I have bad writing habits, which is to say “writing habits” that mean I’ve spent fifteen years barely writing at all—and now my husband, Jake,

Bess Stillman's Substack

submited by
Style Pass
2023-09-14 19:00:05

I have bad writing habits, which is to say “writing habits” that mean I’ve spent fifteen years barely writing at all—and now my husband, Jake, who is my best editor and most ardent cheerleader, is being killed by a squamous cell carcinoma. Now I have to cram in as much writing and learning and unlearning bad habits as I can while he’s alive, because, as one research summary charmingly and coldly puts it: “Recurrent/metastatic [squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck] have poor prognosis with a median survival of about 12 months despite treatments.” “Median survival” means half the relevant population dies sooner, and his cancer grows fast and has invaded his nervous system. How unfair: I want to invade his nervous system. Though I could argue that I already have, thanks to the power of mirror neurons and his appropriation of some of my stranger habits, like making a small quack as a means of acknowledging the receipt of information. Cancer has given me an imprecise deadline but a deadline nonetheless. I can’t say that I’m “writing like my life depends on it,” because my life doesn’t depend on writing, but so much of my creative process these days depends on Jake,  especially editing, idea generation and encouragement, and know that soon he’ll be cut out from under me. I’m writing as if I depend on Jake’s life.

What are those “bad writing habits?” Self-doubt gnaws at my mind, convincing me that I’ve lost my writing skills or that the last good thing I wrote will be the last good thing I write. “Good thing?” My brain won’t let me believe I will ever write a “good thing” again, even if I think the last thing turned out good.  At the computer, when it seems like time to write, the voice in my mind tells me that I can’t do it, or can’t do it well, or that whatever I do is impossible, so I should give and turn on the TV. Or maybe see what action is happening at Facebook (no significant action is ever happening on Facebook). But no one loses writing skills like earrings; if I could write effectively at one point in my life, I can do so again. And again. And again. Intellectually, I know the belief is self-defeating, and yet the belief keeps stalking me like one of those killers from horror films that keep popping back up like deranged jack-in-the-boxes when they ought to be dead. Anxiety, which is self-doubt’s close cousin, tells me that I need to feel uneasy, rather than staying in a productive flow state. Self-criticism whispers to me that what I’m working on won’t turn out, won’t make sense, won’t entice readers. What I write will only embarrass me, if I can figure out how to write anything at all. I don’t know how to organize the material. Readers won’t understand me. They won’t want to read. The writing is too long, it’s too short, it’s too all over the place, it’s too quotidian, it’s too out there…so I might as well stop.

Leave a Comment