Life Reflections

Does your writing spark joy?

Hello, dear readers!

Please grab a cup of tea, coffee, or cocoa and join me for a chat. It’s been a while since we’ve last met, so I’d like to give you an update. Please let me know how you’re doing in the comments as well.

This past New Year’s Eve, my favorite holiday of the year, I finished the rewrite of my contemporary women’s fiction manuscript. Afterward, I shared an unforgettable meal with my soulmate, then rang in the New Year in the kitchen amongst the cheers of other guests, the restaurant staff, and the chef and owner himself. It was my happiest New Year’s Eve as an adult. The happiest New Year’s Eve of my youth was 17 years ago, when I finished my YA novella at 17 years old, then danced salsa and merengue with my Cuban family members and best friend in the living room until it was time for our midnight twelve grapes and sidra.

Two manuscripts, two New Year’s Eve completions. As you may have guessed, I’m fond of patterns, whether intentional or serendipitous. One pattern that fell by the wayside, however, was writing a short story every Saturday morning.

This pattern began at eight years old, and it’s how I fell in love with writing. Somewhere along the writing journey in adulthood, the pure joy of childhood writing got overshadowed by the fear of criticism and rejection, not to mention the unrealistic goal of perfection.

I recently listened to the audiobook Stop Worrying, Stop Writing by Sarah Painter, which I highly recommend. My biggest takeaway from that book was that the joy is in the actual writing, not the destination.

Considering Sarah Painter’s wise words and Marie Kondo’s philosophy of only keeping items that spark joy, I ask myself…does my writing spark joy?

My answer is…it depends.

Now, before we all thank our laptops, notebooks, and pens for their service and hurl them out the window, let’s take a closer look. When does writing spark joy? When does it spark tears and frustration? When does it spark turning to TV or chocolate or hiding under the covers?

For me, the answer lies in the object of my focus. Is it on the actual joy of writing, as Sarah Painter so wisely recommends? Or is it on the destination? On publication, or the need to feel good enough for my parents or husband or friends or peers. Where does the drive to succeed come from? The drive to write?

As a child, I wrote for the joy of it. Every single time I sat down to write, it sparked nothing but the utmost joy. Everything else faded to the background. I didn’t write to prove myself or to get good reviews or to find an agent or publisher to validate my worth. I didn’t even write to get my parents’ approval. I wrote because it was fun.

So why do I write now? Is it still fun? Again, it depends. When I’m not worried what people will think, it’s fun. When I’m anticipating critique, judgment, or review, it’s stressful. As you may already know, I suffer with anxiety and depression. I have low self-esteem, as well as rejection-sensitive dysphoria (look it up–it’s a thing, and I even run a Facebook support group for it if you’re interested). Basically, I am my own worst critic. I can’t say when exactly I picked up this baggage…only that I miss the weightlessness of writing without it.

Sometimes writing is painful. It doesn’t always flow, and it isn’t always fun. When I worry what people will think, how I’ll be perceived, whether I’m good enough, whether I’m making amateur mistakes or letting somebody somewhere down, then it’s not so fun. More like…agonizing. I persist, because I want my voice to be heard, I want to share what I’ve gleaned from life, and I hope readers will love my characters as much as I do. I want the pain I turn into art to mean something. To help someone.

So how do I keep that spark of joy from burning out in the darkness of negativity?

In one EMDR session with my therapist, I traced my writer’s block to the shame of not feeling good enough. To my struggle with attention and reading comprehension all through school, caused by undiagnosed ADHD. To the business college professor who told me to find someone who “knew how to write,” because I had accidentally written “threw” when I meant “through” while struggling with untreated depression and ADHD. To the desire to please my parents by excelling like my brother, when I didn’t have his knack for mathematics. To the need for validation. To the fear of failure. To the fear of success. It became so intense that sometimes I would self-sabotage, procrastinate, and numb my mind with TV and social media instead. The buried shame and feelings of inadequacy were too intense to face every time I opened Scrivener to write. I tearfully recounted to my therapist that maybe it would be easier to give up the dream, because it hurt too much to pursue it.

In the second half of that EMDR session, after processing the roots of my shame and fear, I reframed my writing practice as a serene day at the beach, making sandcastles. Playing with words. Letting go of them as the water comes to wash them away. Writing the way I did as a child. Ebbing and flowing like waves on the sand.

That EMDR session broke down the stubborn foundation of my writer’s block. Though I am not fully cured, I have a newfound awareness. And I’ve changed my writing practice to rekindle the joy.

Instead of writing in a serious serif font, I now write in the font I used as a child…Century Gothic. It’s playful, it’s simple, and it reminds me of those childhood Saturday mornings. In Scrivener, the backdrop to my writing is now a sandy beach. My desktop wallpaper is a dreamy sandcastle. This small brain trick has worked wonders.

And now, I plan to implement another change, here on my blog. In honor of my childhood Saturday mornings, as well as my lifelong love of cats, I declare that Saturdays will now be Caturday Story Corner days on Shelter for Sensitive Souls.

My cat, Charlotte the Literary Cat, now has her own WordPress account, so she will make the occasional appearance as a guest blogger. I will start this Saturday with a story of the cats God has placed in my life along the journey when I’ve needed them the most.

I hope this post has blessed you in some way. I am so grateful to you for reading, and I hope you will stop by again soon.

So I will end with this question…does your writing spark joy? Why or why not?

Please share your thoughts in the comments. Thank you, and best wishes for your 2019.

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