If you watched the Oscars this year, you probably saw Robert De Niro’s introduction to the best screenplay nominees. It was kind of humorous, and if you’re a writer, perhaps struck very close to home: “The mind of a writer can be truly a truly terrifying thing. Isolated, neurotic, caffeine-addled, crippled by procrastination and consumed by feelings of panic, self-loathing and soul-crushing inadequacy.”
My son couldn’t help but smile and nod at me when he heard this. At the time, I was amidst the first round of edits from my editor, and as I began the process of yet another revision, I found myself smack-dab in the middle of those neurotic whispering voices saying I was ruining my story by over-editing, under-editing, over-writing, under-writing, using too much repetition, not enough, too much backstory, not enough and on and on. All of this was going on while I had the flu for several weeks and was still trying to run my Pilates studio after not enough adequate rest.
I found myself sitting at my desk filled with self-doubt, confusion and frustration, but as I plugged along and addressed my editor’s suggestions one by one, I realized that even though the mind of the writer can be truly terrifying, we don’t have to get lost in the madness of it.
Pilates has taught me the balancing act of persistent practice. In other words, when you do something over and over again with energy and care, not only does it become routine, it becomes personal growth. It becomes the present tense of striving, not just the attachment to the outcome. So, with renewed calmness and a deep knowing that the practice, the writing, is what I want – that this is what I choose – I completed my edits with a renewed calmness.
I accept the madness and the frustrations that accompany the creative act because these things comprise the writer’s life. And, because, as Langston Hughes asks in his famous poem, “Harlem”:
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore –
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over –
like syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags?
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
For me, it does all those things, and surely, also explodes. And the only way to stop its explosion, is to accept the madness, even honor it and eventually create a routine that works, all the while realizing that the dream and the desire to create is a true gift, not a torture chamber.
As Albert Camus stated: “One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”
It’s worth some thought: what do you do routinely that has a deep payoff and brings you madness, but true happiness?