The Writing Life: 4 Ways to Refocus
The writing life can be a lonely one. Well, it has to be, given that it is all about a person diving into their imagination on his or her own, and emerging with something coherent for the perusing pleasure of others. Other people tend to get in the way of the process, and one of the writer’s chief banes is ‘interruptions’. But the subjectivity of the whole thing can become burdensome. Many writers suffer from depression and anxiety, not only about their writing but about the state of their lives. In this scenario, it’s possible to lose one’s way and fail to maintain a grasp of why writing is important and what its purpose is for each individual.
If you’re struggling to overcome such obstacles in your life in order to write, here are some things which may help to refresh and revitalise you.
1. List what you love and connect the list up.
There will be some things in life that you absolutely love to do. Make a list of them. All of the things you enjoy doing are part of you and your ‘destiny’ in one way or another. Grab a pen and paper and start writing. Get clear on all foods, books, people, experiences, travel, and the things you love to do with your time. Then take a step back.
Can you connect these things up? They might not come together in any way that you were expecting, so be prepared for some surprises. If it helps, draw a diagram and link up things with lines. For example, maybe one of your favourite foods may be pizza eaten in a restaurant and perhaps your favourite restaurants are in Italy and your favourite author might be Umberto Eco - all Italian themed. Whatever the connections are, try and find them. The linkages may lead you to some interesting places.
2. Identify what you do easily.
What do you do in your everyday life with ease?
I don’t mean laundry. I mean those things which are so pleasurable that they are effortless. These things might be easy for you, but that doesn’t mean they are for everyone else. Identify what comes naturally to you. Perhaps you sing, or whistle; perhaps you dance or draw. One of them is probably writing, at least writing certain things.
Now relate it to the above ‘Love List’. See any patterns? Are some of the things that you absolutely love doing also some of the things that you do easily? Note these.
3. Look at your past passions.
Scan through your memories. What has made you passionate in the past? What part of your life story do you feel excited about? I’m not talking about the times when things went wrong: spend some time pondering when they went right.
Here’s a trick: look over a few memories using one of your senses only. Try the sense of smell: can you catch scents on the wind? The smell of leather in an old car? The aroma of a dog you once played with?
Then try for sounds: the squeak of a chair, the sound of distant bells, the ringing of a wind chime.
Memories are like under-developed photographs sometimes: they need that little bit extra to bring them to full life.
Do you remember what it was like to simply play? For some us that might have been limited; perhaps the responsibilities and burdens of later life encroached too early on us. But most children have at least had some times when they were free to play.
Imagination was your unquestioned guide; the universe bent to your will, at least in your mind. In those times, inanimate objects were never really quite totally inanimate, were they? The world had a certain ‘smile’ about it.
Can you recall the kinds of things you invented then?
Now, having made some notes about the above, you are probably all too aware that the things you love doing, the things you do easily, the passions you had in the past and the things that empowered you to play may be in a kind of ‘siege’ situation. They might appear to be surrounded, trapped by responsibilities and burdens which grew up around and between them, apparently without conscious permission, over a period of time. Either by sudden action or slow erosion, life changed and other things — things that you don’t love, things you find hard, things about which you have no passion, and things which have nothing to do with play — developed and solidified around you like some kind of calcified shell. Your loves and passions may now feel like the ‘ghost in the machine’, and your life has perhaps become much more mechanical and less alive than that.
But as an exercise, the above can refocus attention. Perhaps you feel that you cannot completely ‘bust out’ from the hardened routines and responsibilities which have wound themselves about you. But as a writer, you can work on capturing their essence and then sending them outwards, like messages, for others to come upon.
Try winding a love, a passion, a memory and a play moment together into a story or a poem. You might be surprised at the result.
(My 20,000 word book might help you organise your life around your writing too. It's available free here.)