Perhaps, if I procrastinated less, that I might find more time.
Will have to pursue it later.
I’ve been trying to write more regularly, which is good. Writing is like any other habit: it has to be done repeatedly and regularly in order to become a habit.
I’ve tried journaling many times over the years, but, it’s not a practice I’ve been able to turn into a habit. I’ll stick with it for awhile, but, writing over and over on the same theme (“Well, I should write something, fill up the page, but I don’t know what to say.”) gets old. I have had more luck with making notes in a notebook — writing down quotes I hear, thoughts that pop into my head, various beginnings to pieces I want to write; I’ll write a sentence here, a paragraph there, rather than trying to force myself to write 3-5 pages in a journal everyday. Journaling brings out the rebellious streak in me: “Ha! Here’s one page, that’s all you’re getting from me!” Notes are better. There’s no forced time, no forced length. I get the thoughts out of my brain as they happen, rather than trying to remember something until I’m able to write it down. And, I can flip through my notebooks — yes, this is why they are called notebooks! — when I need inspiration for something to write about.
I’m finding it easier to write without listening to that inner-critic voice. It’s tough sometimes, because it’s always there, wanting to correct what’s just been written, or saying “yeah, right, who’s going to want to read this?” But, I’m discovering that it’s easier to ignore it than it used to be. (Though, to be perfectly honest, this may have to do with the anxiety medication, since the critic voice is often the anxious part of you, worrying about if you and your writing (or whatever art) are good enough. The anxiety medication seems to have silenced that Critical Voice. However, I don’t recommend them as an option to writer’s block. Mental health medications have enough other side-effects that one good side-effect doesn’t make it a wonder drug.)
My problem is that I want it to be perfect the first time through. Which I’ve always thought was interesting, because I’m not a total perfectionist. It’s a selective thing. I think there’s a fine line between perfectionism and being anal. I’m too sloppy to be anal. I think the perfectionist thing relates to things I’ll be accountable for. Like work. I want everything to be done perfectly as I do it. Same with writing. It’s got to be perfect as soon as it hits the page. But, it’s selective enough to not worry about the clutter on my desk, or the fact that I don’t alphabetize my spice rack.
When I was in school, all my papers were thought about ahead of time, and usually written the day before they were due. The thoughts and ideas had been floating around in my head for days, and when I finally sat down to write, I knew what I wanted to say. I wrote it from beginning to end, proof-read it for spelling and grammar (just in case), and that was it. I never, ever rewrote a paper. Rarely would I change anything about it other than spelling or punctuation. And, I got A’s on every paper I wrote in college. It’s the writing from the heart and soul that’s tough, the creative, or the thoughtful seem to require a ton of effort for each and every word that makes it to the page. It’s like each word weighs some incredible amount, and your mind struggles and pushes and pulls to get it out through your fingers and onto the paper. I’m not sure writing is ever effortless, but, I like to think that it can get a little easier with practice.
The best part of writing though is filling up a page. Regardless of whether it is good or not, there is an almost Olympic Medal Winning thrill every time I fill up another page with writing. It’s the victory over the blank page. Sometimes that empty piece of paper just sits there and stares at me, challenging me, daring me to fill it up with words. With each and every page I manage to fill up and turn, I feel as if I’m throwing my head back and maniacally laughing at it “Ha Ha! You thought you could defeat me and stay blank. Well… I showed you who’s the daddy, didn’t I?!?!” It’s a wonderful moment each time, then it’s followed by a heady crash to the ground as the next page is then empty, issuing forth the same challenge to be filled. I really do understand why so many writers become depressed, suicidal alcoholics.
When I was drinking, I wrote, and when the writing was good, I felt that it was because the alcohol relaxed me, made my mind more open and creative. When I quit drinking, I stopped writing — I chose to stop drinking, I didn’t choose to stop writing: the words just stopped coming. I began to fear that if I was sober, I’d have to give up my dream of being a writer, because I couldn’t write without drinking. I didn’t want to go back to drinking.
After the first week of sobriety, I began to think of things to write about, and I found that I could write for a few minutes at a time. It was a reassuring feeling. After a month or so, I was able to write a few pages. As I dried out, my brain started feeling clearer than it had in a long time. The creative part of my brain, at least. The depression didn’t go away, and, the sobriety made the anxieties resurface — those parts of my brain didn’t feel better. But, creatively, my thoughts feel much more energetic than they have in years. It’s why I started focusing on a blog for my photography, why I started a poetry blog, why I make myself try to post something on each blog every day. That’s why I have been making an effort to write more. The posts may not be the most interesting thing ever, but, it reassures me, it lets me know that I don’t need a drink to write, or to take a photograph. And, getting the instant feedback a blog provides, having people click a button saying they like the post, or writing a note to say they liked it, gives me even more reassurance that drinking is not the key to creativity. (Almost the opposite, really — in the six months I’ve been sober, I’ve made more blog posts than I did in the last six months of drinking — so, that illusion of being a writing genius is just that: an illusion.)
