How to sustain a writing practice without romanticising your pain
When I had writer’s block (as I discussed in my newsletter last week), I was advised (by the wisdom of the internet) that it was BS. A sign of effeminate privilege, which must be replaced with the blue collar attitude of just showing up and doing the work because “plumbers don’t get stuck”.
There can certainly be a relief in doing the work, focusing on the writing and not on the drama that can surround it. But the way this was phrased was shaming. It essentially suggested I was not man enough to write.
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Once you see it, you can’t unsee it. Shame is everywhere in the world of writing advice. And much of this shame relies on masculine ideals and a lack of understanding or compassion for the unique challenges each of us face and negotiate in order to create art and literature.
a time, when I had a newborn and I was trying to find time to write a book, that I would read productivity books on my phone while I was nursing in the wee, wild hours of the night and morning. I was trying to figure out how to be more organized, more productive, use my time more effectively so I could get more of my (hopefully magnificent) work into the world.Then I read some advice noting that successful people are early risers and if you want to be successful you should get up earlier, perhaps at 4 a.m.And I thought, motherfucker, I AM up at 4 a.m. Breastfeeding. Literally doing reproductive, generative labour. What productivity advice do you have for me now?
Why is it important to remind yourself you don’t need to feel shame?
Because, while the ritual of a writing practice can help you enjoy creativity and flow, holding yourself to generic masculine ideals of stoicism
I began to join these dots more clearly as I listened to an episode of Elizabeth Gilbert’s podcast, Magic Lessons. She was speaking to her good friend Brené Brown, (an expert on shame, if you somehow haven’t come across her fabulous work). I loved it so much, I transcribed some of it so I could talk about it here:
Liz (I think she’d be ok with me calling her Liz):
[With writing or creating] I think that the most important thing you need is self-forgiveness, because the only thing that’s gonna get you back to work on day 2 is if you forgive yourself for how bad your work was on day one. And that’s not discipline, that’s just love, you know.Brené :There’s zero question in my mind that you’re right about that. There is zero question. Day 2 doesn’t stop because of willpower or discipline, it stops because of shame. And the answer to shame, the antidote to shame, is not discipline, the actual antidote to shame is empathy.[…] It’s kindness, it’s talk to yourself like you’d talk to someone you love.Liz:We have such capacity to offer that to everybody but ourselves[…]you put yourself in this special category where you alone are not deserving, and you alone are not worthy, and in a weird way ‘better’ than everyone else [laughs].
Why do so many writers feel they are only
Masculine Ideals and the Shame of Not Writing
Brené:I would have called this weak, chicken shit. I would have named this some horrible shaming name before I read [Liz’s] article. I -my creativity- requires midwifery. I need a midwife. I don’t need, I need to be able to talk, and tell stories and get feedback and – I need something….and I didn’t think I did because I’m really introverted, but-Liz:And proud! You’re proud!Brené:Oh God yes[…]I know that. I don’t need anybody. I got this. I’m just going to lock myself away, and, two months -I’m gonna come out and it’s gonna be a masterpiece.Liz:
And I will be limping and forever harmed and there will be five years taken off my life.
Right -but I’ll wear that as a badge of courage.[…]There’s the proof of my legitimacy as a creator, is how much this harmed me.
“Now you’re just romanticizing some pain that’s in your head.”
A Good Birth
How to nurture your writing practice with romance, without romanticizing suffering.
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