There’s pressure during isolation to become a better, healthier and more creative version of ourselves. I have been told to use this time to write the stories that have been simmering beneath the surface. But when I do, I always feel myself going back to a familiar topic – heartbreak. I’m in a long term, happy relationship. But there’s always one relationship I go back to when I’m writing – it ended over five years ago and it wasn’t healthy, but it shaped my formative years from a teen to young adult. I love my current boyfriend, he makes me happier than anyone who came before him, so why can’t I write about him?
From Creatively Frustrated
First of all, how ridiculous and absolutely American is this idea that we should be spending isolation during a pandemic on a glow-up. I mean, is it not enough that tens of thousands of people are dying, our economy is in a tailspin, California is on fire, and a mad man is running the whole show?! I’m also supposed to get abs and learn how to sous vide?! Gah!
Sorry, we have to address the ridiculousness of that notion before we can get to anything about the boyfriends. Consider that part of why you are stuck isn’t only topic material, but the fact that life is in fact very stressful and completely upended right now. It’s difficult to get your brain out of instinctual survival mode and into deeply expressive creative mode when there are so many external stresses. Plus, if you are also working a day job I imagine a lot of your energy is spent managing and getting through that. Putting the pressure on yourself to be incredibly creative at the end of the day may often be unrealistic, or at least not entirely kind.
Get rid of this idea that you need to be hyper-fucking-productive. Get rid of this idea that there is anything you should be doing right now aside from masking up when you leave the house and Purrelling everything from your eyelids to your asshole.
I can relate. I too have an ex that looms over my pages. I find myself going back to that relationship often in my writing. There is seemingly an endless well of material there, and it also was not the most healthy at times.
Thing is, writing is a tool for processing and healing. When we write about something we are forced to look at it from all angles. We sit with it, we explore it, we taste it, touch it, smell it all over again. And when there’s something that was complicated and even unhealthy in our lives, it begs continual processing. Consider the fact that most people can talk about their childhood and parents ad nauseam. There’s a lot there because, well, there’s a lot there. We need to talk about and explore the things that don’t have easy answers. Writing is one way to do that.
We need to talk about and explore the things that don’t have easy answers. Writing is one way to do that.
You may have also sold yourself a fallacy. Creatives, we are delicate little insecure butterflies sometimes. We feel very protective over our ideas, and are very convinced we know what it takes for us to get creative, stay creative, and produce work we feel good about. Your creative muscle seems like it has been trained on one subject, or so you think.
Is there a part of you that thinks when you write about your ex you end up writing stuff that you really like? Is that part of you also a little afraid that if you go on to talk about a different relationship you may lose some of what you’ve come to know and love about your writing?
Free yourself from the notion that your creativity isn’t resilient enough to take on more topics. Your writing will likely start to sound different when you write about New Boyfriend. You’ll take the same approach at first, you’ll try to use the same language, to bend the words around a familiar form. And they’ll likely resist. And the resulting work will feel awkward and strained. But keep at it.
Go back to the beginning of things with New Boyfriend, go back to when things were unsure, or you didn’t exist in such an intimate and familiar space. Try to capture a bit of those days. If you dive in and try to write about the way things are right this very moment it may feel too revealing, or too mundane to really dig into. Place yourself at a different point in your relationship and try to go from there.
To be honest, I haven’t quite cracked this nut yet. I also find it much easier to write about my ex than my current boyfriend. But I think that’s also in part because you’re actually in this current relationship. It’s a bit…well, weird really to write some very revealing post about your lover…and then post it…while you’re sitting across from them at the breakfast table. It’s hard to be honest when there are immediate consequences to your honesty.
But, alas, that is the writer’s job. You’ve got to be honest about your life and you’ve got to pin your life to the page. Try approaching it more like journaling. In fact, get a journal and write about him there. Don’t think about it as “writing” in the professional “this will be seen by people” sort of way. Think about it like…here’s what happened today, here’s how it made me feel. Start by processing your own feelings and exploring the relationship on the page first before you take on the project of –Capital ‘W’–Writing.
You’ve got to be honest about your life and you’ve got to pin your life to the page.
Final thing I’ll say about this: It’s hard to write about a happy relationship. That’s weird, right? But it is! It’s hard to find stuff to talk about when there’s nothing absolutely chaotic going on. Drama is interesting. I’ve always said that if everyone were happy there would be no good art. Suffering is the stuff masterpieces are made of, damnit. But there is also magic in the mundane. And being able to find the beauty and nuances in the folds and corners of your life will make you a better writer.
Anyone can talk about heartbreak, it takes a brave person to talk about love.
P.S. There’s More
- Nomi investigates her Love Inheritance
- Tiana and Julie reflect on what they learned in therapy
- Timeless advice on writing via Brain Pickings