Writing Routines and Forgiving Myself

I read an article today in which a writer talked about how she only writes for half an hour a day. Half an hour a day! That’s so… easy. I could do that. Why aren’t I doing that?

Ever since I started “taking writing seriously” (whatever that means) in high school, I’ve wanted to create some sort of routine for myself. I set goals to write for an hour each day or block out a specific time so that I get into a habit, but I never follow through. And it makes me feel terrible about myself. It makes me anxious, this failure to follow through. So I don’t write.

In those odd, manic moments when I do sit down to write, though, it feels so natural and good, like I’m doing exactly what I need to do. I remember what it felt like to write novels in middle and high school just for the hell of it. I wasn’t paralyzed by the thought of my own failure. I didn’t overanalyze or tear myself to pieces over every sentence or think about which publications would consider my work. I just wrote. And it was in writing those melodramatic novels that I learned (or truly began to learn) how to write.

It’s complicated, of course. College doesn’t nurture creativity. It drains the juices out of you. You end up like a squeezed lemon. Endless writing, reading, social angst, and wrestling with God (okay, not everyone does the last one) don’t give you a lot of mental breathing room.

More to the point, I’ve dealt with untreated mental illness on and off throughout my life, but it wasn’t until college that a traumatic experience sent me absolutely spiraling. After it happened, I couldn’t create, I couldn’t feed myself, I couldn’t get through the day without sobbing. It happened during this one awful summer in which I was alone in the French Pyrenees on a fellowship. I was supposed to be writing. I told myself that tomorrow I would make myself a schedule. Tomorrow I would write for two hours. Tomorrow I would start over. I wanted to pull myself up by my bootstraps and save myself with a writing routine, as silly as it sounds. And of course I didn’t.

Now that I’m recovering (as much as one can recover from depression, of course – I will have to live with this for as long as I live), I hope that I can find joy in writing again. Joy – and meaning. Political meaning, I mean. I want to save the world, right? How can I do that with the limited skills I’m given?

But it’s still too hard to write. It’s too hard to sit down and do it, because I’m still afraid of failure (I’ve internalized all these nasty rules – and these limited definitions of success!), I compare myself to other writers (why don’t I have a major book deal already, dammit? I’m almost 23!), I can’t focus (yes, I’m addicted to the internet – it’s truly awful and I hate how it’s changed my brain), etc. I don’t want to be brutal with myself, because God knows I’m too hard on myself already, but I need to find a little bit of discipline. Somewhere. Or maybe learning to write again would actually be going easy on myself.

What if I could write for half an hour a day? Just half an hour. It took me about fifteen minutes to write this post. That was easy enough. What if my anxiety abated enough that I could write for fifteen minutes plus fifteen minutes every day? And what if I stopped hating myself for all these days and months and years when I haven’t written? That would be so good.


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