This column explores the myriad ways we can — and maybe should — engage with our creative process beyond actively writing.
I have never been good at being gentle to myself. The watching television in the morning instead of completing one more assignment gentle. The sleeping in past nine on the weekends gentle. The letting myself rest and not feel bad about it gentle.
Ironically, it’s always worst when I’m the busiest. Or, perhaps, that makes complete sense. There are papers to be graded, words to write, personal projects to complete. How could I dare take an hour in the morning to myself? To just fuck around on YouTube or Netflix? Shouldn’t I be reading or planning or conquering?
Tricia Hersey coined the concept “Rest is Resistance” with her Nap Ministry, which was founded in 2016 to destigmatize rest. Her work focuses specifically on taking naps as a way to reject systemic racism and injustice. In no way am I attempting to co-opt her ideas — especially as a white woman — just hoping to respectfully converse with them.
Last week, I hit 50,440 words on my memoir project — a feat in itself, but especially considering my biggest concern since college and through graduate school was that I would never have a book-length story to tell. Hitting 50k, knowing the average memoir is between 65-85k, was a real moment of “oh my gosh, I can do this” that I didn’t even feel upon receiving my MFA from Sarah Lawrence.
That was Friday. I have not touched the project since.
Part of me feels scared, almost. The draft is nearly done, what am I supposed to do with it next? Do I rewrite the entire thing, as some folks (including the brilliance behind Write or Die Tribe)? Do I start applying to residencies? Do I — god forbid — send it to people to read?
In graduate school, I had workshops every week. I knew what came next. I wrote and wrote and wrote because I was expected to, and was given clear instructions on process. Now, with a memoir I didn’t start until about a month before graduation, I feel alone in a vast woods.
Even with my amazing writer friends out there with me.
Beyond the fear of the unknowable next, part of me also just feels like, I don’t know, like I deserve a break. I hit 50,440 words while adjuncting full time across two universities that are over an hour away from each other. I have about 36-39 students total at EACH school, and essays to grade, lessons to plan, meals to feed myself. And I’m not alone in this writerly realty (for more of my thoughts, there’s a past In Defense of Not Writing column all about teaching!).
With all that responsibility in mind, how am I ever supposed to feel comfortable taking even a half hour to do nothing but rest? To turn my brain off? Rewatch New Girl for the umpteenth time?
I feel guilty resting. I feel guilty not packing every hour of my day with work. My head races with thoughts: There must be something I’m missing. God, I’m so lazy. Why don’t I want to write? Do I actually hate writing?
News flash: I don’t hate writing.
Since I was young, it’s the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do. This week in therapy, I told my therapist about the word count. He was astounded.
“Ever since I can remember I’ve wanted to be a writer,” I told my therapist.
“Wow,” he said. “So you’re accomplishing your dream.”
“That’s what’s so [insert inaudible noise here] about it.”
Accomplishing a dream is a lot of pressure. Writing something you hope someone will want to publish, especially when there’s so much rejection out in the world (again, read this column for more), is diabolical. Heart-wrenching and defeating and draining all at once.
No wonder we need to rest.
And still, I barely allow myself to. My dad constantly reminds me: “You have to write every day to make it a habit.” I’ve spent my whole career with Write or Die Tribe so far attempting to disprove this notion — and I hope I’ve made it clear the entire time that I’m no master at this, that I still feel awful about myself as a writer when I go days, weeks without writing anything.
You have to write every day!
You should be spending three hours on your writing each day!
Wake up at five in the morning so you have time to write! Sylvia Plath did it!
What about taking care of ourselves? What about being a human being? And recognizing the world is a harmful, exhausting place and that sometimes we want to just curl on the couch with a blanket, our loved one(s), and watch mindless television? Why do we (I) have to feel so bad about that?
Hersey said in a Bon Appetite interview, “I’m really interested in soul care, which takes a deeper view of yourself as a human being worthy of self-care. The care comes from you.”
My inability to grace myself with rest is symptomatic of a much larger concern: the love and respect I am willing to give my humanly existence. This body, this miraculous body that has piled on the stressors (not much money in adjuncting), is simply trying to get through the day. Isn’t that the most important accomplishment I can hope for?