Literary Therapy, This is What Got Me Through This Year And Will Get Me Through the Next And the Next…
During this year, I realized writing clearly is difficult and often feels daunting. Other habits I enjoy are much simpler. I am an avid runner. I can run daily, even in freezing cold or pouring rain. I’ve been consistently running long distances for over 10 years, and running regularly has not been a problem for me. The difference between my running and writing habit is that I expect nothing from the run. It’s merely a part of my day, like a morning cup of herbal tea, like brushing my teeth. It just happens with no real expectations. When I write, I outline, I write many drafts, I revise and revise and revise, and oftentimes, I am still dissatisfied with whatever I have written. I send it to my partner. He reads it and criticizes it. At the end of his list of comments, he tends to give his obligatory response that “it is well written.” His critiques sometimes make me feel otherwise. I criticize the writing even more harshly than he does. Then, from time to time, I start over.
Although I enjoy the initial stages of my writing process , learning new concepts, connecting seemingly disparate ideas, and drafting new prose, the editing and the public sharing step of the process is hard work. Writing is not easy, but it is worth the effort. It is worth the time it takes, the time that good writing demands.
1. Writing is a step toward understanding.
I write to think more clearly, to better understand my thoughts. Most of my writing starts in a journal and develops over periods of hours to days to years. The idea of this blog website began in my journal entries at least a year before I bought my first domain. My writing allows me to deliberate on the necessary steps to act in alignment with my intentions.
Audre Lorde emphasizes the importance of poetic writing in “Poetry Is Not a Luxury”:
“For women, then, poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action. Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought.”
Writing gives me the language to organize my thoughts. I find patterns in my reflections, and I further develop some of the reoccurring patterns from my journal to my writing and my work. When I draft prose to be published, the prose must be more clear, in a way that extends beyond my inner world, so that others can understand. Thus, my writing is organized in several tiers with increasing levels of clarity — from an initial private, messy stage and then (sometimes) to a more well-defined, publicly understandable stage.
2. Writing helps us communicate ideas that we may otherwise hide from.
Writing our ideas gives us distance between what we feel and how to communicate those feelings with others. It’s akin to having a serious conversation during a car drive. When we (e.g., passenger and driver) sit in a car, we face forward. We don’t talk with the other person face-to-face, but we know they’re there. When we write, we are able to communicate ideas in a way that is detached from ourselves. We may share it with others to read, but we don’t have to be positioned directly in front of them, or even in their presence when they read it. There is distance between the message in our writing, ourselves, and the reader. Sometimes that distance allows us to speak more candidly, honestly, and vulnerably.
In “Poetry is Not a Luxury,” Audre Lorde reminds us of the power of writing:
“I could name at least ten ideas I would have found intolerable or incomprehensible and frightening, expect as they came after dreams and poems.”
Artistic forms of expression may help us think more clearly. When we think clearly, we’re better able to work through challenges, communicate complex ideas, and create impactful, insightful art. I use my writing to steadily work toward these creative intentions.
3. Writing keeps us going.
I jokingly refer to Austin Kleon’s book, Keep Going: 10 Ways to Keep Going in Good Times and Bad, as my literary therapy. I’ve read the book multiple times because it reminds me to continue seeking creativity in my life. It reminds me that we have good days and bad days within our writing and general lives, but we get through them or get rid of them.
Austin Kleon argues that creativity is not about finishing. It’s a continuous, and often cyclical, process:
“The creative life is not linear. It’s not a straight line from point A to point B. It’s more like a loop, or a spiral, in which you keep coming back to a new starting point after every project. No matter how successful you get, no matter what level of achievement you reach, you will never really “arrive.” Other than death, there is no finish line or retirement for the creative person.”
Our creativity intersects with our personal lives, and that intersection is not always easy to manage. One of my favorite parts of Keep Going is about getting to the next day. Austin Kleon mentions “the important thing is to make it to the end of the day, no matter what. No matter how bad it gets, see it through to the end so you can get to tomorrow.” Some days we just need to get passed so that we can start anew. Sometimes, we also need to pause.
4. Writing lets us know when we need to stop.
I love that Austin Kleon’s book encourages us to keep going. One resonating truth that he mentions, though, is that our creative work should not ruin lives, including our own.
My journal entries have a consistent pattern of a certain angst that hampers my creativity. Separating myself from that angst can only come from a more steady focus that will facilitate calm and thereby consistently high sleep health. I’ve studied the cognitive neuroscience of sleep for nearly 10 years, and this year has left me feeling more depleted as compared to years in the past. For that reason, I am refocusing my intentions, including those for this blog and other public writing. I will never stop writing, as long as I am able to write, but I will reevaluate my public post schedule to allow for consistent, clear writing. For me, that comes from prioritizing deep reflection through journaling and working toward deliberately slow and mindfully focused thought.
Reading Notes For Idea Creation: A Multitool Method
Annotate, summarize, process, and produce something creative!
The 3 C’s That Keep Me Writing: A Personal Account
Why I write and sometimes share, and perhaps, you should, too.
Sleep Problems and Pre-Sleep Arousal, The Research Life.
A Calm Mind and Body for Better Sleep
- I was inspired by the graceful ending of the YouTube channel, Wood and Graphite, by TJ Cosgrove (now hosting a podcast called 1857). Although I am not retiring this blog, I am refocusing my publishing schedule for my health and to produce writing that I feel confident about for each post.
- I recommend reading Audre Lorde’s collection of essays in When I Dare To Be Powerful and Austin Kleon’s guide, Keep Going: 10 Ways to Keep Going in Good Times and Bad.
- Read more about my academic writing process here and more on why I enjoy writing here.
- The thoughts presented here are my own opinion and are not a proxy for medical advice. If you consistently have trouble with sleep, I recommend consulting a trusted medical professional.
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Take care. Talk soon.