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The Incredible Burden of Creativity

And Other Contributing Factors to My Self-Destruction

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

I have had a typewriter for as long as I could remember. It started as novelty born of poverty. I was a kid in the late 80s and early 90s and my family couldn't afford a home computer, so for things that needed to be typed, we had a typewriter. It wasn't fancy, but it wasn't an antique either. I wrote all my homework on that thing until I was well into high school, certainly after I had a computer of my own, and a printer, and could have done it the same way as everyone else. I liked the way the keys felt. I liked that it felt like I was constructing each letter in a way that typing on a computer has never really afforded me. You have to really push down on a typewriter, you see, you can't just lazily glaze over the keys, knowing that spell check and auto correct will come in behind you and clean up your messes. With a typewriter, I have to be certain of how things are spelled, and I have to be absolutely sure when I type. I certainly don't manage to type my normal 120 words per minute on a typewriter. I slow down to probably 50 or 60. So why do I continue to use one? Well, because it matters to me. The medium matters to me. Depending on what I am writing, I need to have something so concrete that all my mistakes stand out to me.

Writing for me is a process. It is a labor. I have been granted the gift of gab, and not to use it in this way seems like a disservice. Because I can say beautiful things, it is my duty, nay my unwavering obligation, to write them, to preserve them, and to say them to those in pain, in suffering, and in healing. But in order for me to do that, to write these things, to spin out my novels, and to write even one clever email at work, it takes it's toll on me. I know it seems so strange to people who don't experience it, but let me tell you: Writing is magic. And magic always gets its due. Magic takes out what it gives you in pounds of flesh, in blood sacrifice, in tears, and in frustration. In order for me to sit down, open a book and put pen to paper, I must bleed, sweat, and have terrible dreams. I must lose touch with reality. I have to start and give up. I have to do all of these things many, many, many times. I have to wrestle myself over feelings of self-doubt, imposter syndrome, downright self-loathing, and fear. Fear of what would happen if no one read it, if no one liked it. But also fear of success. What happens if it becomes wildly successful, and I am never allowed another private moment ever again? So I fight off all this, and as soon as the tip of my pen touches the paper, I am completely blank of ideas. I have bled, and cried, and suffered, for what feels like nothing now, but it's a lie. This is just the last test. I have to write something. I have to form the first few words, and once I do that, I will be able to come up with something that was worth the hero's trial it took to create it.

This has been the hardest lesson in my life. To learn that sometimes you just have to write nonsense, until something escapes from you. I often just write the word "write" over and over until the dam breaks and my soul spills out. I also sometimes write every thought that crosses into my head for hours at a time, and then the story comes. This happens with fiction and with these articles. I usually have to erase between 10 to 2,000 words before I publish—because that's how long it took me to get out what I was trying to say. These of course are a little different, in that I type them on my computer straight out. I do not go through my normal ritual that I have to perform in order to produce fiction.

When I sit down to novel, I cannot skip any steps, it has to be done the same way every time. I first write it as a much shorter story on paper. Old fashion style, filling up a composition book or two with the ups and downs of the tale. I call this part the coffee phase. It is furious, I drink a lot of coffee, I don't sleep much, and I get obsessive about it. This process can take anywhere from three months to three years. And then I take the notebooks, and I read them, making notes on post it notes and plastering the whole book with them. And then the tea phase begins. I slow down, I find quiet moments and solitude, I drink a lot of tea out of fancy china cups with saucers. I go through the notebooks and type everything out on my typewriter. I embellish, but do not really edit. I lengthen the story, I fill it out, I complete half-thought-of character arcs, and I rewrite the dialogue to make it more compelling. I spend hours tapping away, the sounds of the arms of my type writer stamping the letters onto paper, the only sound in my space for hours at a time. Once this is done comes the red pen, and the protein shake phase. In this phase, I do a lot of yoga, I make copies of what I have typed, and I start to give a shit about the things I put in my body. I drink a lot of protein shakes, I buy a juicer, I eat kale by the metric ton, and I edit what has been typed with a red 0.7mm Paper Mate point guard flair needle tip stick pen. I purchase these by the dozen because I will likely exhaust at least eight of them by the time I am done. I do not touch the original. I take the pages that my typewriter actually wrote and I seal them in an envelope. I never touch it again. I mark up copy after copy, destroying and reconstructing with the red pen to decide what is what over and over again. I simultaneously hate and love this process. Once that is done, here comes the day drunk phase. All that hard work I just did goes out the window, as I start to chain smoke and drink my body weight in wine daily. I donate the juicer and stop leaving my house all together, except to get more wine. I go out on these excursions with my messy hair tucked into a beanie and yoga pants that I haven't washed in weeks. I sit at my computer with the marked up typewriter pages and I write the final draft. I add things as necessary. I make edits to my edits. I destroy all my work, and recreate it again, a thousand more times. I make sure it is shiny. I make sure that it is pristine in grammar and composition. And when it is done, I save it. I get into a really hot bath and scrub the nicotine from my fingers. I wash the alcohol out of my skin. I soak and soak until the water is filthy and I feel free of the last months or years.

It is a wonder I have survived this even once, let alone several times, over the course of my life. Why would I do this thing that wrecks me for months and years at a time? Why would I put my mind and my body through this more than once, sometimes several times in a year? Because writing for me is compulsory. I don't have a choice. If I don't get out everything that my brain cooks up, I will explode. I will implode. I will self-destruct, and in the process take the world with me. There are too many people inside my head. Writing gives them a life and a voice of their own. They move out, and they come back sometimes for a sequel, but for the most part, once they are out they are gone. My brain children. Born in dreams, raised in stress, and put forth into the world to be judged by only those who deem my covers interesting enough to buy. I am an unknown, and that is OK with me. They have a life through me, and I have a life through them. Even if I simultaneously hate them as much as I love them.

Understand that writing, drawing, singing, composing, and any other creative things that a human is capable of is taxing. That it takes its payment from the doer. Understand that even if the person loves doing whatever it is that they are gifted at, that using their gifts takes things from them they can't possibly explain. Be kind to your creative friends. Be kind to yourself. Pay the cost of creativity, because the tax for using it is far less than the cost of suppressing.

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