Why I'm a Better Person When I'm Writing

I haven't written for a couple of months. I haven't revised. I haven't drafted. I haven't blogged. Not because I didn't want to, but because other things demanded my time (children, moving, etc.). It's probably the longest period I've gone without writing consistently since I started drafting Underneath Everything back in 2011. That January I swore to myself I'd take my writing seriously. No more of the starting and stopping, the sporadic spurts of inspiration followed by fallow periods. No more unfinished stories. I was going to make writing a habit. So I took a class. I forced myself to fit it in, which wasn't easy, especially since my kids were so young at the time (1 and 3). But I did it. Come naptime, nighttime, anytime I had to myself, I'd plug in my headphones and write. Or brainstorm. Or outline. Or think. Whatever it took to get to the next page. The next sentence. The next line of dialogue.

I got addicted, like you do with any habit. I felt great when I did it. I felt terrible when I didn't. So I did it as much as I could. A couple of years later, after a massive revision, when I submitted my manuscript to agents and was sick to my stomach with anxiety as I awaited a response, a dear friend suggested the best thing to do was keep writing. She was right. I began to think about my next book. I brainstormed. I outlined. I thought. It felt good. I thought it was because I was doing something I loved. I thought it was because I was being productive. It was both of those things, but it was something else, too. Something I couldn't put my finger on until recently, when I stopped the writing cycle completely, went through a stressful experience at the same time, and ended up having a few of those nights--you know the ones, where you end up crying and screaming and you're not even sure why? When you just have to let it all out? Maybe at the person or people you love the most?

Yeah, well. It wasn't awesome, to say the least. I wasn't proud of myself, or the way I'd acted. I could have handled it better. And as I discussed it with my husband, our conversation ended up at Star Wars (it's either that or Harry Potter in my house these days), and how the trait most respected in the Jedi is control. Not just physical, but mental. The Jedi must master his emotions. This, it seems, is what we are expected to do most of the time. This is polite. This is mature. And this is also difficult. Damn near impossible.

That's when I finally realized what it is I'm addicted to. It's not writing. Not exactly. As much as I love the craft of carving a beautiful sentence, or nailing an image, it's feeling I crave. When I put on those headphones and inhabit a character, I'm off the hook. I don't have to keep anything in. Not a single ache or craving. It's my job to feel what my character feels. The sick ache of frustration. The skin-buzzing surge of excitement. For however long I have on the headphones--for however long I'm lost in the world I've made up--I get to feel it all. And when the headphones come off, and the file is closed, and I'm back within the confines of myself, I'm a little kinder, a little lighter, a little more in control.

Jedi status doesn't seem so far out of reach.

Which is why, despite the fact that I'm rusty and slightly queasy at the thought of reading my third round revisions notes in the next day or so, I'm definitely ready.

What about you? Does writing balance you? Does it unbalance you? Does it give you permission? And does that help you? I'd love to hear all about it.