Tuesday, March 1, 2016


post by Lynn 

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.


#1 Hot and cold flashes 

I am frequently incapacitated when it comes to judging the quality of my own writing. One day I think the words I have put on the page are hot stuff, the next day (or even hour) they are January-in-Wyoming cold. Same writing, different reactions.

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 

Listening to music used to be a pretty calm thing for me, something I did with no particular agenda. Now I’ll hear a song and add it to the imaginary soundtrack of my story (after it gets turned into a movie, of course). Or I’ll hear a fiery rock song and think Hey, I should listen to this when I’m working on that story I started—it’s just the mood I’m trying to create.

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 

My bookshelves have started to sag, and the default answer to the question, “What do you want for your birthday?” has become “a gift card from Barnes & Noble, please.”

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 

I catch myself breaking the episodes of my day into scenes and mentally rearranging them for maximum impact. 

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 

When I decided to create a writing life for myself, I selected the motto, “Learning to write and writing to learn.” Boy howdy. I’ve learned a lot, especially about myself.

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:

What side effects have resulted from your writing life?


  1. Hmmm.... let me see. Recurrent guilt when I'm not writing. Hand cramps from journaling (I'm a pen and paper, no keyboard, first drafter.) Better appreciation for insomnia -- I try not to waste it!

    1. Hey, anything that counteracts the anxiety of insomnia is good in my book!

  2. I see a picture like the one in your essay of the lone tree out on the prairie with the beautiful cirrus clouds in a wonderful blue sky and I immediately think of a poem or line of a poem it reminds me of. Like this from Tom Hennen's prose poem Grassland: "Far south of the north woods, the red pine stands alone, surrounded by hundreds of miles of space, able to see a county away; . . . ." But that's not a bad side effect. Good literature should forever change how we see something we've seen lots of times before and never noticed.

    1. Not a bad side effect at all. I think writing makes us more awake to the amazingness of the world.

      Thanks, Art, you Leap Year birthday boy, you :-)

  3. Well, at least they're not as physically dangerous as those associated with popping assorted pills . . . . unless you about drive off the road when you have one of those "ah hah!" moments and try to do two things at once, write and drive. Ummm. Anyway.

    I've been adding photography into the mix of writing and riding motorcycles and driving cars. Talk about side effects. Add, "I'd like to photograph that," to "That'd make a great subject to write about," and the side effects can be overwhelming. Shouldn't I be doing something worthwhile, like housework or brushing out Cooper? Like being creative isn't worthwhile. But Cooper's long coat still needs to be brushed out nevertheless.

    A week ago I decided to put some highway break in miles on a new car and had the brilliant idea to drive to Egbert because I'd never been there. Now that I've been there and down the dirt road that takes you to Burns, I want to go back late in the afternoon when the sun's rays are low and dusk is coming on and photograph abandoned houses in Egbert. Most people would think I've gone totally off the deep end. And maybe I have.

    Oh, by the way, the big used book sale is this weekend. Maybe I'll see you there. :)

  4. I'll be at the book sale. I promise not to trample you :-)

  5. I grew up playing music, so I focused on notes and all their particulars. However, since writing became a major part of my days, I now listen to the words in the music, let the notes flow. Am often surprised, sometimes hilariously so, when I finally pay attention to the lyrics!

    Another side effect: After completing Julia Cameron's workbook on recovering creativity, I see this effort at writing not as work but a daily exercise which strengthens my spirituality. I recognize today that words and their order are gifts, cause for celebration, opportunities to share. What delightful realizations!

  6. Those ARE delightful realizations, Aaron, and by sharing them with us, you spread the wealth. Thanks!

  7. I laugh at those ads on TV, which tell you that you may die but you won't have psoriasis, by golly! Writing's side effects are comparatively mild and even fun! Mine are pretty much identical to Susan's.


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