I was pumping hard on the exercise bike at the gym while having a conversation with the fellow riding next to me. We had introduced ourselves and exchanged backgrounds. He had just learned that I’m a published writer and was intrigued by the idea, congratulating me on the recent release of my new novel The Ripening: A Canadian Girl Grows Up. I surprised myself by laughing dryly and calling writing an affliction.
Later, I thought about my response. On the surface it sounds negative. To be afflicted by something is to be troubled by a disorder or disease or some kind of suffering. While I’ve certainly struggled many times when I’ve run into snags in creating short or long narratives, or in revising a poem, I haven’t considered my vocation in such a negative light before. But at the gym, I had experienced a classic Freudian slip and needed to unpack what it meant.
I think I used the word affliction because writers don’t have much choice if they want to honor a talent they were born with. The affliction part involves my need to write regularly, every day, in fact. For me, it’s as important as eating. I must exorcise myself of the poems and narratives that are lurking in my unconscious and pressing to be released. Since these entities rely on me in order to see daylight, I’m in a constant state of motherhood, and that can sometimes feel like a huge responsibility. Those of you who are mothers will surely understand what I mean! Raising children requires sacrifices. As a writer I give up a good deal so I can fit in my daily writing practice.
The word practice adds a new twist to this reflection, taking on a different connotation. We talk about the practice of medicine or a legal practice, and both applications fit here. Doctors and lawyers know they have to continue practicing their particular discipline in order to succeed. But I’m also thinking of practice in another light: as a spiritual discipline. Writing not only takes me deep into my psyche, but it also forces me to explore the world around me more extensively, to be as alert and aware as possible so I can incorporate what I’m experiencing in my written work. This practice at times has a mystical, sacred dimension.
Of course, writing isn’t just an affliction. It also can bring joy or the deeply satisfying pleasure of accomplishment when things go well, when our poems and prose find their readers. Then whatever sacrifices we have made don’t seem like losses at all. They become part of the process of what it means to be a writer.