Why I Write on Medium
I decided to start the day the same way I usually do. So I fired up my latop, clicked on the quick link to Medium, and started a new story…
…and just sat there, staring at the empty white screen, brain in idle, racing like a motor with no load, on its way to burning itself out.
That’s how it feels sometimes. For me, the hardest thing about writing isn’t the actual mechanics of putting pen to paper or, as is most often the case, pixels to screen, but rather trying to answer the Philosophical Question That Underlies All Great Writing® — namely, why am I even doing it?
And I hate it when that happens: when I have to stop and think about my motivation for writing anything in the first place.
Chronic Depression and Existential Angst
Years of therapy and examination of my family’s history have helped me realize that my lifelong depression is just that: a genetic condition that existed from birth. They have also helped me understand that it isn’t a personal failure, or that I’m somehow less of a person because of it.
My ADHD — which was undiagnosed until I was in my 40's — explains why I had so many problems in school: “You’re so talented, but you’re just too lazy.” I was labelled “restless,” “disruptive;” no one stopped to consider maybe I was bored? I mean, with an IQ of 163 and a vivid imagination, I was quite often so far ahead of my classmates that I was bored.
In high school geometry I was so bored that by the end of the second week I had completed reading the entire textbook — and what’s more, I understood it. It frustrated Mrs. Caldwell that I was able to use theorems from Chapter 5 to prove hypotheses in Chapter 2 because “We haven’t learned those yet.”
And college? Forget it. I found myself shelling out thousands of dollars to have someone read a textbook aloud to me. Sometimes I new more about the subject than did the professor.
Writing is my therapy
Art therapy is a recognized and accepted form of therapy. I have yet to find any publication that offers the same recognition to writing; nevertheless, it is, for me, the only form of therapy that has worked for me for the past several decades.
Writing, to me, is the single best antidote to Baudelaire’s black flag planted in my skull, Churchill’s black dog, and J. K. Rowlings’ Dementors. I’d say it keeps the wolves at bay, but the wolves are my spirit animals, my totem, and they guard my door.
When the right words don’t come
When I struggle to express myself, when I argue over which word to use, even when I’m not sure where to begin a new paragraph — these are the times I know my writing is honest. I produce my best work when I’m in pain.
I once had an English professor who told me “All great artists suffer. But the fact that you suffer doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a great artist.”
My ex-wife Master’s thesis for her MA in Liberal Studies was a project connecting her family members’ creativity with their mental illnesses.
I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night… (Allen Ginsberg, Howl.)
My biggest problem with writing of any kind is research. As with the Ginsberg passage above, I’ll know where I want to put something, but I far too often lack the self-discipline to even do something as simple as a Google search to find it. Fortunately, decades of having The Chicago Manual of Style, The MLA Handbook, and the APA Style Manual drummed into me keep me honest in that respect.
One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned over the years ins knowing when to stop. In this case, I don’t mean knowing when I’m finished. Rather I mean it’s recognizing when I need to stop writing, to take a break, and to clear my head. Saving my work until I’ve had a chance to draw a breath before continuing.
And in the digital age, “taking a break” means — to me, anyway — heading on over to Netflix to watch a couple of episodes of NCIS, Despicable Me, or even Spongebob Squarepants (sadly, not yet available).
Some people can take a break and pick up right where they left off. With me, I have to go back to the beginning in order to remind myself just what I was doing in the first place.
And that gives me a headache.
(One nice thing about writing on my laptop as opposed to my iPhone is I don’t have to go back and change “remind my self-harm” back to “remind myself.” Thank you, auto-correct.
And I type faster on the laptop, so I’m less apt to lose my thought before I can finish writing it down.)
Turning weaknesses into strengths
It might sound trite, but long ago I read somewhere that when life puts rocks in our way, we decide whether to see them as stumbling blocks or stepping stones.
My ADHD as a resource
One coping skill I’ve developed over the years is to look on my problems as advantages. When it comes to my ADHD, I view my inability to hold a single thought for more than a few seconds as a resource.
My mind makes connections quickly, thoughts flying and leaping from neuron to neuron, synapse to synapse, zipping like lightning from cloud to cloud before finally hitting the earth. It’s an advantage because sometimes it makes connections which weren’t obvious at first but soon become part of what I’m writing. Maybe as a reference, maybe as a quote:
Keep on the sunny side, always on the sunny side
Keep on the sunny side of life
It will help us every day, it will brighten all the way
If we’ll keep on the sunny side of life
(Words and lyrics by Ada Blenkhorn and J. Howard Entwisle)
And so I try my best to keep on the sunny side.
I wasn’t sure where this story was going, but I did manage to force myself to stay on point until the end. It’s how I cope, and why I write. Your mileage may vary. Please see my Standard Disclaimer.
Thanks for reading.