Nausea, loss of appetite, mood swings, drowsiness, dry mouth, bloating, insomnia, blurred vision, difficulty urinating, skin rash, increased sweating, dizziness, weight gain or loss, increased sensitivity to light, constipation…
Does anybody else yell “Hell, no!” at the TV when pharmaceutical ads intone the lists of “possible, but normally rare” side effects?
Well, I’m here to tell you that the writing life comes with its own side effects. Ten years into it, I’m finding that there are a whole lot of ways that creative writing has affected me.
YOU MAY EXPERIENCE…
#1 Hot and cold flashes
I wish I had some kind of magic thermometer that would tell me the true temperature of my essays, stories and poems.
#2 Disruption of daily life
Or I’ll be washing the dishes and suddenly rip off the rubber gloves and sprint to my notebook to jot down something like an observation about a character (she has a thing about symmetry and is always straightening the pictures on other peoples’ walls) or a random image (the dog-hair dust bunnies whooshed from their hiding place under the chair).
#3 Increased sensitivity to the written word
I join the herd at the annual used book sale and just about trample the poor folks at the front. (Why do they have to be so slow?!)
“Reading for pleasure” is forever altered. I can still get lost in a story, but I just can’t keep my brain from registering things like Point of View (is it third person, limited? Or omniscient?) and Theme (is it fear of death? Or the folly of pride?) I pause often to swoon over an especially vivid image or take note of a well-executed flashback.
I seize up at misspellings and bad grammar on the internet. My texts are ridiculously proper. I ruminate on dialogue tags, wondering to use or not to use. Or should I employ “said” only? Or is an occasional “asked” okay?
#4 Increased appetite for the narrative arc
After Payton Manning’s triumphant return to the field during the Denver--Pittsburgh game, I turned to my nephew and said, “If the Broncos end up going to the Super Bowl, that’s gonna create a great return-from-exile narrative!”
#5 Insatiable thirst for solitude
When life gets full of people, noise and activity, my creativity becomes dehydrated. The only treatment that seems to correct the condition is for me to spend time alone, at home or in nature. No reading, internet, music, or movies allowed. Even a few hours of quiet and solitude can plump up my creativity and get the words flowing again.
#6 Unprecedented growth
What really motivates me to write, for example. Surprisingly, publishing is not at the top of that list, which I assumed it would be. Not that I don’t enjoy seeing my essays, poems and stories in print.
But the biggest rush so far? When a guy in an online class told me my essay, “Naamu” helped him better understand why his wife likes to sit and chat at the end of the day. The idea that my writing impacted another human being in that way was intoxicating.
Writing has changed me and sometimes that process is uncomfortable, like when it exposes my biases and minces my pride. I’m never as good as I want to be, or as quick to produce as I wished. Disappointment and rejection are frequent visitors, and I’ve had to learn to write around their interruptions.
I take solace from the words of author and writing teacher, Heather Sellers, who said, “Growth isn’t usually comfortable, which is why it’s called growth and not napping.”
If you are just starting out on the writing journey, be warned. You may experience these, or completely different, side effects--but some side effects are inevitable.
And if you’ve been writing for a while, I’d love to hear: