Retraining the Psychological Writing Brain

It’s been just under six months since I started writing for my livelihood, a foolish choice by most, since my savings and regular gigs were low and few. But, it was that or walk into the Snoqualmie Riverwith stones in my pockets.  Seriously, I could hardly stand another day in my former day-job life. However, that’s not what this blog post is about. No, it’s about figuring it out.

When I had *TSSDJ, I had to carve out time for writing. The muse and desire would build up so fast and so strong that when I sat down to write, it would come spilling out – erupting, if you will, like a formerly dormant volcano. It seemed easy.

Now that writing is the focus, I struggle more. I have found that my time at the keyboard is much more difficult. I have to squeeze that last bit of story much like getting the last dose of toothpaste from the tube. I have to massage and work it from the bottom of my writing soul on up to get it to dribble – and yes, often times; it’s a dribble – out.

When I discuss this with some of my family and friends – both writing and non-writing types – they give me all kinds of advice.

“Go take a walk.”

I do that. My dog and I walk almost every day.

“Go volunteer.”

I’ve been volunteering for years.

“Go read.”

Reading is part of my daily schedule.

“Just write, don’t worry about if it’s no good.”

Revision is part of my writing life.

“Go get another day job.”

What? Go get another day job? But this is my day job.

All of this gives me pause. I reflect. I inspect. It makes me wonder if it’s psychological. Is it purely an example of psychological reactance? I couldn’t have the writing life when I had TSSDJ. Therefore, when I had a moment to ‘pretend’ I was a writer, I actually was. My attention was heightened. I paid more attention to my creativity much like you pay attention to the donuts, potato chips and nachos when you’re on a restricted diet. My writing time was scarce, so my perception was that it was precious and I relished it. Almost as if the writing time was a one-of-a-kind item on Etsy. You pay attention; you give over resources without question just to have it. You are like a competitive gamer giving up sleep to reach a new achievement.

Now, however, there’s a voice in my head that says, often, and with which I must battle daily, is that I may focus on other things than my writing because I can write whenever. The genuine artist in me scoffs and forces my butt in the chair…most times. But that part of me doesn’t always win, and I spend the day focusing on rearranging the kitchen cupboards or reorganizing my scarf drawer. Oh and the Internet. How it distracts me; fortunately not more than any other project (like Yule present making I have to focus on soon). I can find so many things to do but write.

At this moment, I’m not sure how I’m going to retrain my brain to go from wanting to be a writer because I can’t do it to understanding I am a writer and I need to write to actually be one.

This article in Forbes magazine reminded me why I wanted to do this. Author as a profession is one of the happiest on the planet. My inner and outer happiness depends on writing and that’s why I turned my world upside down to live a writing-focused life. Getting to author, however, is a long hard climb. Those who know me personally know I’ve never done much in my life the easy way. I’m cursed, what can I say? It gives me things to write about, for sure.

The awareness alone of realizing I’m playing these mind games with myself is part of the solution. Yet, beyond that I’m not sure how to retrain my creative muse to overflow the words and stories like before when that wasn’t my sole focus.

Stick with me and you might find out how I figured it out. Until then, I must go write, drip, leak, trickle or slop and spatter. It must come out.


*The Soul-Sucking Day Job

I am not Stephen King

Over the past five years, the bubble of my life has thrown off any person who doesn’t get that I’m a writer. That it’s weaved into the cloth of my entire being. That telling the stories of the voices in my head is first and foremost what I must do each and every day. I have surrounded myself with people who are themselves writers, and only those non-writers that have taken a moment to realize that not every writer is Stephen King and still has worth and provides benefit to the greater global literary community.

This has been a theme even more pronounced in the last week or so — especially since Mercury went into retrograde. But when Chuck Wendig proffered this on his blog, I went all tunnel-visioned dream-sequence in my head and started reliving many of the moments Penmonkey Wendig details in his piece.

Like at age 13 when I told my mother I wanted to be a writer. She told me to take typing so I would have something to fall back on because the hookers on Eight Mile Road made more money than a writer.

