Anxiety, defiance and the writing process: what you will not read in the FYC textbook

Let’s take a break from our regularly scheduled program to discuss writing processes. Yes, processes. And control. Or the lack thereof.

Who has control of their writing process? Go on. Raise your hands.

Because I don’t.

Case in point:

Monday, August 13: read a serial killer novel all day. In between naps, that is. Felt immensely guilty, even a little panicky, that the writing groove I’d gotten into since coming out to GP had ended. That maybe I’d even let it end by reading a serial killer novel all day. And by not writing all weekend. Never mind that I’d been amazingly productive the two weeks prior to this day.

Tuesday, August 14: Woken up numerous times between midnight and five am–not, as per usual, by the cat, yowling at a bug, or the dog, who doesn’t lie down so much as release all muscle tension at once, all of her bones hitting the wood floor with a crash every time she gets restless and changes position, but–by my own voice, muttering things like, “place to stand,” and “Charles Wallace and the Echthroi” and “gaps and silences.” At five, I actually woke up all the way, and began writing a blog post in my head, which, sadly, has no gigabytes of memory and is really better at remembering images than words. At seven, I gave up on sleep altogether, gave in to my “writing process,” and got up and wrote the whole darn thing down, fast, before it went away, the fear of which, let’s face it, is really what was waking me up so often to begin with.

Tuesday, August 15, evening: felt immensely better, confident that the writing was still happening, the stars aligned, all the moon, the tides, my process.

Wednesday, August 16: Much like I can’t quite break the meant-to-be-a-family narrative–although I can teach (some) students to read and think critically about the narratives that construct their lives–I can’t break the writing-is-magic narrative–although, again, I can teach (some) students all about the writing process, brainstorming, drafting, revising, you know the drill.

I know all about the writing process. I know it’s not magic. And I don’t know it’s not magic. I’m not saying here that writing isn’t about discipline and hard work. But for me, there’s magic involved with getting those first words down on paper. And sometimes, yes, the magic happens while I’m writing the crap. And sometimes it happens during the night. Sometimes, in the night, it slips from my unconscious to my conscious and demands to be written down, immediately.

Could I control it if I had the discipline to write at the same hour, for the same amount of time, every day? (I’ve been trying. I sit down every morning at 9 and sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn’t.) Would I have less material written on napkins and concert programs and on the back of my hand and more in a neat little notebook or a journal on my laptop? Would the writing muscle in my brain relax, knowing that it could save its ideas until the appointed hour and I’d be there, punctual and reliable, to put them down on paper?

I don’t know.

My therapist says this IS my process, and if it weren’t working for me, I’d change it.  But isn’t the whole point of a process to knock out the anxiety of a task? I mean, really. My process revolves around anxiety. It’s driven by anxiety. It thrives on anxiety. And my defiant little brain likes to work when it wants to work, not when I want it to work.

Thursday, August 16: Woke up at 3:17 am to the sound of my own voice explaining, “It’s those guide wires on the Roomba. The brushes are pushing against the wires making the Roomba think it’s full because the brushes are in wrong.” Went back to sleep. Got up at 9, fixed the Roomba, and rid my small world of dog hair.

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