This is not going to be a political post. But I am going to talk about politics. Sort of.
As writers, we’re sensitive souls. We observe the world around us, and as Kimberly Brock called us in a beautiful post earlier this week, we’re lightning collectors. I loved this analogy; it’s so perfect. I wait for the idea that always inevitably comes, whether it be a plot twist, a scene conflict, a character. Our subconscious does most of the heavy lifting.
I have copy edits and a draft to write. My manuscript is due to my editor on May 1. I’ve written eight thousand words, and two weeks ago, was moving at a decent clip.
Then the election happened. My gal lost. Political upset, you know all about it. But now, suddenly, the world doesn’t make sense anymore. Not because my gal lost. But because there are so many people I don’t understand. No matter which side of the aisle you fall on, I imagine we all feel this way. The election has been so divisive that we’re all looking around and saying, wait, I don’t know you. Some of us might be dreading Thanksgiving, or even seeing our neighbors at the mailbox – bracing ourselves for the anger or the gloat, depending on where you fall. It’s draining, no matter where your ideologies lie.
The most fundamental aspect of my job is to understand people. I pride myself on it. Now, it feels like a little bit like the world’s gone mad, and maybe I don’t actually understand anything. As a writer, who needs to tap into human empathy at the most basic levels, this was terrifying.
Thursday, November 10th, I sat down to write. I had a scene in mind and a blank page in Scrivener and nothing happened. There was no lightning. Or rather, there was lightning all around me and I couldn’t catch any of it. Friday was more of the same.
I worked in the corporate world for eighteen years. I still do. On bad days, I can phone it in, literally sitting in my home office, calling into passive conference calls, doing the easy work: trainings and email replies. In the creative business (yes, that’s a thing: the business of being creative), our brains have to be on. All. The Time. The downside to this is my brain is never off. I absorb all this unrest and internalize it. It’s clogging my creative pipes.
By Saturday, I knew I needed an action plan.
Step 1. Channel your negativity. Yes, this is so obvious. But I wasn’t at the right point in the book for so much uncertainty and I didn’t know exactly how to DO THIS. Like most things, when you take a deep breath and clear the brain clutter, the answer is obvious. I opened my Scrivener file and down under “Research” I opened a new file. An unnamed character (not my current WIP) is standing in the middle of a crowded amusement park and a bomb has gone off. What does she see? Feel? What are people doing? I wrote about 1400 words, a scene. She helps a woman with a baby. The paramedics come. Writing this scene, while not related to my character or my WIP, became a weapon in battling my powerlessness. I hope I use it someday.
Step 2. Do something creative besides write. I play the piano. Not well, mind you, but well enough. Sometimes I go months without touching it and it’s badly out of tune. I’m sure you also know, this week Leonard Cohen died. I wasn’t a diehard fan or anything, but it felt like another needle stick: in the midst of chaos, a great artist leaves us. Hallelujah has long been one of my favorite songs (honestly, the Bon Jovi rendition is pretty freaking beautiful. Yes, I said Bon Jovi. Don’t judge). It’s also ridiculously easy because the chord progressions are the lyrics. I figured it out, taught myself to play it. I won’t open Carnegie hall or anything but something about it felt so right.
Step 3. Bring light. I’m an introvert. When people talk to me in public, I smile (seriously not even a real smile, mostly like a terrified don’t talk to me smile) and move on ASAP. This week, I went out of my way to reach out. I’ve never been so uncomfortable in my life. I talked to grocery store clerks, guys pumping gas next to me, toll booth collectors, people in line at CVS. I challenged myself to be ridiculously, over-the-top kind to everyone. I told a woman at the post office that I loved her bag. My kids picked up on my energy, too, and the three of us became a traveling team of chatterboxes. People’s faces transformed and I knew it was because of me (well, us. My kids are pretty cute). I gave a stranger light, just for a second. I bought the car behind me coffee. Step 3 felt so good I haven’t stopped. I wondered why I’d been so afraid, kept to myself so much?
Step 4. Take action and move on. There is always going to be something going on in the world that is out of our control. The past two weeks have felt like a maniacal version of the teacup ride at Disney. In order to get my mojo back, I needed to take back some of my own power. I started my morning by calling my senators and representatives, expressing my views. It’s a small thing, but it’s a thing. It helps me cross off the worry, even if just subconsciously. Just for today, I was able to file my anxiety in a box, put a lid on it. Tomorrow, I’ll repeat. But I know that I’ve done what I can. While my action was political, I realized I don’t do enough of the small things. It’s so easy to let life take over and consume you and feel so helpless. Sometimes, doing the small thing can have a significant impact on your mental state.
Step 5. Meditate. Download the app, get comfortable and for ten minutes, clear your mind. Breathe. Works wonders.
On Monday, after completing my five step sanity program, I’m happy to report that I wrote 1200 words. Are they any good? Well, that’s beside the point. Am I still worried? Uncertain? Sure. Nothing about this is a cure-all. It’s hard to be an adult in the real world. If we don’t preserve our pretend worlds and protect them with everything we’ve got, what good are we as writers?
Your turn, WITS readers. What is your coping mechanism? Share, you could help others.
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Kate Moretti is the New York Times Bestselling author of the women’s fiction novel, Thought I Knew You. Her second novel Binds That Tie was released in March 2014. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, two kids, and a dog. She’s worked in the pharmaceutical industry for ten years as a scientist, and has been an avid fiction reader her entire life. Her latest book, The Vanishing Year is available for pre-order and will be out September 27.
She enjoys traveling and cooking, although with two kids, a day job, and writing, she doesn’t get to do those things as much as she’d like. Her lifelong dream is to buy an old house with a secret passageway.