Clichés can be accurate portrayals of certain situations. The phrase “[S/he] threw me under the bus,” for instance, invites the image of a person floundering around beneath the heavy wheels of someone else’s self-preservation tactics. I have always disliked the phrase, as I do most jargon, but I recently felt the full weight of the phantom vehicle after being metaphorically hurled. Or, to be fair, maybe I tripped and fell in front of the thing. Either way, I was flattened by the experience of losing control, disappointed that someone I respected would betray or ridicule me, and the result was a sort-of deflation that interrupted my ability to think clearly. I became anxious and found myself thinking about the situation non-stop.
The fact that what I mentioned above is even a problem in my life is arbitrary when I think back to some of the things I’ve lived through and, more, look around to what others live both with and in spite of daily. The person’s behavior did not get me fired, land me in jail, or strip me of any basic human rights. But here’s the thing: anxiety does not connect with logic. Anxiety is a demented fortune teller who refuses to even look logic’s way. And just about everyone suffers from it now and again.
Meanwhile, for a writer, anxiety could be a good thing. An anxious state may be illogical, but anxiety is also pure energy, and energy can be harnessed and directed toward creative ventures. In fact, anxiety may very well be the reason I write anything creative. After a day of wallowing in my anxiety and phantom bus victimhood I felt, I was able to collect that energy and channel it into some pretty productive writing time.
It took me a while to figure out how to properly contain and direct emotions, such as anxiety, but if you see me typing feverishly in a coffee shop or awkwardly trying to type on my laptop while swinging in my new tree swing (which I can’t seem to keep out of since I purchased it – if you have a tree, I recommend a tree swing wholeheartedly), there is likely some anxious momentum there. Don’t get me wrong, I do not have to be anxious to write, I don’t think, but I do have to be anxious to write feverishly. This may explain why some folks can only write to deadlines—the pressure needs to be there, pushing us—and why others find our writing flowing for days or weeks at a time only to dry up the rest of the year.
Using anxiety as a catalyst may even be similar to using anger or sadness, or any emotion that makes us wonder why us, or why now, or just… why? So how about this—how about we write through the whys. If we are absolutely petrified of contracting a communicable disease, instead of trying to deny our fear, own it, and at the end of the day, run back home, let’s slather ourselves in hand sanitizer, and write it out. If we’ve been thrown under a bus or the like, let’s stomp around a bit, then write it out. If we’ve recently suffered from a breakup or loss or robbery or breakdown or illness or Splenda addiction or found out we’re allergic to our favorite foods, let’s not run from it, let’s write it out. I’ll conclude with a Hemingway quote for writers. I think he sums it up well.
Try to learn to breathe deeply, really to taste food when you eat, and when you sleep really to sleep. Try as much as possible to be wholly alive with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell. And when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough.
There’s something to learn from everything, logical or no, and our art allows us to see our emotional reactions for what they are—stories we tell ourselves in rapid fire. Why not write them down? Write it all. See what happens.
- “Save Your Abandoned Art” - March 8, 2016
- “The Writer’s Brain on Data” - October 28, 2015
- An Interview with Jen Knox, author of After the Gazebo - May 21, 2015
- “Fear as Fuel for Creativity” - April 21, 2015
- “Fostering Literary Community in the Digital Age” - February 19, 2015
- “The Digital Narrative” - February 7, 2015
- “Why We Read” - December 9, 2014
- “Write It Out” - November 10, 2014
- “See Me” - October 17, 2014
- “A Glimpse” - December 23, 2013