proud of the stuff I accomplished.

The journey was long and strange, and I feel I’m still on it and I’ll always have to be aware that depression can find me again, but having this kind of self-awareness and openness, as much as it’s been problematic at times, is something I feel that will probably help me navigate whatever stormy waters might one day roll my way again.

The truth shall set you free?

Yeah. Maybe. Let’s talk.

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People in Vancouver can see these talks, among many other good ones, for a lowly $10 at the door. There are plenty of tickets, and, yes, it’ll be air conditioned in the heatwave. Wahoo. There’s a chance it’ll be streaming live, and if so, I’ll be posting that URL for my followers on Twitter, and you should check there Saturday morning, in case I forget to post it here.

*Figuratively, not literally.