On Writing When Things Suck

The whole point of the NaNoWriMo exercise is to teach people how to start a writing practice. To get budding would-be writers to the page. Getting to the page every day (or nearly every day) is sometimes one of the hardest parts about writing.

I’m at 31K words, and I’m not sure I’ll push myself over the next week to get to 50K. Winning isn’t the point. Frankly, I’ve written more drafts outside of the confines of November than I have within this 30-day window. I like the camaraderie. I like meeting new people trying this audacious thing.  I don’t have a lot of ego tied up in the “win” or “lose” of it.

My 31K roughs out the action and the movement of the story. There were a few subplots that surprised me toward the end, that I will eventually need to add into the story.  I could force myself to do that work now – and “win” NaNoWriMo – or not.

“Beyond a Wholesome Discipline, Be Gentle With Yourself”

These words from Desiderata are painted above my bedroom door. I happen to face them in my chair where I write.

The other main lesson of NaNoWriMo is about silencing the inner editor and allowing ourselves to write crappy first drafts. A crappy first draft is an absolutely essential component of any novel, and this month and all of the encouragement that comes with it is also about that.

I find the freedom to write crappy first drafts the ultimate act of being gentle with myself. I have an old friend who likes to say “I’m working on my perfectionism.”  I’m still working on letting things go. On letting things be what they are and giving up on impossible standards.

Perhaps it is the gentleness with myself that I find when I let myself say “enough” on this draft.

Things Suck

At work, things are stressful. I’m my boss’s backup while he’s out of the office. This means I am squeezing in my own work and deadlines around answering the emails and questions he would have ordinarily fielded.  For two weeks when he was on vacation, this was fine. Only a few questions were lobbed my way.  Now, he’s on family leave for 3+ weeks, during a time when people are freaking out about Q4 numbers.

Before he left, he took me aside and said, “There are two things I want you to remember while I’m out: ‘I’m sorry,’ and ‘Hang in there’.”  These were not inaccurate statements.

That, in and of itself, put my writing in jeopardy. I manage to write 500-700 words in the morning and then I come home wrecked. I just want to curl up and sleep it off.

However, I found that taking writing  breaks over lunch was incredibly helpful. I came back from a lunchtime sprint refreshed and recharged. Some of my coworkers are also NaNo-ers, so we grabbed a quiet conference room and looked intensely collaborative for an hour.

In this way, my writing helps shore me up. It is the stress relief I need from a stressful workday.

Things Really Suck

If the workplace stress were the only thing going on, I’d totally be okay. But it’s not.

My old dog, Lingo, is 2 months shy of 14 years old. He has hip dysplasia on one back leg, plus arthritis on the other hip and one shoulder where he was injured as a puppy. He’s stiff and it’s hard for him to walk.  At 97 lbs, it’s really hard for me to physically help him get around.

We have coated our floors with various no-slip rugs to the point that my hardwoods look like the floor of a Bedouin tent. We have a yoga mat down for him to walk through the kitchen. My husband built him a ramp that helps him get down the back steps to go outside. (For a week or two before the ramp was installed, he would pee inside rather than ask to go out, because he didn’t like the stairs.) He has pooped inside the house for at least 9 months now – almost every day. Cleaning it up is part of our morning routine at this point.  Lingo takes several vitamin cocktails of fish oil, turmeric and glucosamine chondroitin.  He’s on Rimadyl (a doggy pain reliever).

He is having a hard time with walking across flat surfaces these days. He falls down, and gets stuck until we can come get him. He’s so stiff, and his joints are so sore, that he often walks on the tops of his back feet because he can’t feel enough to flip them over.

It’s heartbreaking. I’ve been keeping track of his temperament, his bad days, his good days. I’ve kept track of everything for months.

Last week, I made the call.

This is the loving thing to do. The kindest thing to do.

We’re waiting until after Thanksgiving, because Ethan deserves to have another weekend with him.  We’ve already made the appointment for an in-home visit.

I’m a wreck.

When I let myself think about it, I burst into tears.

I feel guilty that I’ve made the call. I feel guilty that I didn’t make it sooner. I feel guilty that I’m making this decision at all. There’s a part of me that wished he would have cancer, or something horrible and fast-acting enough to take that decision out of my hands.  This long, slow, pain and decline is hard on all of us – but most of all on him.

This is where that gentleness with myself really comes in to play. Where I give myself the permission to let unimportant things go. Matters of death and unconditional, endless love tend to shine a light on other parts of life.

Would writing help shore me up? I doubt it. I find myself stuck when I get to the page. Images don’t flow. I can’t empathize with my characters.

For me, the lesson to be learned here is that writing can be a stress relief in some cases, but it’s not a panacea.  I think the difference rests between the kind of stress that is best treated with a little distance and firm boundaries, and the kind of stress that requires living in and through the pain of things.

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4 thoughts on “On Writing When Things Suck

  1. This is hard–so, so hard. We’re constantly expecting the day when we’ll have to make the call about our 14-year-old terrier. She’s on her second bout with cancer, and it’s excruciatingly slow-moving. I just want you to know that you’re not alone in this, that I think you’re courageous and loving and wise for making the hard call, and that my thoughts are with you.

  2. Oh, I’m so sorry to read this. Yes, yes, please be gentle with yourself. Sometimes writing helps, sometimes walking helps, sometimes just starting off into the middle distance helps, and sometimes nothing really helps. But hug your pup and know that everything you’re doing is giving him the love he deserves, including ending his suffering. Will be thinking of you….

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