Sometimes, writing rescues me. A lot of the time, it isn’t my prose, but the poetry I write that helps me the most. When I write a poem, I am taking something I’m either currently experiencing or have experienced enough that I can call it up at will and put it outside of myself. I take the emotions stumbling around my head, capture them in specifically worded and arranged phrases, and then can look at them more clearly. See them for what they really are (which is often just something simple blown out of proportion by my mental illnesses).
Last night, I wrote. I spent almost two hours trying (and failing) to write part of my NaNoWriMo project and then gave it up as a lost cause. I was too full of thoughts, emotions, and anxieties. So I turned my mind toward a poem and a little phrase that had been spinning through my head all afternoon and evening, “broken words and broken moments shower me with shattered words.” From this I eventually produced a poem that felt a lot like the mental equivalent of scraping the contents of a can of cranberry sauce onto a plate without breaking or damaging the cylindrical shape it had held for so long. I may never post it, because it’s really only important to me, but it was a lot easier to write after that was done, even if it cost me another two hours to reach that point.
I’ve spent a lot of time wishing that I wasn’t like this. That I didn’t get caught up in horrible, obsessive thoughts until it starts to seem reasonable to knock myself out as a solution to the noise inside my head. I wish I could handle minor changes to things I’ve planned without spending the next dozen hours wondering what the implications of this change could mean for me and my life. I wish I could actually feel better once I get those thoughts out of my head instead of feeling drained and empty until I suddenly realized that I’m as mentally clogged as a shower drain full of hair. I don’t think I have anything else in my life that I wouldn’t give up if it guaranteed that I wouldn’t have to deal with those kinds of thoughts anymore.
Today, I am tired. It was a long night and today promises to be long as well. I can’t change everything I want to change, but I can keep fighting it with my poetry and learning about it through my prose. I hope that, whatever struggles you’re facing this month, that you can do the same.
Writing, like any other kind of mental effort, is skill that improves the more you use it. Like a muscle, you need to find ways to use it in new and more difficult ways if you want to become stronger. National Novel Writing Month is both a test and an opportunity to train. You will come out of this month stronger for having tried, whether you fail or succeed. Write a scene for you character that mirrors this. Show them striving or training to improve themselves in one specific area. Show them fail or succeed and then realize that the outcome wasn’t the real goal, but that doing the best they could was.
I like to find things that help create the emotional state I’m trying to write about. A lot of the time, I use music. In a broader sense, all of the stories I read do something similar. However, if I need a strong emotion quickly and can’t find a song, I like to look for poetry that fits. It is a lot easier if its something I wrote in the past because it reflects my actual emotions from the past and is easier for me to pick up and carry for a short time, but any poetry with the right emotional resonance will do the same thing. For this story, one of the poems I lean on to help me get into the mind of the protagonist is Robert Frost’s poem, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” I suggest giving it a read and seeing what it makes you feel like. Or finding your own poems to make you feel the right thing for what you’re writing.
If you’re staring at the screen and are unable to figure out what comes next, there are a few things you can try. You could try just writing whatever random thoughts come into your head until they (hopefully) align themselves with the story. You could try skipping to a new scene and writing from there. You could, of course, go find a writing prompt and use that to jump-start your writing. Typically, I find that running out of steam and not knowing where to go from there is a sign that you made a wrong turn earlier. I almost always know where it was because something didn’t quite sit right with me, so I head back to that point and explore other options until I find one that feels better. Don’t be afraid to go back and change something, or move in an entirely different direction, if you feel that is what your story needs. Just remember to save what you’ve already written.