Writing, one word at a time

Sometimes the hardest thing a writer can do is write. The isolation, inner confusion, the tug of the world's unfinished business, inertia, the negative internal vibe and the inescapable sense that all this, writing and everything else, may be futile.

Yet, it's not for nothing that writing is part of certain types of therapy for those with post-traumatic stress disorder. Putting thoughts into words releases those thoughts, and painstakingly setting down one word at a time is like slowly climbing a ladder, usually out of the hole, instead of down into it.

When I reach a scene or section of a story that's hard to write because it requires strong emotions —sadness, anger, confusion, fear, anxiety — emotions that are hard to express and to experience, I sometimes write as quickly as I can to get the scene down while it's rolling in my imagination. But more often now I slow my pace, still describing the scene unfolding in my mind's eye, but taking my time with each word, slowing the pace to work as closely with the events as I can. The process settles my thoughts, calms my heart, eases my soul.

This approach also helps dislodge writer's block, which doesn't have to be cured by the less productive tactic of sitting down and writing anything that comes to mind. Instead, it's sitting down and writing something like, “I don't feel like writing today because …” The rest of that sentence may have nothing to do with the story I'm working on. Then, again, it might, and more often does. To bring myself closer to going back to writing the story, I may begin with that sentence but then go on to something like, “The reason I don't feel like writing this particular scene today is …” I can substitute anything for “scene”. It could be a character sketch, a journal entry, an essay, a memoir section — anything that gives me pause.

The important thing is to explain, in words rather than just within my thoughts, why the piece is causing problems. I can then go on to say, “I'm not sure what to do about this, but I could try …” I then describe, in as much detail as I'm up to writing, the prospective solutions. Afterward, I set my musings aside before coming back to examine afresh what my options are. I often find that at least one of them is workable. I can take something more concrete and flesh it out as far as it will go to see where takes me. It's still writing and can be the next step to better writing and a calmer self.

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