My Writing: Sometimes I Hate It, Sometimes I Love It

I try not to read my writing at night because I discovered years ago that if I do, I’ll hate it.  Always.  When I’m tired, every word I’ve ever written sounds like shit, and if I make the mistake of reading it too late, I’ll go to sleep feeling like a fraud.

At the other end of the spectrum, in the morning I usually like what I’ve written.  And if I’m drinking coffee, I love it. Caffeine does for my writing what pot used to do for my philosophical discussions in adolescence–it lifts it to a level of brilliant insight (which, sadly, rarely survives the chemical letdown afterwards.)

This daily vacillation, while painful, is at least familiar.  I know it, I deal with it.  I’ve learned how to milk the creative juices that come in the morning and sidestep the mental desert of night.

But I experienced a different kind of downswing this week that caught me unprepared. The Idaho Writer’s Guild here in town sponsored a talk by Lori Wasulchek, an award winning, documentary photographer who just published a moving, exquisite book about the hospice program in Angola State Penitentiary, Louisiana, called Grace Before Dying.  (I won’t review it here because the self-critic in my head has informed me I’m not good enough.  Just use the link.  Pete Brook does it justice.)

She was inspiring.  Dedicated.  Brilliant and unbelievably hard working.  She walked through fire to bring her book to print because she believes in the value of Angola’s hospice program and what it’s doing for the countless men who are living and dying in there.  She not only created an uplifting work of art that reaffirmed everything best in us, she touched a lot of lives and helped a lot of people along the way.  I left the meeting with her book cradled in my arms, my faith in humanity renewed.  I was high as a kite, energized.  Hopeful for a better future for us all.

And then, about three hours later (as evening rolled around) my trusty, fragile, writer’s ego collapsed and I crashed.  Hard.  The inevitable comparisons began and I spent the next twelve, sleepless hours questioning every word I’ve ever written, everything I’ve ever done, and (while I was at it) my entire reason for being.  I took the earlier post I’d written about Grace Before Dying down off the blog before anyone besides the spammers who never read anything anyway could find it, and then seriously questioned about whether to just take the whole blog down, too.

God.  What a horrible night.  My emotions were painfully, ridiculously extreme.  The good news is they were so extreme I knew I should wait until morning before doing anything I might regret.

Sure enough, dawn eventually came and, with the help of a little sunlight and caffeine, I regained a more moderate perspective.  (Although even coffee couldn’t completely dispel the angst.)  After a rational look at my reaction I learned a couple of important things about myself that I need to keep in mind going forward:

1)  I’ve secretly wanted to single handedly save the world from its fear of dying.

2)  I need to come up with a more realistic goal.  (And admit it to myself this time.)

3)  I’m not a journalist and it’s counter-productive to compare myself to one, especially one that’s award-winning.  I’m a creative writer, and I need to embrace that aptitude and craft my ideas accordingly.

4)  I need to stop being such a hermit and spend more time around other writers for the inspiration, insights, and ego-workout I so clearly need.

I think the last one is probably the most important.  Writers have to spend so much time alone anyway, and when you couple that with my natural tendency to hole up and hide from the world, I can wind up being pretty isolated.  It’s not good for me and it’s certainly not good for my writing.  One of the hardest things for me to do…every single time…is accept a good critique and apply its lessons, even though doing so has always done more to improve the quality of my work than anything but the simple discipline of writing every day.

Spending more time with writers (especially those writing on my topic) would also provide excellent practice for dealing with the I Love It/I Hate It pendulum swings created by comparing my work to that of others.  I really don’t want to be taken off guard again the way I was this week.  I can’t afford it.  It’s painful, it’s hazardous to the work I’ve already written, and in all honesty it’s just not the kind of person I want to be.  The number of talented, hard working, dedicated writers out there is huge, and I’d really rather learn to harness their achievements as a source of inspiration than seeing them as a reason to quit.

copyright Dia Osborn 2011

9 responses

  1. Yikes, Dia. The world surely works in mysterious ways. This post hits a problem, shared by nearly all writers, smack between the eyes. I don’t believe I’ve talked to anyone who relishes their own written words, with the exception of one very young man whom I met at some writers’ function who proclaimed he doesn’t read because he doesn’t want his creativity to be derailed or spoiled in any way by other writers. (THAT blew me away!)

    But the degree and severity of your self criticism astounds me, particularly since I find your writing to be flawless, both technically and creativley. It hurts that a writer whose work I so worship, can vilify her own work so energetically. It makes me think I should immediately rip all evidence of my own feeble attempts out of cyberspace and anywhere else they may appear.

    I am ecstatic that in the depths of your darkness, you were wise enough to second guess your impulse to destroy. If you had actually done that, I think I’d have had to search you out and physically throttle some sense into you! Thanks for saving both of us.

