...and reasons for taking a break this month.
1 | ON (IN)CONSISTENCY
Some writers write every day, or at least on the same day(s) every week, and claim that consistency is the central secret to their success. “Some” is the key word here.
A lot of them are old (or now dead) white men who built their careers before…well, look around. They did not have immediate and constant access to every single global catastrophe, plus a cacophony of astrology memes and catchy TikTok singsongs, and also every single human they’ve ever known (plus thousands more they’ve never met), all tightly packed into shiny boxes they could carry and unpack in the palms of their hands. They had typewriters with singular functions, or quills and ink and parchment, or whatever — okay, I’m being facetious, but seriously. Humans have never had so much to digest before, like even eight years ago, and you can only do so much creating when you’re overwhelmed with processing, and when much of what must be processed is crisis. The disturbances throw wrenches in the works of our creative minds, as long as we’re sensitive and attentive, which we must be to be any good.
Yes, there are still plenty of writers who write every day, like Anne Lamott, but any famous writer who talks about writing everyday is ALREADY FAMOUS. They’ve been famous for decades. It’s their predictable, profitable full-time job (which is, on its own…a very rare thing). I’m not talking about stuff like morning pages — Julia Cameron’s concept of daily stream-of-consciousness journaling with no intent of being published — or short-term daily projects. I’m talking about a kind of perpetuated productivity, a seamlessly consistent churning out of decent sentences. Actually, a lot of young, current writers I admire seem to be capable of it — they’re the sort who publish Substack newsletters every week without fail. That’s probably why I started this weekly newsletter. I thought seriousness had to be wedded to consistency. I wanted it to make me real.
The bears hibernate all winter, the bees prefer to stay asleep when it’s a dreary day, and the hens won’t lay as many eggs when the temperature and sunlight hours aren’t in their preferred range. Am I realer than them? Is “real” worth working until 10pm so regularly that a night of rest sounds revolutionary? Is it “real” anyway if only a handful of people are actually paid subscribers here, which means this is mostly a volunteer project, requiring me to repeatedly extract from my finite energetic reserves?
I would rather be a bear. I would rather trust myself, trust my biology, my rhythms. And as a chronically ill person — specifically, one who watches the curves of her blood sugar on a continuous digital sensor and must respond accordingly — I know that my bodily energy does not move in a straight line. Some days, I get a subtle wave, but more often, it’s a hairy rollercoaster, and I’m just lucky to hold onto my seat. Sometimes, I have a whole lot of enthusiasm to share. Other times…I just don’t want to force it. Not right now.
I think your most important job as a writer or as any sort of creative person is just to trust yourself. That’s it. Writing is about emotional truth, and if you can’t access that, you’ve got nothing. When some sort of arbitrarily assigned consistent commitment goes against the emotional truth, consistency is the wrong choice. Trust the truth.
This ramble is to say, I’m taking September (at least) off of Substack writing, because instead…
I’m trying to get through a big, challenging essay that’s demanding a lot of time and energy, and I want to give it the psychological attention it requires, and I can’t do that and this at the same time. Not with integrity. I need to practice prioritizing, instead of pretending I can do absolutelyeverythingatonce.
I’d like to unlearn the obsessive overworking habit I’ve picked up since the start of the pandemic, to let myself nap in the hammock for half an hour without my nervous system screaming, THIS IS DANGEROUS!!! I know that it’s not realistically sustainable to keep working before work, and after work, and as play, and all without asking myself what else might be possible.
I’m really, really tired. I’d like to not be so tired all the time. Unfortunately, this means I must exert less energy. It’s basic math, however frustrating.
I need to focus on being a human being, on the vessel who writes, on tending to her. I want to let her hoe the weeds for as long as needed, process the pink paper skins of the garlic, attend to the suckers on the tomato vines that keep crawling taller. I want to allow her the soil she craves. To give her the gift of right now. This moment. Without having to jot it all down.
Honestly? I’d rather spend this time and mental space on reading books right now.
I’ll see you back here in October. I think. Thanks for bearing with me, as I attempt to be who I am.
2 | A QUOTE TO KEEP CLOSE
“In a world that entices us to browse through the lives of others to help us better determine how we feel about ourselves, and to, in turn, feel the need to be constantly visible, for visibility these days seems to somehow equate to success, do not be afraid to disappear, from it, from us, for a while, and see what comes to you in the silence.”
― Michaela Coel
3 | A PROMPT YOU CAN USE
Whether in regards to writing or a different creative passion, what’s the lie you’ve been been telling yourself about how your practice “should” look? As you examine the time in your days and weeks, your genuine energetic capacity right now, and your most urgent artistic visions, what might an honest and flexible commitment look like? How can you honor it today?
4 | BONUS! SOME RELATED READING
Nicole Antoinette on the fetish of commitment:
Commitment can be freeing. Commitment can be devotion to self. Commitment can be healing, it can be transformative, it can be everything. And it can also fuck you up.
The fetish of commitment can keep you stuck, keep you feeling like you are wearing an outfit that is two sizes too small.
And you know what?
You are allowed to buy a bigger outfit.
Holly Whitaker on the courage to listen to ourselves:
Here in this part of my life, still emerging from what felt like that one scene from GOT where Daenerys locks herself in a burning building to hatch her dragons and after is just standing there naked and charred but more self-confident and Queenish: I take my time, I meander, I listen to my body, I write and delete essay after essay because I change my mind and become a different person sometimes faster than I can type, and I miss every single deadline I give anyone. I am certain some of you here, and my agent, and my editor, think I’m a huge flake. But really, I’m just testing out what it might actually feel like for once in my fucking life to work according to the rhythms of my actual self. I have only always hurt myself to produce; I have only always forced. I am trying to see what happens when I do the opposite. So far I mostly feel very apologetic and disorganized, but in general, happier, and for certain more expansive and creative. I’m guessing this shit show of allowing will lead to something more structured and reliable in time, but for now I’m thinking maybe my entire “work ethic” needs to be stripped down to its bones and be rebuilt. I worry I’m just fucking off, and sometimes I am. Mostly though, I’m letting myself become what I’ve fought against being cast my entire life (a slothish, flakish, underperforming person whose heart rate refuses to respond to pressure), in order to finally find something that, I don’t know, feels sustainable? Healthy? Fun??
Ann Friedman on what comes after ambition:
What’s happening now is a restlessness, a searching, a wholesale reexamination of the role that work should play in a woman’s life and identity. “If we look at the second wave of feminism, the goal was to access the things that white men had,” says Mia Birdsong, author of How We Show Up: Reclaiming Family, Friendship, and Community. But now, instead of breaking the glass ceiling, Birdsong says she and many other women would rather leave the building altogether. “I want to go and sit beneath trees, or sit in a field, or whatever,” she says, laughing.