Lately, writing feels like pulling teeth. I try to take a concept I think is interesting and funny and relatable and turn it into an essay, and I write two sentences before deciding I don’t like how it sounds or getting frustrated because it isn’t headed in a clear direction, and I scrap it. The cycle goes on and on. I haven’t allowed myself room for error, which means the alternative is to not write at all. And I say lately because I’ve been confronting this feeling for the past week or so but it's probably been about a year since I’ve had a consistent flow of productivity.
Yesterday I finished an essay about a boy I hooked up with last semester who never listened to anything I had to say and tried to push me to go further than I was comfortable with. I kept flip-flopping on whether or not I’d see him again and was doing mental gymnastics trying to justify the way he acted. Writing the essay forced me to confront why I’d subjected myself to that—the shame I felt for not speaking my mind—as well as a million other issues that ultimately had nothing to do with him. I sent the finished piece to my best friend to read, and she was surprised to learn of the emotional trip I was on. Her reaction made me realize part of the reason the experience was so difficult was because I felt immensely alone throughout it.
My life consists of me making mistakes and sometimes learning from them and other times making the same mistake over and over again like clockwork. The past year has been full of ups and downs and through the downs, the same feeling of loneliness has always been present. I know there are many people like me with well-intentioned friends who want to understand some of their problems but can’t. While the internet tries to fill this gap with “relatable” articles typically published by “women’s magazines,” that type of content feels distant when I’m in peak crisis mode searching the web for answers. Those types of publications seem to only depict negative emotions and experiences as blips in these larger narratives of massive growth or eventual empowerment. Not everything is a life-changing lesson or has to be unrealistically twisted to seem like a positive event. Some things just suck, and eventually you’ll get over it—but that doesn’t mean it’s a good thing that it happened to you.
I wish more writers would write about pain in a way that allows readers to wallow alongside them. We have that in music with sad breakup songs, where listening to them doesn’t make you feel any happier but in the moment you feel seen. Because I’m disillusioned by the uber-positive brand of digital journalism and have a sense of what I actually want to read when I’m feeling low, I’m trying to write that stuff myself. Through my work, I want to reassure people they’re not the only ones stuck in a cycle of screwing up and each time doesn’t have to represent an overarching bigger picture from which they emerge a whole new person. Though I gained a deeper understanding of myself through that one bad hookup, I definitely don’t leave all of them with such insight. Best case scenario, my reader will be like “wow she really gets me :-).” Worst comes to worst, they’ll close their laptop thinking “damn, at least I’m not as much of a mess as her.” Either way’s fine with me.
Hopefully, writing with this greater intention curbs my bad habit of over-criticizing my work. I won’t be able to accomplish anything if I keep abandoning pieces at their beginning! I’ve always written for my own enjoyment, which made it all too easy to abandon projects when I felt defeated. For the first time, I have this driving force to work through the difficult parts of the writing process, and believe me, there are many. With this piece, I’ve deleted practically every other word; it took hours to translate the most complex feelings into simple words. But at the end of the day, I did what I set out to do and now have something near and dear to me that I can share with others. It’s proof that my insecurities as a writer are just minor roadblocks to the stories I want to tell. Chances are the reader won’t judge me nearly as harshly as I do myself. If anything, they’ll appreciate me opening up.
Illustration by Twisha Patni for Refinery29.