There are times when what’s going on in the world is difficult to face. I won’t list the numerous things happening in the world over the last year that have contributed to my lower moods, and more personal events have caused stress too. This post isn’t about the causes, it’s about how different worlds help alleviate those feelings.
Part of why I write is as an escape from the real world. Stepping into a world I control, where I know the answers, or at least where I have the time and space to work out the answers, is massively valuable for my mental health.
But my ability to write also reflects my mental wellness: at my best, I can work through the thorny problems, get fully invested in the scenes I’m writing, and finish a writing session feeling like I’ve achieved something. At my worst, I am distracted, lost, barely able to articulate the problems with the story, much less solve them, and struggle to write even a paragraph of notes.
There are other worlds it is easy to get lost in. Worlds created by others, which I need only navigate, without risk of feeling embarrassment, isolation or helplessness. Worlds where I can build relationships by following a clear, well-understood set of rules. Where I can defeat tyranny by completing pre-determined objectives. Where I can craft beautiful spaces using the resources I can find in the world and a little imagination. Such worlds are an easy escape, a welcome reprieve, but ultimately they are not enough.
At the moment, with my writing, I’m stuck in a loop. I’ve got a well-defined final act with a hazy ending, and a few important plot points which I have a strong grasp on, but beyond that it’s much more nebulous. I alternate between rewriting the scenes I feel most invested in, while simulaneously trying to work out what they will ultiamtely lead to, and making notes about how I need to focus on the earlier acts, the vast open gaps in my mental outline. This is fairly standard for me, a familiar if dangerous stage in my process; a whirlpool I can get sucked into, going round and round until I drown in it all and give up. I want to work out this story, but when I sit down to work on it I’ve run out of energy or time to really give it what it needs, and end up repeating an earlier day’s work in different words or with a minor tweak. But energy seems so hard to come by. I’m tired and hungry after work, then I lose track of time, and before I know it the evening is almost gone and I’ve got to rush to write something – and complete a couple of Italian lessons on Duolingo – in order to get to bed at a halfway decent time to get enough sleep before getting up at stupid o’clock in the morning to do it all over again.
Something has to change.
This is the way the world works. You get up, go to work, come home, eat dinner, relax for a bit, spend time with loved ones, sleep, repeat. And it wears you down. At least, it wears me down, and I know I’m not the only one. Writing is me-time. Playing games is me-time. But recently, I’ve spent too little of my me-time working on the periphery of writing.
Writing, as a skill, as a passion, as a pastime, isn’t an unconnected activity. It doesn’t stand apart from the rest of my life any more than a tree in a forest is sequestered from its neighbours. When the autumn comes and their leaves fall to the ground, each tree does not gain nutrients only from the rotting remnants of its own leaves. Such are the activities of a writer’s life. But lately I’ve got into a routine of doing what is easiest and what’s necessary, and avoiding everything in between. I’ve barely been reading. I’ve not spent much time with friends. I’ve stayed indoors and slept rather than going out and doing things.
This story I’m writing requires a lot of emotional energy. In essence, it is built around my own struggles with undiagnosed autism, and how that has manifested in the interactions I have had throughout my life, my relationships with family, friends, coworkers and authority figures. Part of the reason I have avoided the first act of the story is because of the parallels between the fictional situation my protagonist is in, and the real situation I was in a little over a year ago. It is still raw and difficult for me to understand, so using it as a guide, writing an analogue in which Kell will experience many of the same feelings of confusion, abandonment, shame and helplessness that I felt, is really hard for me to do.
The real world both inspires and disrupts my writing with the very same events.
The solution continues to elude me, but I’m working on it. I need to do more of the things that connect me to the world – the real world – that I have allowed to fall by the wayside. Today I took a walk down to the river and sat there, reading a book called The Wild Remedy by Emma Mitchell, which is about exactly that: taking time in nature to help boost mood and reconnect with yourself. This ties into some things my therapist said too: to take the time to appreciate the little things. The sun through the leaves, the earthy smell of the undergrowth, watching dogs bound about disturbing the moths and hunting tennis balls. The soft quacking of ducks. The variety of types of grasses in the unmown patches. That’s what I spent an hour this evening doing: walking, looking, listening, sitting, reading, feeling, noticing, appreciating. Being.
The photos in this post are from that walk.
A single walk by the river doesn’t solve a plot problem, and it certainly doesn’t create plot where I have left a blank. And it’s not the only thing I want to try. But I think it’s been a good start, for me and for my writing.