The Honorific “Writer”

Content warning: depression.

Writing doesn’t always wear the same hat.

Steaming mugs, sweaters, an open window with the scent of leaves, your pet warming a part of you. Coffee shops, libraries, bookstores. The sound of music–wordless, to help you focus–and the steady thrum of keys hammering as you slip into the moment. The familiar unease of the first draft as threads of dislike and effort weave themselves into faltering scenes that never translate onto the page as seamlessly as you’d like. But it’s a foundation; you can work with it.

The coziness is part of the appeal of what it means to be a writer. To curl up with a book, with your laptop, with your phone. It’s the artist’s charcoal-smudged hands, the chef’s slip-ups that ruin the dish but make for a good story. It’s what we send out to the world–hey, look, writing is how you imagine! I’m a writer.

That’s the narrative we tell on Twitter. The act of writing is solitary by nature, so these are the scenes we use to know one another. “My cat’s on my keyboard, guys.” “I can’t function without coffee!” “Just renamed my inbox ‘the endless void my queries seem to disappear into.’” It’s comforting, to recognize yourself in others living all around the world.

As with any hobby or profession, however, we only put the alluring parts on social media. The stigma of mental illness and value centric to monetary gain corrals us into keeping our fingers still whenever writing changes its hat.

The room is dark because you forgot to turn on the lamp when the sun set. Shit, were your glasses always this dirty? Rolling clicks of the fridge in the kitchen. The opening and re-opening of documents, the buzzing in your head that you have to do something, you can’t just sit here and feel like a wet parking lot cigarette butt. You’ve made a list (to-do, for your manuscripts), but you’d rather volunteer yourself into a coma than do them, without exaggeration, and that’s not trying to be funny, it’s just the level of dissociation you’re experiencing. The relief that hits when you realize you can edit a friend’s work instead is nice–but that dies, too, because you end up reading the same paragraph over and over. Some critique partner you are.

Did your eyes always hurt this much? Maybe you should turn down the brightness on your screen… oh. It won’t go any lower. You must not be sleeping well, which is crazy, because you got 10 hours last night. Just drink some coffee–after all, that’s aesthetic. If you act the part, it’ll happen! But now you’re mentally exhausted and quivering with caffeine, and your word count is still zero. Your word count is still zero. Your word count is still zero. What the fuck, you aren’t even distracted.

What do you do? Even sitting at a desk seems to take more from you than you initially had to offer, so you move to the couch. Two hours have passed since you sat down to write. Blankets and Netflix and an up-in-years laptop burning your legs. Your mouth has an unpleasant taste from the coffee. Query. Edit. Write. Do something. Your pet joins you, but you’re too much in your own headspace to give them a scratch–it’s okay, they understand. Not like some others you know. What a cruel joke (oh, don’t be so melodramatic), that the activity that gives you the most joy in life also triggers depression, feelings of uselessness, irritability–excuse me, I ordered mania on this?

To other writers who’ve been in this fugue lately, I see you. I know how transparent the glamour feels, how rutted out and cauterized this shit show is sometimes. Waltzing for an invisible audience. Form-fitting silks to a dress form replica of your insecurities, barely keeping up with some fucking wikiHow instructions. I see you. I’m tired, too.

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