Thursday, August 17, 2023

TL;DR: I'm writing again

Buckle up, folks. This one is long and rambling, but in order to get to the point (hey! I'm writing again!), I had to provide some context as to why this is a big deal. Light on the pictures, heavy on the self-reflection. Here we go.

In July 2021, I started going to therapy. When we first moved to Seattle, I was jobless for the first time in my adult life. I wasn't stressed about the job search; on the contrary, I enjoyed the time off as I worked on transitioning to a new career. I felt like I could actually breathe and recuperate for once! But all that downtime gave me the opportunity to think, and two things became apparent.

First, I realized just how toxic and traumatic teaching had become for me in the last few years. (I am talking little-t-trauma here, not big-T-Trauma. Between the active shooter drills, mental exhaustion, unattainable expectations, rampant disrespect, and emotional manipulation and blackmail, teaching truly has a traumatizing effect on the brain.) 

Reckoning with that was emotionally depleting; for the first time, I was coming to terms with just how abusive teaching had been. I realized I had buried so much of myself in order to survive day-to-day, losing touch with my emotions and personality. The more time went by, the more I began to thaw, and the more I realized I'd been in survival mode for years on end and my body and mind didn't know how to cope when I finally had the time and space to reflect on it.

I  began to see that I – an oversensitive, sentimental softy – had become a sarcastic and jaded person, and I wasn't sure how or when that happened. 

The second thing I realized was that being in a constant state of overextension and strain had destroyed my identity, my sense of fun, and my ability to enjoy being out in public and around new people. In short, my natural introversion had morphed into full on social anxiety and I'd lost the ability to enjoy things I once had.

I'd lost my hobbies, my creativity, my joy.

I wanted different for my life in Seattle. I wanted to rediscover who I was and lean into all the things I had cast aside.

So, I sought therapy, and over the last two+ years my therapist and I have worked on exactly that, which brings me (finally) to today's topic.

I'm writing again.

I had found myself missing it, had found myself wanting to want to write, and so my therapist suggested I set a measurable goal for weekly writing and stick that goal on my workout calendar and report back in a few weeks with an update.

I was out of practice and at first writing for 30 uninterrupted minutes felt difficult and almost painful. My brain was sluggish. Words I used to pick out of my mind with ease were elusive. The imagery I wrote felt stilted and flat.
Truly the best helper.
But over the next few weeks my brain remembered how to create and I found myself having fun again. Soon I was writing for 90 minutes at a time.

Then, we upped the stakes.

After discussing my goals with regard to writing, I sheepishly admitted that I had always wanted to publish a novel, but that's clearly pretty hard to do if you won't let anyone read what you're writing.

For context, I really don't share my writing. At all. I mean, obviously I share this blog, but it's low-stakes. How vulnerable is it to share day-to-day life stuff? (I mean, I guess talking about working through work-related-trauma is fairly vulnerable, but that's beside the point.)

What I'm getting at is that I've been writing fiction for as long as I can remember and I stopped letting anyone look at it around the time I hit puberty. It just felt like letting people see what my imagination was making up was way too scary. Writing is so personal; it's something you're literally creating out of nothing using just your thoughts, and my rejection-sensitive ego can't handle a single word of constructive feedback, so I avoided it at all costs.

My therapist suggested I share a tiny bit of my writing with a safe person, and the first person I thought of was Elizabeth. (She turned out to be the perfect choice: she likes reading the genre I write in, she's not a literary critic of any kind, she's been begging to read what I write for ages, and she loves me too much to be mean.)

She was ecstatic when I told her of this plan.
So, I began sharing a paragraph with her each time I sat down to write, starting at the beginning of the novel I'm working on. I gave her strict rules (questions and comments okay, but absolutely no criticism) so when she responded with pure gushing kindness, it was hard to believe it was genuine. But as I've sent more and we've talked about it at length, I've realized some things.

Sharing my writing makes it easier to talk about it, which makes the weaknesses in my writing feel less personal. I used to feel like if my writing was bad, I was bad, and therefore worthless and stupid etc etc. But this process has helped me get beyond that. Weaknesses feel a little easier to identify and tackle. 

Talking about my writing helps me adhere to the writer's mantra of the first draft: let it be bad. 

Amazingly, I've been able to move away from the fear that my writing itself  is bad (because honestly, I know I can write) and face the fear that the story is boring, or being told poorly, or is somehow embarrassing or weird. Now that those fears seem outlandish, I can instead focus on the knowledge that I have the least practice with construction and pacing, so there will be parts of the story that need major help later on, and that's okay. Those are things I can learn about and work on when I'm ready.

I don't have to magically be perfect at this. It's okay to make mistakes and make revisions and take some critical feedback. (Someday. We're getting there. For now, I just want to actually be able to finish this first draft of the novel.)

Having someone to talk to about my writing who has now read my writing has motivated me to write more and enjoy it more, and it's made me more productive than I've been in the last 15 years.

I feel like I'm writing with a purpose and passion again. Finally.

So, this whole long blog post is basically my way of saying: I'm writing again, and I will probably write about my writing sometimes here at HTGR, and I'm proud of myself and so fucking grateful for therapy.



  1. Congrats Ali! As you are well aware, WRITING IS FRICKIN HARD WORK. "Normal people" or "civilians" can simply chose not to write, but folks who have the writing gene don't have a choice. The words are there and they need to come out.

    I recently went to therapy for work issues and my therapist was not subtle at pointing out how a lot of work stuff is similar to abusive relationships. The isolation, the control, yada yada. And I'm not even a teacher!

    1. That's exactly it! Like even when I wasn't writing, the desire was there and I felt awful and upset that I couldn't give it time or focus, and then when I DID try to write, it wasn't as effortless and fun as it used to be. That was really discouraging. I'm so happy to be in a better place now!

      My therapist has pretty strong feelings about today's work environments and the expectations we have to meet while also trying to just enjoy our lives. It's nice to be heard and know I'm not the only one disillusioned by life in that way! Work absolutely can have the same abusive tendencies of an abusive relationship, and I really think people don't realize it until they've left for a better option. You can't process your trauma while you're still experiencing it.