Writing Makes me Sick (a Poet’s Lament)

I’ve got to stop talking about writing and actually write–stop reading, reading, reading and actually write something others will want to read.

I don’t know why the doing of writing is so insanely hard and painful and borderline masochistic.

Yeah, yeah—I’m writing about mental illness, you remind me, a memoir about bipolar disorder.  That’s got to be tough.  But truly, writing about anything pains me these days.

In fact, writing makes me sick—almost!

No, not hugging-the-porcelain-goddess sick, but truly, gut-wrenchingly, nauseatingly ill-at-ease.  And that’s on a good day.

So why, in the name of all things good and sane and true, do I do this to myself?  Why the compulsion—the agonizing dread of it and the inevitable making myself sit with pen and paper and wrench the words from some place deeply pained inside of me?

Sometimes I try to tell myself that I’m not a writer—not a real one, anyway.  Don’t real writers like to write?  Don’t they do it because it feels good?

I rarely “feel good” when I write.  I don’t do it for fun or sport.

I do it because to not write is even more painful—less true to who I am, what I want, and what I believe in.

Why is art so often about pain?  Why the sense of loss, the sadness, the melancholy undercurrent-riptide of misery, doubt, regret?

I said it best in a poem I wrote some time ago:

in search of blue magnolias
     we walk
                      the narrow
     cobblestone, eyes closed
sharing a common pain
     touching blindly
the rough edge of knowing
      an unspoken surface. 

rough edge of knowing

(This is a recent color pencil drawing.  Click image to enlarge.)


25 thoughts on “Writing Makes me Sick (a Poet’s Lament)

  1. You write because you have to and because other people connect to your words. You write because you have a story that must be told, for yourself and others. You struggle with it because of those others–because you want your words to resonate and you want people to respond positively. But trust me . . . they do. You write because the words are in you, and I read because your words and art add beauty and dimension to this world. Just write!


  2. Uhm, no. I don’t think all “real” writers like to write. Lisa’s nailed it: “real” writers have to write. And please please please don’t stop reading. Keep reading. Absolutely keep reading. Reading informs writing–it puts the language in our heads, gives us some motivation, often gets us excited about writing.

    I hate the process of writing. Well, I hate the process of writing before I’ve started writing. But once I’m sort of in the practice, something else takes hold in me and I end up enjoying myself. Cut yourself a little slack. You’re not writing a memoir right now. You’re telling stories. Chunk it up, give yourself a chance, and allow the process to be whatever it is. (There’s no right way to write!) 🙂

    (P.S. And rest assured in knowing that your readers aren’t holding you to a timetable or anything. We’re not grading you. We’re not judging you. We’re just here to hang out with you and read your stories and cheer you on. :))


    • Yes, yes, yes! It is the getting started that sucks. Once you’re in a groove it feels better and afterward even better. Sometimes I quesion whether the agony of anticipation is worth the high on the other end. And if there is that high, why, in God’s name, the dread? It makes no sense–at least to me!

      Don’t worry. I won’t stop reading–just like a can’t stop writing! I can’t NOT DO either one–if that awkward wording makes sense!

      Thanks for this insight, Amanda! Thank you sooooooooo much!


    • Actually, I mean writing distresses me–dis-eases me–if that makes sense. There’s just such a pain associated with it. I want to do it. Am compelled to do it–but, God, it’s such a pain the a**! Hugs to you too, my friend!


  3. I am oddly relieved that you share the “writing makes me want to puke” mentality. I share this with people whose imeddiate response is “Then why?”. I’ve found that writing about turmoil or obstacles is gut wrenching because you are spreading yourself thin, shoving your heart and soul into it, and of course that’s exhausting. I find that I am calm and peaceful and content AFTER writing those things though. It’s a burden lifted through confession.


  4. Wow, you and Tori weren’t kidding, Kathryn – you and I were on the same wavelength today! Our opening paragraphs are nearly identical even! I think you’ve hit the nail on the head when you say not writing is even more painful. Lesser of two evils, maybe, but I get that.

    Beautiful poem and artwork, too.


  5. I find I write best…when I don’t force it…if I wait, as Charles does, for the muse/moment/spark to hit, then it’s a good thing…
    I try to remember to carry a notebook, to catch the fleeting thoughts…so that I can get back to those when it’s time…to create.
    but if I sit with the intent of producing…and it feels bad…I won’t do it. then it comes from a forced place that doesn’t sing from the heart…isn’t authentic.
    that doesn’t mean everything is always about happy stuff…and that when I write i am happy…but that I don’t feel bad.
    wow. I am not very clear…
    I have been struggling a lot these last few weeks with…production vs. creation.
    I am leaning, once again, into creation.
    letting “production” take a flying leap.


    • Yes, I carry a notebook too, for that very reason.

      I think you are very clear. I just don’t know if I think my writing is either authentic or inauthentic at various times. I guess I’ve had to train myself not to accept that argument, since I’ve spent a good many years teaching writing. I have to get students to write whether they feel inspired or not and have maybe fallen for my own arguments in this area. Plus, I’ve written good stuff that didn’t feel inspired at any point along the way–only when I looked back on it did I realize it worked.

      I suppose different things help different people. I’m religious about carrying a notebook, though.


  6. I totally agree with carrying around something and grabbing onto that fleeting thought, which in time could become a full-blown, highly-enlightening writing experience. I don’t walk about with a tablet but I have one at the ready where I venture…and even if I wind up passing on nine ideas jotted down its that tenth one, captured in the moment…that becomes something special.


    • Yes, yes, it’s always the last one that ends up working. I know what you mean. I truly am religious about carrying a notebook. My partner thinks I’m nuts (oops, guess I am), but I’ve ended up needing/using the notebook too many times. And as soon as I don’t have it with me, I’ll sure as hell need it!

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting. Hope you’ll come by again!


  7. I think a person has got to be in the mood to write to do it well. When I am not in the mood and write anyway, the product is usually not up to par.


    • I thinki that is true for a lot of people. At the same time, I’m beginning to think my judgement about what’s my best writing may not always be best–sometimes readers really respond to pieces that I’m not fond of. I don’t know what to do with that.

      Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment! I hope you’ll come back again!


  8. Kathy, I think ‘real’ writers– just like ‘real’ artists– are channels through which great ideas flow. These ideas and issues are so much bigger than one single person can handle or comprehend alone, and that’s partly why I believe the process of writing/creating sometimes feels painful. For the record, I think you are BOTH a real writer and a real artist, so your pain must be twice as much (at least!) as everybody else’s. 🙂


    • I could not agree with you more. Often, especially in the past, I have felt like a channel–not knowing where the ideas were coming from–how they found their way out of me, of all people.

      Thanks for the affirmation, Dana–so often it’s hard to feel legitimized, if that makes sense.


  9. I hope you find a way to make writing fun, even just a little fun for just a little while. I know the subject matter is difficult. Maybe do something different for a day or two?



    • I’m feeling much better about it today. My frustration has fortunately passed–that God! I will take a break over the weekend and spend time with family, so that should give me a breather. Hope you have a great weekend, Robin!


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