The Suffering Writer and Me

Me not writingI remember when I was in college and wrote my first short stories. You can read some of them basically unedited on Wattpad. I would stay up until all hours trying to “get in the mood”. The “mood” was usually dark and semi-depressed. I would concentrate on all the stuff that was “unfair” in my life and use that as fuel to fire my writing. Consequently, many of the stories are dark and surrealistic.

That was decades ago.

Since then I have been a freelance writer for Audioholics.com, self-published three books (find them here), and have written two more (one more to be self-published, the other…well, not sure). That “mood” may have worked for those short stories but they certainly don’t work anymore.

Recently (four weeks and five days ago but who is counting?) I had knee surgery. My thought process before the surgery was that I’d use the recovery time (which I seriously underestimated) to write.

Yeah, that didn’t work out.

I had no problems writing technical articles for Audiohoilcs. Heck, being on Vicodin didn’t make an appreciable dent (though I might not be the best judge of that because of, you know, Vicodin) in my writing ability. It didn’t seem to slow me down any.

That certainly wasn’t true of my personal writing.

If suffering is a prerequisite of good writing, I may never be a good writer. If I was looking for suffering, the surgery provided it in spades. I had an ACL reconstruction after tearing it coming off the climbing wall at my local gym (I tell people it happened during a fight-to-the-death with ninjas because…well, have you met me?). They told me I would be off crutches within a week and walking around soon after. While all that was technically true, it let me to believe that I’d be back up to near 100%.

I’m four weeks (and five days) out and I can’t walk stairs at all and am still limping pretty heavily. My physical therapist tells me I’m way ahead of schedule.

Add to that the cost of the surgery (which was higher than expected), some unexpected house repairs, a worrisome report from our pediatrician, and a few other things, and I had physical and emotional stress and suffering in spades. According to this idea that a suffering writer is a good (or, at least, productive) writer, and I should have been cranking out my War and Peace.

To cut to the chase, I couldn’t even finish an outline of a story. Hell, I couldn’t even put a word down on one of my many personal projects.

Maybe I’m different. Maybe I’ll never be the type of writer that can channel pain like some of those greats. Or maybe some of those greats would have been infinitely greater if they had better lives. We’ll never know.

I’ve long believed that writer’s block isn’t a thing. It’s an excuse writers use not to write. I’ve heard of people putting a book out to agents and publishers and taking a year (or more) off when they get negative feedback. I nodded my head seriously when they talked about it but, in the back of my mind, I knew that could never happen to me.

I now know that isn’t true.

I need to be happy to be creative. If I wanted to write poetry or some other short form of literature, I could probably use unhappiness as fuel. But it is impossible for me to write novels that way. My creative process just can’t push through all that pain and worry. My wife could tell you of the times we’ve been watching TV and I’ve suddenly jumped up to write down an idea that solves a problem in my current story. That doesn’t happen when you’re thinking about 10 different things going on in your life. At least it doesn’t happen that way for me.

Four weeks (and five days) after my surgery and most of those stressful things have worked themselves out. We’ve found the money for the surgery, the pediatrician thing ended up being no big deal, and things are starting to get back to normal. I can feel the creative juices starting to flow again and, while I’m not sure I can sit down and write a novel right now, I can feel it coming. And that is a good sign.