the pathology dwells not in the symptom but in the attempts to treat it

Some striking moments in this searingly honest essay by Grace E Lavery on their writing life. Firstly:

A thing I’ve learned teaching graduate students—literally, some of the smartest people in the world—how to write: writing is, indeed, pathological, but the pathology dwells not in the symptom but in the attempts to treat it. People who write like me try and fail to write like my advisor. I’m sure he wants to write in a different way too. We sit at our laptops and procrastinate—misleading word, the clinical term is “resistance”—and try to push something out that doesn’t want to come. It won’t until it does. We nurture our perfectionism—the clinical term is “anxiety.”

We can’t control our readers and some of them will hate us, and not because they misunderstand but because they understand perfectly. I dislike some perfectly good writers. I mean, who dislikes Elizabeth Bishop? Perhaps this all sounds like romanticism—perhaps it is. But when a student asks me how they should write, I have only one response: you already write how you are going to write. Stop trying to correct yourself.

OMG yes. I still feel the tug of the rather performative online culture of , the daily wordcount goals and the submission spreadsheets and all that other well-meaning stuff, but I only started getting somewhere when I stopped trying to quantify what was always an unquantifiable practice. Sure, I have routines in my creative life, and there’s The Practice… but as discussed before, The Practice may involve writing, but it is not Writing. Furthermore, capital-W Writing doesn’t turn up when you want it to—and beating yourself up when it doesn’t isn’t helpful. (Or at least it isn’t for me.)

Lavery continues:

A few final things: one, just do your work. Most drama associated with people who call themselves “writers” or who are identified as such by others, is a form of procrastination, which is to say, resistance. It doesn’t really matter. If you can’t write, read. If you can’t read, do something else. Don’t force it—it might not come, but that’s fine too. Not everything needs to be written and not everyone needs to write.

Two, once you are professionally secure enough to risk sounding like a dick, be honest about how you write, whenever people ask. There are more of us vomiters out there than you think, and we have a responsibility to make life easier for those who believe that their writing habits will always hamstring them.

I’m not at all sure if I am professionally secure enough to risk sounding like a dick… but hey, that never stopped me over the last fifteen years or so, did it? So here is my own admission: I am a vomiter too, a deeply sporadic writer whose habits are far from the idealised ones of mainstream writerly discourse. I read way more than I write.

Of course, it’s more than possible that reading that admission alongside anything or everything I’ve ever had published would serve only to endorse the ideal of regularity and discipline! That’s your call to make, not mine.



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