  2. If I ever look like I might really do something that stupid, then please, throttle away.

    “It makes me think I should immediately rip all evidence of my own feeble attempts out of cyberspace and anywhere else they may appear.” I’m sorry…did someone mention severe self criticism?


  3. Hello my dear! Yes, welcome to the writer’s special hell: comparison. You know how I feel about your work: you are extremely talented and deeply insightful. I also believe that there are a lot of people out there who are waiting–no, praying–to read what you bring to the table. However your work stacks up in your own mind, it’s undeniably your angle and no one else can give us that.

    I do think your decision to spend more time with writers is a good one. You’ll see that everyone has their strengths and their weaknesses. The good ones are always stretching, doing the heavy lifting by turning vague feelings, nebulous impressions, and abstract ideas into concrete words and sentences that others can savor and that expand their own experience. That’s the important part.

    My favorite saying these days is “Fly your flag!” Put it out there. Be authentic. It takes courage, but it’s the greatest gift you can give us. Thank you for doing that so beautifully up till now. I sure hope you continue. Sending love always.

    • Well, does this mean I’m in the inner circle now? The writer’s special hell? 🙂

      That was a particularly bad night (really, I haven’t felt that shitty about my writing in a loooong time!) but I’m fine and have no intention of quitting so no worries. I think I may have finally hit upon a structure for the book that can contain everything I want to write about, but it’s hard to explain. Maybe after I get a couple chapters done I’ll show you and you can let me know if it’s comprehensible?

  4. Pingback: Day 179 – Living and Writing as if you’re Dying « A Year Of Living Wisely

  5. Dearest Dia, Your talent is intimidating too… So is your grace and beauty, but I forgive you for this because I know that you can’t help it.  It’s startling to me that someone of your caliber could suffer such a bout of self incrimination. It must have scared me a little reading this because I cried. Wtf?? I idolize you. ((blushing furiously and screwing foot into floor)) When Dad was dying, your words kept me afloat.
    As for:
    1) I’ve secretly wanted to single handedly save the world from its fear of dying.
    Dia, I am less afraid of dying now… it’s working. I say go for it!
    2) I need to come up with a more realistic goal. (And admit it to myself this time.)
    3) I’m not a journalist and it’s counter-productive to compare myself to one, especially one that’s award-winning. I’m a creative writer, and I need to embrace that aptitude and craft my ideas accordingly.
    Hmmm. Is it also counter-productive for me to want to be as good a writer as I consider you? And, btw, if you aren’t a journalist, you sure had me fooled.
    4) I need to stop being such a hermit and spend more time around other writers for the inspiration, insights, and ego-workout I so clearly need.
    The only problem with us Hermits is that we don’t get out enough.

    I read your blog. I read every word. I don’t skim through. I digest it all. No, I haven’t been commenting much, but that’s going to change because it’s important to me that you keep writing; be it about death and dying or your observations on living and humanity. The picture you took of the view through your window (Accidental Photo Aug 5, my Bday btw), across your garden and beyond is my laptop wallpaper. Don’t change your style; it’s just right. Don’t censor yourself too much; I want to hear it all.
    I am not a wordsmith myself, but I do like words, and I know what moves me, what makes me think, and what makes me laugh (Wheedle, Cheat and Tattered Shred! So funny, and so human) big time. Please keep it coming. Don’t do anything crazy.
    Love, Deb

    • Well happy birthday girl!! I hope it was a good one. And I love this… “the only problem with us hermits is that we don’t get out enough.”

      Thanks for the words of encouragement, Deb, and right back atcha. I haven’t read much of your writing, (a couple long emails) but I’ve noticed in the bit that I have read, that you have a gift for cutting straight to the heart of a thing in the simplest, yet most heartfelt, way. You do it when you talk too. I still think you’re a natural up in front of a group. 🙂

      Love you too!


  6. Dia, I’m so very grateful you didn’t take down your blog.

    I’m a fan of your down to earth style and honesty on the beauty and wonder surrounding the end of life. I was already panicking because I’d switched computers and couldn’t remember the blog name and I *needed* to refer a friend to your site. She’s just helped her beloved shepherd over the bridge and had texted me that “It was a good death.” If you hadn’t been here when I finally figured out the title (yes, I fired up the old desktop and dug through my browser history, I was so determined), I would have felt another loss today.

    Thank you for being here when I needed you earlier this year, and for continuing to leave your words on the web for me to help others. You shine, girl.

    • Thanks j. This gave me such a lift when I first read it, you have no idea. There are a lot of reasons why I’m writing this blog but the main one has always been the hope that everything the dying taught me, might also be of some value to others.

      Although…I’m so very sorry about this but…I’m not entirely which -j- you are. I don’t recognize your gravatar, email, or IP, perhaps because you switched computers?

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