Should Writing Have a WARNING Label?

A philosophical thought…

A friend of mine brought up this probing question-Is writing dangerous?-yesterday while we sat in a circle of poets, lyricists, fiction and nonfiction prose writers.  The thought hadn’t really occurred to me to ponder until that moment.  And so we did ponder it, over frozen yogurt in honor of spring’s warmth.

Is it dangerous to spend so much time writing?  Hours and hours spent creating, ruminating, sketching, just you and yourself and your conscious and subconscious imagination mingling and plunging, without a second soul in the room to pull you back from the edge of your own mental precipice.  Is this actually dangerous?

What about the other things you’re not doing when you’re writing? (I’m fully aware that most of us writers struggle with the converse-i.e. we’re doing other things that prevent us from writing, but this is not the focus for today.) 

Look at this from the perspective of someone who takes writing seriously enough that they want to work hard to get better.  Is the writing life, as some prolific and respected authors have suggested, progressively more dangerous to the life of the writer, the better that writer gets at writing? 

I see this paradox–The writing life eats the life of the writer.  Is it inescapable?  I don’t think so.  Stephen King says in On Writing, that “Life isn’t a support system for art. It’s the other way around.”  This is definitely an encouragement to never sink so far into writing that it swallows all else–including your joy and enthusiasm for writing, by the way.

There was a season in my life where I actually wanted the lifestyle of an obsessed, tortured writing artist.  I remember thinking–I wish I was so inspired that I stayed up all night writing down an awesome idea.  After taking the 12 week course from the book The Artist’s Way, I decided that this burning through the midnight oil wasn’t something I really wanted.

Most of my ideas have struck me during regularly scheduled daylight hours when normal people are awake and working.  There’s no shame in having a manageable life, after all.  There are many writers who work well at night, too, but that’s not because they’re squeezing themselves dry for the sake of more productivity, which would be the case with me, 99 times out of 100. 

Writing, when allowed to become an obsession, is dangerous.  It’s dangerous to keep banging your head against the wall when you’ve run dry of ideas.  The analogy I like to use is an inner well. 

Sometimes these run dry (especially when we’ve been drawing heavily from them without pausing to rest and refill with colorful, inspirational and provocative things).  Scraping the bottom of the well will not solicit much more than a trickle, and if you keep scraping, you’ll encounter blood, and it will hurt.  This is the dangerous, harmful side of writing, on the personal level.

On the social level, there’s writing in isolation and travel time spent away from friends and family (for those writers who on book tours, etc) that can take a severe toll on your life.  Part of the remedy for this is to make a time committment to a community of writers, those who are sharing their struggles and their writing openly and collectively. 

Knowing that you’re  not alone is one of the best ways to keep you going.  Plus, it takes the lonesomeness out of writing if you have a writing practice group that actually writes together.  Or a writing buddy.  Those are fabulous.  I value my writing partners more than they could ever know.

Lastly, writing is a both a discipline and a spiritual exploration.  Inspired means “God breathed” and implies that some ideas come into us like breath being blown into our lungs.  We can’t force these sorts of things. 

We can show up, wait patiently, and write whether or not we feel like it, but we can’t control creativity one hundred percent of the time, and becoming obsessed with trying will to mess everything up and this is why it needs the warning label.

Is your writing bearing down too heavily on the rest of your life?  Are you ignoring things that used to enliven you, in order to pursue your writing?  On the flip side, are you neglecting your writing by filling your schedule with activities that need to be removed?  What warning label does writing hold for you?


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