On Misery: An Introduction

My husband does this thing that drives me crazy.  Sometimes we’re trying to fix something.  (This week it was the sprinklers.)  He will try something, hoping it will work.  It won’t work.  Then he will stare at it.  He will try it again.  It still won’t work.  He will look at it both before and after.  He will do it again and again.  I suppose if I let him be, he would probably stop on his own, but I never manage that.  “What are you doing?” I say.  “That isn’t helping.”

Here’s the truth: it probably is helping.  He’s probably got some learning process I don’t understand in which the repetition of this thing will help him to see what the right thing is to do.  And I suppose, when I am not there to interrupt, that’s what he does.  (Obviously I should be more patient.  But that’s not actually my point.)

It turns out, I hate doing the same thing over and over again when I know the process at hand is not yielding the results that I want.

I’ve been working a lot on my writing process lately.  I’m emerging from a couple of years where every word I wrote made me feel genuinely miserable–the kind of misery that comes from knowing things aren’t working but not being able to pinpoint why.

I kept working because I had long-established work habits, a goal I’d been working at for more than a decade, and an adult life built around producing fiction.  I didn’t know how not to expect it of myself, so I wrote even though it was drudgery.  I went on for years that way, poking the same button, hoping that one day it would yield a different result.  I looked at my writing and honestly thought, I hate this.  Why am I still doing it?  And much as everyone around me argued that it wasn’t, I knew in my heart it was a fair question.

Here’s the piece I was missing: I thought it was the writing that was making me miserable.  And so I thought to lose the misery, I had to ditch the writing.  And then, one day, I started writing a book that didn’t make me miserable.  In fact, I was happy.  I was thinking about writing without forcing myself to do it, something I hadn’t done in many years.  I was caught up in my own story.  I was writing something that was exciting to me.   And once I realized something was different, I went about figuring out what all the differences were.  There wasn’t just one thing; there were many.  And so I set about revamping my writing process at virtually every stage, so that I could keep these new things that made me happy, and never go back to the ones that made me miserable again.

(And so I spent a few months writing books I enjoyed instead of blogging.  Um, sorry.  Forgive me?)

Now I’m sure these new things are working, and I’m afraid if I don’t record them, I’m going to lose them.  Simultaneously, I’d like to share them, in case there is someone else who has the same problems I have had, who might not be as slow a learner as I apparently am.  Instead of one blog post, it’s turned into many.  I have a series of posts on the details of my writing process.  That might not be of interest to anyone but me, but I’m going to post them anyway, just in case.  I also have a few thematic posts about things I’ve learned that aren’t process-related, but have remade everything for me all the same.  These things may be obvious to everyone but me, but sometimes the root of a paradigm shift is just a realization of things that should have been obvious all along.  And, being on this side of the shift, I can live with that.

So look forward to those things on the blog in the near future.  If you’re into that kind of thing.