So I took journalism in college. There I dabbled, too, in the literary arts school, who were none too interested in allowing someone from J-school to also be in the English Department. I got the same reaction from the Photography Teacher (fine arts major) when I tried to hand in assignments with a photojournalism slant. Everyone else was photographing the same stark tree or spiral staircase. I wanted to see the emotion in people’s hands and eyes. I flunked photography class, only later to win prizes and awards for my photography. Yes, I resisted mailing copies of the articles of those awards or certificates to that professor.  Us writers tend to be a humble lot for the most part. We save the revenge for the text.

Then I did a stint as a combat photojournalist for the Army. I experienced life for awhile, fully convinced by my dog-eared copy of Fear And Loathing in Las Vegas or the well-worn On The Road in my rucksack, that you couldn’t write about the human condition truly unless you’ve had you’re own experiences to write about. I was so busy living, I rarely wrote, save for that which paid the bills. Exposition to break the band of fiction voices who were clamoring for me to tell their stories. It was my life. One informative article after another.

The lights and waving lines of the dreadful excerpts of my writing life didn’t quit there, no, I had to see flashbacks of the relationships where the people wanted the fact that I was a writer to somehow enhance their lives and reputation. Not love my stories or support me in any way to create it. No, I endured disdainful moments like a lover who wanted me to only write about him, or a now ex-husband who felt, again, if I didn’t churn out the checks ala Stephen King, any time spent away from him because I was writing was a bad thing. Or friends who just wanted me to write hate mail to creditors or edit their job resumes. But to understand that I didn’t want to go out to drinks and dancing because I needed to write was beyond them. Key phrases here:  Not wanted, mind you, but needed.

About 2003, I realized that I had an us vs. them theme in my life.  I hate to seem like writers and non-writers are like democrats and republicans, but like I pointed out earlier, you have folks who do not understand the difficulty involved in having a career or job as a writer. Everyone thinks that being a writer is easy. Many people say they are writers or say “I can write better than that.” You can? Why aren’t you doing so? Why aren’t you the next Stephen King? I mean do non-engineers go up to engineers and tell them how to do their jobs? Do you decide that the police in your town are doing a bad job, so you suit up and jump in the squad car and start patrolling? Yeah, I don’t tell you how to create a class-action lawsuit without ever having cracked open a law text. Don’t tell me you’re a writer because you scrawled a haiku on your kid’s lunch napkin. You’ve dabbled. Just like I dabble in gardening and landscaping.

By 2005 I was realizing that I needed to only have those in my life who were truly supportive of my writing life. It sounds harsh, but you know those hookers on Eight Mile Road don’t tend to hang with Priests or Police either. Although that gives me ideas for a story. Eninem doesn’t have the only license to set a story near Eight Mile Road.

But the horizontal lights and dark spinning tunnel of my writing life reflection didn’t stop there. Enter today, current time stamp. My husband claims he’s married Hemingway. It’s strangely impertinent and complimentary all in one. However, I can concede he has a point (that humility thing again). I get irritated because the neighbor is cutting firewood with a chainsaw when I’m trying to polish a short-story for a literary journal and can’t concentrate; but, all three of my children could be talking to me at once and I don’t hear them because I’m deep in the land of treasure keepers and robot toys come to life. He finds this both endearing and hugely frustrating all in one. But, he loves me and married me. I have all his stuff. And I think he’s sticking around to see where the story ends because it’s so damn interesting, crazy and thrilling. Well, and one day I could be Stephen King.  Or at least have as much disposable income perhaps? Yeah, hopefully that won’t be fiction.

What I think most writers would like, and what I believe Wendig was trying to point out, is the sage old advice that you don’t know what it’s like to be someone unless you’ve traveled in their world. Truly. Not dabbling. Writers are not all the same, save in the fact that oftentimes being a writer is part of who we are and not just a job. It’s kind of like having blue eyes or red hair. Writing callouses on your dominant hand are a tell-tale sign if you’re truly a writer and you wear it proudly. And then some non-writer comes along and tells you to put ointment on the callous.  Look, I don’t ask bookkeepers if they would  like some anti-itch cream for their supposed accounting rash.  I support them in their number-y goodness. Live and let live.

Tell me about your interactions with a writer, your own writing life or how you combat these moments where people scoff at who you are and what you do. Vent, send it out into the hollow snakes of the internet here on this page. Then go out and live your passion. Whatever it is.