On Making Excuses

I’ve spent the last month working on a creative nonfiction piece about the platitudes of marriage in the context of mental illness. Success has been mixed, the challenge to avoid the pitfalls of cliché daunting. My motivation, a writing contest on mental health issues, is explicit in its warning to avoid banal storytelling.

In contrast to past work, however, I’ve spent considerable time on this essay, crushing and reshaping it with agonizing focus. Until now, my relationship to creative writing—my purported deepest love—has been a halfhearted affair, often usurped by the demands of work and other excuses. This time, in the spirit of the piece’s perseverance theme, I’ve kept chipping away, hoping to land on a conclusion that is messy and honest.

I’ve made a lot of excuses in my creative life, refusing, for instance, to participate in readings during my MFA program because my work was too “personal.” I’ve skipped local writing groups and abandoned promising novels because of an inevitable block: where do I take the characters from here? From the sidelines I’ve watched other writers work harder and, through luck and determination, achieve greater success.

My current piece is my way of fighting out of the self-doubt and the indulgent refusal to work when I don’t feel inspired, to push myself harder, to risk mistakes. In addition to working on my essay, I’ve spent the last month meditating most mornings for five minutes with, again, mixed—actually, mostly negative—results. Back aching, my mind swerves from thought to thought, even when I count breaths. Still, I keep sitting down and trying, knowing it is a process that fosters long-term, not short-term, results.

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