Writing is frequently the first casualty

Writing is frequently the first casualty

It’s been more than six months since I last posted to the blog. In this piece, I account for my recent absence and talk through some of the reasons that writing is frequently the first casualty in the battle of my mind.

Over many years, I’ve bounced between writing as frequently as daily, sometimes fleshing out multiple blog posts in a marathon session, to dry spells lasting as long as six months.

And yet, I love writing. I really do.

There’s something incredibly rewarding in being able to capture your thoughts and feelings on paper in such a way that someone might even enjoy reading it.

More than just the words themselves, I enjoy the art of typography, finessing the style, layout and appearance of the printed word. Sure, the digital world has long removed the physical constraints of the printed page. And worse still, social media and email have sullied the written exchange, expecting the reader to look past the terrible grammar, poor spelling and erratic prose.

And yet, writers engage with the written word at a level beyond the words themselves.

“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.”
Anaïs Nin

I haven’t posted to my blog now in 190 days, which as I lament above, is not uncommon. In fact, in a pinch, when life happens, the writing is frequently the first casualty in the battle of my mind.

And yet, having just told you that I love to write, why would I stop when things get too much for me? Why wouldn’t other things suffer first, clearing a path–no matter how narrow–to continue doing something I love?

That is a question worthy of exploration

Truth be told–and I will likely write on this fully one day–I have been suffering with an extended bout of depression for the last year or so. As such, I’ve not been motivated to do much of anything, least of all write, with much of my time spent running in circles trying to reason myself back to a good mental state.

Things came to a head earlier this year when I was quite literally crippled with anxiety. I could be sitting minding my own business, or worse still, in a meeting at work, and BOOM! A full-on panic attack would hit me like a runaway train. Other days were spent in a constant state of fear and angst, on the edge of darkness, just waiting for something terrible to happen.

It’s a shitty place to be.

Every day spent hoping to make it through to bed time. Every week, scraping through to the weekend.

Months go by, and you are not even close to living. Life is passing you by and you are sinking in quicksand, with every movement inching you deeper into helplessness.

I eventually realized I needed help, and working with my doctor through specific supplementation and prescription drugs, I finally saw some improvement. Enough at least to suppress the worst of the anxiety and create the mental space needed to start seeing a therapist so the real work could begin.

Breaking radio silence

I finally broke silence on my recent struggles with a post up at Medium, which happened to resonate strongly with friends and family, and even complete strangers.

However, recent struggles aside, what other reasons are there for letting the writing go?

Well here’s a few that frequently surface to fuel my writer’s block.

  • A sense of futility; the knell of ‘what’s the point’ or ‘who cares?’.
  • Self-created pressure to write; just another thing to do.
  • Articles must be BIG, lloooonnnggg or tackle the most challenging life issues.
  • Self doubt – what do I know? What can I possibly offer?
  • Writing to be read, instead of just writing to write.

Sometimes it’s all of the above that result in a hard stop to the writing. Other times, it’s one or another getting in the way to slow my pace or break my mental resolve.

Does size really matter?

I think the most consistent barrier has been a misconception that the most impactful articles must be huge, epic pieces, that tackle life’s biggest challenges. That all blog posts must be well researched, cross-referenced and penned to prosaic perfection.

That sharing a thought with elegant brevity just won’t cut it.

And yet, there are some great bloggers that routinely put out high-quality content of just five hundred words or less. Seth Godin, for example. He posts daily, and five hundred words would be a long post by his standard.

I get that the subject matter will always influence the length of a post. It’s certainly hard to communicate a training program, protocol or deep dietary advice in just a couple of hundred words.

Anyway.

I am, once again, trying to reengage with my writing. To focus more on the enjoyment of writing and stressing less about creating epic works penned for the sole purpose of world domination.

Hopefully, you’ll join me on my journey.

Oh, and drop me a line when something resonates with you?

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  • Nigel Davies

    Hi Paul

    This did indeed resonate with me. Thank you for sharing.

    It is difficult to balance so many disparate interests – the arts – the technical side – our bodies – so many things are deserving of our attention and satisfy us when we manage to refocus, to understand and to create something. However much we might feel we are shouting out to the wilderness – however alone we feel we are. We at least created something.

    As generalists we can’t just turn on creativity. It is not our profession.

    It comes from so many things – and perhaps when life is low for us this is the very time we need it – and yet because of our temporary state it deserts us – we can produce absolutely nothing of any merit. And so the months go by.

    I have of course no solutions. I know some suggest writing – or any other art – as a therapy. For me this has never worked. Perhaps at least we can watch our engagement with arts and see the early signs that we are off kilter, we have lost our balance. But for me – as a therapy – no.

    I have spent years recently learning Tango – and one of the hardest lessons is that ‘less is more’. Tango for me provides such a connection with the arts, with people and an entire world of physically sharing emotions. I can no longer imagine life without dance. But certainly when we dance a small thing done very well and with the music is so much more interesting to a woman than a huge figure full of noise and nonsense for the sake of saying something.

    So I would certainly say that writing a small blog – with elegance and simplicity – is just great. The bad news is of course that doing just a small thing very well is in itself very difficult.

    I hope you find a balance,

    Nigel

    • Thanks so much for this, Nigel… I very much appreciate your thoughts and insight. Indeed, when life is low, it’s certainly not (that I can tell) a conscious choice to abandon the things that make me happy. It seems instinctual; natural. Or at least autonomic. Perhaps, as you say, it comes down to being diligent. That we can learn to spot the signs of clouds on the horizon in our “art”, and plan our defenses accordingly. I trust all is well with you, Nigel, and thanks again for getting in touch.