free-writing: on fear and falling behind

free-writing: on fear and falling behind

I woke up this morning at 2:30 A.M. and couldn't go to sleep after that. I tried to read as that usually gets me back into sleep mode but no such luck today. So I threw off the covers at close to 4 A.M. and came to the writing computer and managed to get quite a few words in.

This is the first time I've converted a sleepless night into a writing session. So I must give myself a pat on the back.

I don't remember if it was like this before I became a parent but I know for a fact that in these last couple of years, especially after moving to Burlington, I've woken up in the middle of the night and lain awake, heart palpitating, unable to go back to sleep, my mind in overdrive, riddled with all sorts of worries and anxieties about the future, both near and far.

Looking back, I can put this down to my complete lack of network in this area. That's certainly a big reason, because often I'd wake up feeling scared that I'm unable to handle all this responsibility of parenting alone.

Of course, KrA is more than an equal parent; he does so much more than I do in every aspect, but fear is a funny thing, especially when you are alone and allow it to keep messing with your mind.

During the pandemic, isolation had become extremely commonplace, and the lockdowns helped me make sense of how isolated I had felt in the preceding years, moving from a city condo to a suburban neighbourhood. The sudden absence of people was something I couldn't cope with. Even now, I yearn for this house to be filled with people, with loved ones, with people I love, with those who love me and KrA and D.

When I was young, I remember telling my parents that I'd grow up and earn enough money to build a house large enough to accommodate my grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins. Growing up in Thane (near Mumbai, India) while most of the rest of our family was in Chennai, a 24-hour journey by train, I had never been comfortable with isolation. With being by myself.

As a child, I was completely oblivious to the family dramas that often played out between the grown-ups. Being with aunts and uncles and grandparents in those early years of childhood felt like simply being in the care of people who loved me unconditionally, whose love I had no need to doubt – that wasn't necessarily the case and for reasons I now understand – but as a child, it was as simple as that.

That was love. The delight on Thatha's face when he spotted us as our train pulled into the station. How my brother and I used to scan the platform for him and shout out to him as soon as we had spotted him!

The hole in our hearts as we'd make the journey back home from Chennai to Dadar or VT in the monsoon rain, the skies crying along with us as we bid farewell to our loved ones.

To this day, I don't quite see the point of living so far away from the people who brought us into this world, gave us our lives, and looked after us until we could grow wings and fly away, only to find ourselves unmoored in a foreign land, pining for the people, the family, we left behind.

For what? For a better life?

I don't know how this longing qualifies as better or worse than the thirst for freedom we had back then, the urge to get away from our family of birth so we could find our own selves. Both are a form of the desire to be somewhere else other than the here and now.

OK! Wasn't I going to write about fear? How did I end up on this walk down memory lane? I'll have to scroll back up and demystify this.

Ah! Sleepless nights.


So that's a little victory for me. That I could convert this sleepless night into a writing session.

But I was so zoned out after that I didn't get back to the computer for the rest of the day until now. And I'll be headed to bed right after this.

I deliberately chose to take this day a little easy. Knowing that I was sleep-deprived, I was prone to be grumpy and snappy – and I was a fair bit initially – but I didn't want that to continue throughout the day.

So I decided to not push myself too much. I went for a morning walk. I got about four ripe mulberries today. The plant has given up most of its fruit, barring the ones on branches too high for me to reach.

I even managed to play with D for an hour, caught up on sleep while he watched TV, and hung around with D and KrA later in the afternoon, came up to do some painting while they enjoyed water-play outside with the hose, and read to the little one at bedtime. Tracey West is l'auteur du jour, her Dragon Masters and Pixie Tricks series keeping both D and me enthralled.

The one thing that helped me today was a timely post by Dean Wesley Smith who has challenged himself to write four novels in this month of July alone!

On the second day of his challenge, he got fewer words than he had hoped, fewer than what he scored on the first day of his challenge, and this is what he had to say about it.

If this challenge was in your first dozen or so novels, or my first dozen or so novels, I would instantly feel panicked by having a tired day and getting behind.
After two hundred novels, I now just shrug. Being behind (as many of you have noticed over the years when I do these out in public like this) is standard for me.
And sometimes I fail, sometimes it works out just fine.
For me it is a shrug.
But being behind a few thousand words is sure no big deal at all. If I’m a little less exhausted tomorrow I could find myself over 15,000 words just as easily. No idea where the novel is going, but feels so far like it might be fun and a fast read. Or it might take me ten days to do this first one and four days to do the next one. Even for someone like me, writing is not an exact science.
So honestly I expected to have a low-hour writing day a few times along the way. So tomorrow I hope to be less tired. We shall see.
~ Dean Wesley Smith, Day Two

I am so glad that I'm realising while working on my third novel that it's ok to have non-writing days, to have written far less than desired, that I'm still moving forward, slower than I'd like but it's movement nonetheless, and that counts for something. An attempt. An endeavour. Movement.

Circling back to sleepless nights and anxieties, Kristine Kathryn Rusch had a great post on her blog two days about fear-based decision making in writing. And every word of what she said resonated with me.

... we writers are a fearful bunch.
Maybe it’s because we live in our heads all the time. We make things up for a living, so that habit bleeds into our lives. Most of us keep that part of ourselves under control. We manage to walk out the door every day, without encountering an axe murderer or an alien in search of our leader. We might have an overactive imagination, but we have an outlet for it, one we use on a daily basis.
~ Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Business Musings: Fear And All Writers (Fear-Based Decision-Making Part 7)

So if it's the same imagination that helps me write stories and that keeps me awake at night, concocting all possible ways in which life could go horribly wrong for me or KrA or D, all I have to do is give it an outlet.

Rusch goes on to say the following:

All those things that make you presentable and safe within society should vanish when you walk into your writing office.
The critical voice has no place there. Go into your office and have fun.
Be a toddler, which means focus on the now, which is the writing.
Let all those business concerns, all that marketing, all those publishing rules, go away. They belong to the future.
When you write, you write.
Have the kind of fearless fun that the littlest of children have.
That’s who you are as a writer, underneath the do-nots and should-nots and the what-ifs.
Keep that little person safe in your writing room. Let that little person have fun.
Your writing will improve. Your willingness to write will grow.
Your fears won’t entirely go away, but they will ease.
Fear kills fun.
And writing should be the place where you go to have fun.
~ Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Business Musings: Fear And All Writers (Fear-Based Decision-Making Part 7)

So the next time I'm jolted out of sleep for whatever reason, I will make it to my writing desk. My fun place. The rest of the day will find a way to accommodate sleepy-eyed me somehow, I'm sure.

À demain!

Image Attribution: Photo by Faye Cornish on Unsplash