I apologize for missing last Saturday, but I was suffering badly from a genetic metabolic disorder I am blessed with. Between the pain and sleep deprivation that accompanied the flare-up and the pain medication, I could barely produce a coherent sentence, much less an entire essay. Certainly not one anyone would want to read.
Which breaks rule number one: write every day. Sometimes, however, as much as you or I might wish to be productive, Mother Nature makes you take a break. Who am I to argue with Mother Nature? I took a break
I have never been able to be a productive writer when I’m ill. Now I’m not talking about having a chest cold or hay fever here. By ill, I mean sick enough to require multiple prescription medications, regular visits to the blood lab, and doctor visits every week. (Unfortunately, I’ve made several experiences that meet this definition). I simply can’t focus enough or work up enough mental energy to create.
Now I can do line edits and minor revisions without too much trouble, even when I don’t feel myself. For whatever reason, that process seems easier for me. It’s the process of creating brand new material that suffers when I suffer.
Which seems counterintuitive to me. Shouldn’t it be easier to write when injury, illness, or medication begins to disable the logical, controlling, part of the brain?
My working theory is that creative people, particularly those involved in the arts (visual arts, poetry, fiction and non-fiction, photography, music, theatre, dance) have a greater ability than does the average person (or willingness?) to access their subconscious mind. For it is within the subconscious that most of our dreams, nightmares, heroes and demons lie. The subconscious is full of visions, full of images. The subconscious is where the monsters live.
Children live in the subconscious. As anyone with children will tell you, for them, the monster under the bed is quite real. We all lived in the subconscious too when we were children, then we grew up. In that process, our parents, our friends, schools, life itself taught us to separate the subconscious world from the conscious one. Once we reach adulthood, the only time most of us experience the subconscious world anymore is during REM sleep and the occasion night time stroll through a cemetery.
Most adults no longer pay much attention to the subconscious world, other than to remark occasionally “I had the weirdest dreams last night.”
Only creative artists seem to retain that childlike ability to access the unconscious with any regularity.
Much of the struggle—the work—that goes into writing is the struggle to break through that adulthood barrier between the conscious and unconscious world. Sometimes breaking through that barrier seems like trying to eat green peas with chopsticks. But when you do finally break through the barrier: oh, the feeling! Some call it “finding the groove;” some call it “the zone,” or being “on a roll.” Whatever you call it, I think of it as drilling down through the barrier of the subconscious and finally hitting the reservoir there. Then all you have to do is pump it out.
So, returning to my original question, why is it so difficult for me to create when I’m ill? One would think that with the resistance of my rational mind reduced, it would be easier to access the unconscious. But I don’t think that’s actually the way it works.
I think the illness in actuality reduces the energy I have available to drill through that barrier between my conscious and unconscious mind. Whatever progress I might make only occurs in bits and pieces. Certainly, I can’t access it consistently enough to create anything meaningful.
So sometimes, we just have to put away the pen and paper and concentrate on simply getting physically well. If that means you don’t make your writing quota (if you have one) for a day or a few days, accept it. Missing your quotas because of illness does not mean the end of the world.
It means we’re human.