I am writing this for myself.
I am writing this because I have started so many books in the last few years that I couldn’t finish that I stopped trying because my heart was broken. This after writing a book a year most years when I was younger. Never mind if they sold the point is that I could write them. Medication changed that. And I’m sorry doctors and pharmaceutical companies who say that the medication will not impact your creativity, it does. It slows your brain chemistry and sometimes your will to do anything at all. But iron will and determination can move mountains. I am climbing a mountain, and I will make it to the top.
I am writing this because I want you to know that if you are bipolar and have given up on your dreams it’s time to get them out and dust them off and get ready to tango with them again. I’m not saying it will be easy, I am not suggesting that you can avoid all mis-steps, I am not saying miracles will occur at every turn, but I am here to tell you that the miracle can be that you can finish what you start one.inch.at.a.time. I am inching along and I am getting somewhere.
How do you write a book if you are bipolar?
You write every day. Every single day no matter what. You get your ass in the chair and you turn on the computer and you pull up the document and you reread everything you’ve written to date just like Hemingway did and then you dive in. Reading what you’ve written so far gets your engine running and reminds you that you did it before and you can do it again. And maybe you just write a page, or a paragraph, but you leave that document open and you keep coming back to it, you make friends with it, it is not the enemy. Add to what you’ve written as you can each day. Another sentence. Another paragraph. If you only have a certain amount of time each day, use it. Do all of the above and write as much as you can.
Do not judge what you’ve written. Hemingway said all first drafts are shitty. Anne Lamott frequently writes about shitty first drafts. The point is not to worry about writing a bestseller, or even writing a book you will publish — that comes much later in the game — the point now is to finish the first draft of the book. After you’ve done that the rest of it will be a piece of cake (Or so I tell myself, meaning damned hard work but once the book is written in the first go-round subsequent drafts and editing have to be easier. I will be writing about this in an attempt to be accountable along the way.)
The goal for now is what I call “Making pages.” I am on the 4th issue of Pastiche, my 60 page bi-monthly zine. I have completed each one on time by making a habit of making pages every single day. I don’t care if I don’t feel like it. I don’t care if I have been in a tailspin of fear, in tears, if I am tired because I didn’t sleep well the night before, all of those things and more are part and parcel of being bipolar and I have to take care of those parts of myself but I am determined to prove to myself that living with bipolar disorder isn’t the only thing that defines my life. I am a writer and damn it all to hell I am going to write!
So what do I do on the bad days? I take my meds. I give myself as much time as I need to navigate the hard stuff. I may not be able to write until late afternoon or evening because the whole day my body was like a leaden weight and I could barely walk across the floor. Meds+good food+good coffee (for me)+moving around a bit (Note: I am not telling you to “exercise.” Tell me that and I will get so pissy I won’t move at all. Leave me alone and I will go out frequently with the dogs and walk around the yard and bend and stretch and do whatever I need to do to get the kinks out. Be kind to yourself. Just move yourself around a little. Dancing is good too. I like to have dance parties with the pugs.) + rest if needed. Naps are good. Naps are very good. And so on. Inotherwords making self care the most essential part of your day is the key to getting the job done.
[A special note here. Some days living with bipolar disorder can be such utter hell you really can’t get your writing done. Don’t beat yourself up, just take very good care of yourself but get right back to your routine the next day. Do NOT let one really bad day throw you off track. I almost didn’t put this in because I have fallen off the writing wagon too many times because I let one really bad day sink me OR after one bad day I let myself think other days were too hard to get work done when in reality they were not. I cannot judge this for you. For me I am treating this like Writing Bootcamp because folks I am almost 62 and I am writing for my life right now. But I surely don’t want anyone to feel guilty for not getting work done on those truly bad days. We get enough guilt as it is.]
When you’ve done all of the above and you finally have an ounce of energy to do something remember that you have made a commitment to yourself and working on the book comes first. This is hardcore, absolutely written in stone. If you want to write this book then you are going to take good care of yourself and get the job done.
Self-care & Making Pages is now your life. Until you finish this book it is the be all and end all.
When you have written so much that it would take too long to read everything from the beginning go back at least one to three chapters, read through them, and write*write*write (Ra Ra Ra!!! Imagine 4 little pugs in tutus with pom poms cheering “Write that book! Write that book! Write that book!” That works for me. Your cheer-leading squad may vary.) until you have written yourself out for the day. And getting a lot of pages done one day doesn’t let you off the hook the next day, it just means that you are doing a stellar job and Keep Going! Also don’t worry if you wrote only a few paragraphs another day. Those days will happen, but will be fewer when you get in the habit of doing all of the above and getting in your making pages place. Once the ball starts rolling it’s amazing how far it will roll!
If you are really stuck write this down —
I don’t know what to write today but I know what I want to say in this book…
The thing is you know what you want to say with this book or you wouldn’t have started it. Take that phrase and go with it for 10 minutes. Something will have arisen. Think back to that last chapter, reread it again if you think it will help, and then just GO! Go with what came up in the 10 minute timed writing. It may not be a chapter you will end up keeping but it can be one that moves you forward. Remember that you are not in an editing phase, you are just — say it with me — making pages! The goal is to add to the stack of pages you have already written. I use that phrase and it works.
I am writing this book. I am going to finish this book. I am going to come here and write about the process both to be accountable but also to help others get started and keep going. I am bipolar and I am a writer and I will tend to the former and celebrate the latter by writing every day. If not, why not? If not now, when? I ask myself that all the time, and when is now.
Until next time I wish you great good luck with your book as I work on mine. I can do this. I am doing this. So can you.
With Love, Sending Blessings & Making Pages Every Day…