I’ve been happy lately — really happy — and when I’m happy, I don’t want to write.
It’s unfortunate, this sensation. It’s not unfortunate to be happy, but it’s unfortunate that for me, it often feels like I can only have one or the other. I only want to write when I am utterly miserable, when something inside me hurts so badly that I can’t stop thinking about it, when I feel like I am trying to make up for some hole but can’t discover what it is that will fill the emptiness.
That’s often where my best writing comes from — straight from the deepest secrets of my heart. As F. Scott Fitzgerald notes in a letter to a friend, writers “only have [their] emotions to sell” and they must write about things that are “still bleeding as fresh as the skin wound on a hemophile.” Like Fitzgerald, when you read my work, you’re reading the blood that flows through my veins.
But when I am happy, I don’t have anything I want to talk about. I want to experience this little taste of heaven on earth. I don’t want to tell people about my happiness. I want to try to keep it to myself, because I know how quickly it can slip through my fingers. And I’m starting to think that there’s nothing wrong with that.
I’ve been beating myself up about my work for a while now. I can’t think lucidly when I sit down to write. A million random thoughts run through my head as I try to focus on the words. I can’t expand on an idea logically from beginning to end.
And I hate that. I hate when my writing doesn’t make sense in my head. I hate when the words don’t flow out of me like water. I hate when I read the page I’ve produced and it’s jumpy, painfully written and meaningless.
However, this weekend, as I was joyfully seeing Dublin for the first time, breathing in the sea air and waking to the sound of gulls, I suddenly realized that writing poorly sometimes is okay.
We all go through stages in life. Sometimes, the things we do are great. They come easily to us, and our passion for them is unbridled. Sometimes, we are too busy doing other things — living, experiencing, being happy — to focus on our work.
Or maybe we aren’t occupied by something else and we are just out of steam and out of ideas — in which case, that’s okay too.
No one can be great all the time. In those down periods, we should take advantage of the other opportunities we have. We should make the most of our happiness because it’s fleeting. Life isn’t just about working and success. It’s also about the small moments — dancing with friends, watching favorite TV shows, making coffee and listening to Ed Sheeran in the morning — that make the success worthwhile.
Moreover, we never have more freedom than when we feel as if we are failing. It is in these times that we experiment and learn the most.
It was in my sophomore year of college when, after my English professor told me that I wasn’t a clear and serious writer, I discovered that I didn’t care about whether or not I was good at writing. I loved it, and I was going to do it anyway.
It’s been in this semester of writer’s block that I have discovered there are a multitude of ways to write. It doesn’t always have to be about pain and hurt. It can be about light things; it can even be a little boring. I can see how well I write about topics I’m uncomfortable with. I can outline my writing. I can play with expanding my vocabulary. I can keep the tactics I like for future works. In the end, that will only make my writing — and my life — richer.
This story originally appeared in The Daily Pennsylvanian on 3/1/17. It is accessible here: http://www.thedp.com/article/2017/03/amy-chan-richness-down-times