I’ve wanted to be a writer for many, many, many years. I have finally come to the realization that unless I physically put words onto paper, whether it’s typing them, or handwriting them, they aren’t going to show up. If I were a self-help guru, I’d say something like, “For the words to show up on the page, you have to show up at the page.” But, I’m not a self-help guru. I’m just a guy, who loves — and struggles — to write.
I learned long ago that reading about writing is not that helpful, because all you really learn is that there is no right or wrong way to write (and I use ‘write’ in the action sense, not in the grammar, style sense). Every writer has a way that works for them. Some outline plots, some use note cards, some use legal pads, some use notebooks, some use pencil, others have an expensive pen — it almost becomes superstitious, like having a lucky bowling shirt, or playing the same lottery numbers over and over; using a Cross pen, filled with blue ink, and a yellow, lined, legal pad becomes your mantra, and the belief becomes “I cannot write with black ink on white paper.” Writing, or any other art really, is about belief in yourself — and, if it takes a yellow legal pad to do so, well, so be it. Holding onto a belief that you need a yellow pad to write is a much better belief than thinking you need a couple glasses of Scotch in order to write.
After years of trying to decide between loose-leaf paper, a three-ring binder, and blue pens; or spiral notebooks and pencils; or WordPerfect or Word; my laptop or my iMac, I’ve decided that what I need to choose is belief in myself. Not in the paper, or the pencil. Not in college or wide ruled paper.
Belief in myself. Believe in My Self.
I love watching words appear on the page, and now I am at a place where I am beginning to make writing a habit, where I know and believe that the words are not going to magically appear one night while I am sleeping. It takes action — from me, to get the words on paper.
Strangely, blogging has been the key. When I started a blog, back when Live Journal was the place to be (in 2004) I had no idea what I was doing. Mostly I wrote crap. Whined about work. Made fun of Anna Nicole and George W. Bush. My audience was two or three people I worked with.
I didn’t blog regularly — I’d have periods where I’d post daily, then other periods of long silence. I moved to Google’s Blogger for awhile. Finally, I migrated over here, to WordPress. (Ok — confession: it was because WP had better blog templates, and I didn’t have to mess with any kind of coding — ease of use has always been a selling point for me.)
Little by little, year after year, I began to realize that there were people out there who would read the things I wrote — especially the things that were less whiny about work, and more thoughtful and meaningful. The first time a stranger leaves you a comment, telling you that what you wrote inspired them, or touched them, the belief you feel in yourself is multiplied by a hundred, a thousand. For me, I felt as if I’d won a Pulitzer Prize.
Somewhere along the way, the alcohol began to get in the way. I could still write some things that were thoughtful and meaningful — just not often. I couldn’t find the ideas in the sea of Scotch and Whiskey that filled my head. I couldn’t find the ideas. I couldn’t find the emotion. I know some people become highly emotional when they drink — they become your best friend, they cry about how wonderful you are. Not me. I’m more stoic and silent. At least, when drinking alone, at home. So there was less and less writing of anything that had more than just a hint of emotion.
Sobriety is an education in seeing your world in a new way.
My demons are still here, still wailing and screeching, but, they did that even when I drank — the drink didn’t really silence them, it just made me not care what they had to say. Sobriety is teaching me that I can listen to what the demons are saying, and that I can silence them by writing about them; that my photography can silence them by letting them see the beauty that’s around me; that teaching myself about poetry, and learning to write poems helps me express my thoughts in even more ways, silencing the voices even further.
I’ve learned that giving something a voice — whether it’s through words or photos, gets it out of my mind. The whispers of the demons don’t like the light of day, and writing about them, for all the world to see, takes away much of their power, because the whispers then reside on the page, not in my head.
Being sober, letting my creative voice speak, has given me strength, after many years of feeling useless, worthless, and pretty much not good for anything. At the risk of sounding sentimentally cheesy, I want to thank each of you that’s clicked “like” on one of my photo posts, or who has written a comment on one of my long-winded posts — each like, each comment has helped me find a little more belief in My Self.