“It starts with this: put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support system for art. It’s the other way around.” – Stephen King, On Writing

I’ve recently started going to Kung Fu, so I just finished 1 1/2 hours of training and then immediately drove to Taco Bell and devoured a chicken CrunchWrap supreme. Now I’m totally exhausted, but way happier than if I’d forced myself to stay home.

I wrote for maybe 2-3 hours earlier today, I’m nearing the end of a novel and I can feel the heavy itch in my skin, that heh-heh-heh insect noise thrumming as it threatens to overtake my heartbeat. I want to push everything else aside and bend down into my story until I meld with the keyboard and the words in front of me. It’s infuriating that I need to eat and sleep, and feed my dogs, and have other obligations, when I am so close to getting to the end of the book.

But I know that pushing myself and writing to the end in a blind flurry means that the ending won’t be as polished as I want it to be. So many times I hit the throttle at 90% and the pacing suffers for it. So I force myself to slow down despite every fiber in my being urging me to bypass all human need and become one with the story.

But I also struggle between giving myself dedicated writing time and pushing myself, and giving myself time to relax and actually enjoy my life.

I used to feel guilty for every moment I was awake and not writing. I’ve been writing nearly every day since I was 13 years old, so I’ve racked up a lot of hours. When I was about 23, that and a few life circumstances led to some major burnout. Although originally I began writing because I enjoyed it, I’d been using writing as a method to punish myself for not feeling like a worthwhile human being.

Every victory, every publication, every successful job, didn’t feel like an accomplishment – it felt like retribution for what I believed to be the fact that I was born a terrible person. I couldn’t celebrate my writing victories because they just seemed like penance. And after years of that writing became an excruciating punishment.

Relearning how to love writing meant that some days I forced myself not to write when I wasn’t feeling it.

I can’t bend and break around my writing, neglecting other aspects of my life, like I used to. It didn’t work before and I knew it wouldn’t work now. And that way of living I found no satisfaction in writing anyway. If I produced something but felt no joy from it, then what was the point? I might as well be working as a waitress or head back to my office job as a designer. Writing is an incredibly difficult career path and there are tons of easier, more lighthearted things I could be doing with my time.

I am a writer because I believe what I write has the potential to be very valuable to others. But I am also a writer because I find simple joy in creating stories and arranging words. I have to. The process itself has to be valuable to me because the process is what I experience on a day-to-day basis.

But at least for two years, I definitely was not feeling it. I’d been sapped of that joy and everything about my writing suffered. My characters, prose, and narrative was not as sharp as it could be because I was just gritting my teeth and trying to push through it.

So I forced myself to take extended breaks.

Many days I’d go swimming, or take a trip to eat ramen, or just play video-games. It was painful sometimes to deliberately do nothing. I felt a pang of guilt. It was a physical thing that spread from my gut to my heart. I had to push back feelings of laziness and worthlessness. I had to truly enjoy what I was doing, in order to give my brain a rest, and to break free from the constant cycle of punishing myself with more work.

I had to retrain my brain that it was acceptable to just live my life without feeling guilty.

I had to retrain myself to understand that my life had value beyond what I could produce or provide to others.

I had to remember the above quote by Stephen King about how art supports life and not the other way around, because Stephen King is a fucking genius and he’s been doing this way longer than me.

I recognized that if I wanted to become a better writer, I had to become a better human being.

Because writing will always be about humanity. People are the primary, and everything we do needs to recognize that in order to be truly great.

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