Writing and Sweating and Taming Lions

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F_Sars

Being a writer is like being a lion tamer. Minus the chance you could get mauled to death.

If you are a writer you know exactly what I am talking about. Writing is the wild act of wrestling ideas to the ground and then, somehow, fashioning those ideas so they make some kind of logical sense to another human, all the while, using hundreds of little black lines and squiggles on a white backdrop.

My coworker and I have started exchanging writing samples for critique and it is the worst best thing I have ever done. Yes, I said worst best.

It is the best because she is diligent with her notes, does not pull her punches and still encourages me to keep showing up.

It is the worst because I am suffering from a bad case of writer’s block.

I’ve never had such serious writer’s block in my life. It feels just like standing next to a giant rock on the coast at high tide and knowing that if you wait long enough the water will recede and there is a cave under there with a treasure trove just waiting to be explored. I know it is there. That damp cave is definitely there, but the water is just not pulling back out to sea like it is supposed to, damn it.

My stories are trapped in that slimy cavern. They are rich with bright colors and offending smells and undiscovered creatures. And all of it is hiding behind my wall of stress and self-protection and over-commitment to other projects.

That’s the main problem.

It isn’t a lack of content. I have a whole ocean of words to say, but where do I start? I have so little time that I want to have preplanned which story will come out and how long it will take and how much caffeine I will need to pound it out at 2am on a Thursday morning.

But every writer knows it doesn’t work like that. Writing is both a measured discipline and a wild animal. Our stories do not follow our rules. At least mine never have.

That is how I found myself in the middle of a street on a sun-dappled spring day fanaticizing about writing.

I was hustling back to my car after dropping off two five-year-olds at their kindergarten class and I felt my mind describing the feeling of sweat when it trickles between misaligned shoulder blades, over tattoo ink and peach fuzz and down to the small indent right over my sacrum where it will slowly and disgustingly leach into the band of my no-nonsense underpants.

I wasn’t even writing. I was thinking. I was thinking in the way that makes me sure I am a writer, but I just can’t seem to stop and sit still long enough to be WRITING.

That, my friends, might be the definition of ridiculous—it is me on a sidewalk with a child’s water bottle describing the travel of sweat down my back and considering myself a writer.

I want to write the frivolous, unnecessary details of sweat meeting the band of my underpants, but I also want to write about the intense feeling of betrayal and disdain a 17-year-old feels when her father tells her she is definitely going to hell. It’s so shocking, even now, more than 10 years later, that just dumping it out there is too much.

How can I have my feet in both camps? How can I feel so connected to the useless and beautiful details of my mostly happy-go-lucky life and then also want to write the tragic truth of my often-warped childhood?

I feel overwhelmed by the idea that I have lived through so much and continue to show up and be chipper most days. Self-preservation is such a strange beast.

I feel doubly overwhelmed by my desire to expose so much of my life to the world. I want to be heard and understood so badly. But then, also, anonymity whispers to me. Life is more than being heard. I cannot reconcile the halves of myself.

I will always be betraying one part of me. This is the tension that makes me a writer.

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Sarah Joslyn
I’m more likely to answer to Sars than Sarah. That’s because years ago my brothers started calling me Sars and, as the name implies, it was infectious. I’m a self-proclaimed writer-photographer-Jesuslover-painter-adventurer-foodie. I have a near obsession with ending injustice and I’m a sucker for a good cause. I blog about life and building a tiny house at sometimesscreaminghelps.com.
Sarah Joslyn
Sarah Joslyn

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Sarah Joslyn
  • You’ve framed the so-much-to-say-so-little-time-to-say-it tension of writing so well that I could feel it in my stomach as I read.

    Thank you for being willing to put yourself out there (underpants and all), so that I could be reminded today that we’re all sweating about something.

    And somehow God is there for all of it.

    • Sarah Joslyn

      Thank you, Michele. This was a “oh no! I have a deadline!” kind of post.

  • This may be one of my favourite titles of all time.

    You describe the tension so well. I’m with Michele! Underpants and all.

    • Sarah Joslyn

      Ha. Thank you!

  • Saskia Wishart

    WAH. Even when you are in the midst of massive writers block and pulling out an “oh no! I have a deadline!” piece, you still just say things oh-so-well. Because you are a writer. Even when the words are stuck inside somewhere. I wish I had more time too, just to sit and write. But think of the busy times as story collecting months. Even when 90% of the writing is just happening on the inside. Eventually the tide will recede my friend. xoxo

    • Sarah Joslyn

      Ha ha ha. I don’t think I would sit down and write if I had tons of time. I would probably just binge-watch Netflix. Being busy is what forces me to write. Le sigh.

    • “Think of the busy times as story collecting months. Even when 90% of the writing is just happening on the inside. Eventually the tide will recede my friend.”

      I love this, Sas!

      xoxo

  • Kristy

    I love reading your words, whatever topic you choose to write about. It’s actually encouraging to know that writers I admire have the same struggles I do. Just keeping putting the words on paper.

    • Sarah Joslyn

      Kristy, this comment is gold. I eat up your encouraging words.

      • Kristy

        I meant keep, but I was typing too fast! And I do love reading your posts. I still remember the first one I came across.

  • Nichole Bilcowski Forbes

    I hear ya, said sister! Thanks for the truth telling … Both the deep, heart wrenching kind and the silly, sweat-bead-travelling kind! 💛

    • Sarah Joslyn

      Thanks, Nichole. xoxo

  • I definitely agree with what you said – sometimes it’s like you have TOO MANY words that they crowd each other and none come out. I love your descriptions – you’re definitely a Writer with a capital W! 😉

    • Sarah Joslyn

      Thank you, Joanna! Too many words is almost always my problem.

  • Jamie

    Wow! What a great post. Driving home after work is when all my words come to me (that “thinking, not writing” you speak of). It’s definitely not a good time to pick up a pen and paper, much less a laptop, and by the time I arrive at home I feel like I’ve left all the words behind on the road somewhere… Thanks for expressing writers’ frustrations so well!

    • Sarah Joslyn

      This happens to me in the car too. I sometimes pull out my phone and use the voice recorder to capture all my words. It’s always weird to listen to, but at least some of the words are there.

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