Keep Calm and Keep On Writing

Non-writers make strange comments sometimes. When I tell people I am currently writing a book about Surviving Childlessness, they often say things like, “That must be wonderfully cathartic.”

“I think you misunderstand me,” I do not reply.

The catharsis theory is a popular one. It presupposes that writing is inherently therapeutic. I guess that it might be, for some writers.

And some writers may choose to write about a particular subject because they are hoping for catharsis.

I am not one of them. I did not choose a difficult and potentially controversial subject for my book because I am emotional and am looking for therapeutic release. That would be an ok reason to write a book, by the way. But it is not my reason.

I am writing about a difficult subject because it seems that no-one else is – not in Christian circles anyway – and it needs to be spoken about bravely and hopefully.

It needs to be spoken about bravely and hopefully.

I am not seeking catharsis. And it is just as well.

I recently finished a chapter in my book about grief in childlessness. It was difficult. It was emotional. It was surprising just how stirred up I felt afterwards.

I could not continue writing after I finished that chapter. I remember putting the iPad aside and turning around to stare out the window. I remember the tears pricking at the corners of my eyes. I remember feeling my heart pounding and the urge to take slow, deep breaths.

I remember talking about it that day with some writer friends. To my relief, they completely understood.

Writing can be a highly emotional experience. Rather than bringing relief, it has the capacity to stir things up inside us. It can stir up old feelings and memories or, as in my case, generate new grief I did not realise I possessed. Writing can be surprisingly destabilising.

Writing can be surprisingly destabilising.

The question this raises for me is how to carry on writing while feeling destabilised by the process. I have a few ideas:

1. Keep calm. Your emotions are surfacing. That is ok. Let them arise and swirl around a bit. They are trying to tell you something; let them speak. For me, my feelings of grief were trying to tell me about aspects of my own loss I had not yet faced. It was needed.

2. Reach out. I have found it helpful to speak with other writers and to have my experience normalised. It is such a relief to know we are all in the same boat, especially as writing is often done in isolation. (I also highly recommend reaching out to God.)

3. Keep on writing. The emotionality of writing is not a reason to stop altogether. Sure, you may need some time-out – like I did, staring wistfully out of the window – and you may need some self-care and nurturing time. May I urge you to eventually get back to the writing. Put those potent emotions into your writing if you can. It will add punch to your words.

Get back to the writing.

It can be a vulnerable process, putting yourself on the page. When the writing gets too intense, look after yourself – and don’t let the emotional rollercoaster get in the way of finishing your good work.

Keep calm and keep on writing.

Have you experienced emotional times during writing? How do you look after yourself during the creative process? Do you have any other tips? Share your story – let’s have a countercultural conversation.

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