There is nothing beautiful about a body struggling to keep from drowning: the panic that seizes the lungs, the hands striving to become oars, the legs kicking, kicking, and always – the head desperate for air, desperate to stay above water.
Similarly, few of us write well when panic, stress, and overwhelming pressure become a part of our writing process. When I’m writing under the gun or writing because “I feel like I should be writing” I quickly begin to feel like waves are lapping away at my words. And as Hart Crane said, “The bottom of the sea is cruel.”
With that in mind, I’ve been working on alleviating the stress and guilt I often carry with me from “the real world” into “the writer’s world.” If I am really having trouble writing a poem, I try to keep at it for 10 more minutes. If the words still feel like they’re lost in translation, I try writing an essay or a short story (or even a blog post). Sometimes a line in a poem won’t come together because the words don’t belong in a poem. So, switch gears but keep writing. If that doesn’t work, find a book and read with writing in mind.
Last night, I was a bit stumped about a poem I was working on so I took a break and read an essay by Margaret Atwood. It was a short piece about the experience of writing Oryx & Crake. While I read her essay, I tried to make a mental note of what Atwood was doing to keep me interested and how I can carry that into my own work.
The truth is that writing is a difficult challenge (make no mistake about it), but it can and should also be a pleasure. I didn’t decide to become a writer so that I could torture myself endlessly and then pass my torture on to readers.