You Just Do

First, read this post by Chuck Wendig. It is genius in its raw simplicity. It is harsh and accurate and straight to the point. No caveats; you can’t caveat truth. It’s perfect writerly motivation.

Simplicity, however, can be a disservice. Simplicity speaks to the majority, not the absolute all, regardless of how hyperbolic the dialogue gets. You can try to speak to the absolute all, but you can’t; there will always be outliers. You’re not writing for them. You’re writing for the ones you believe need to hear. Without caveats, however, you can’t specify your audience. In regard to a powerful essay such as the one linked above, which is potent and strong and will get passed on to many, there’s no way to define the audience. Simplicity becomes an implied absolute.

Simplicity can be harmful. Absolutism can have unintended consequences.

Wendig writes:

You’re depressed? Get in line. You’re depressed. So’s that woman over there and she wrote 1000 words today, and yesterday, and the day before. You think I don’t deal with depression? Of course I do. We writers are tailor-made for that. I know, I sound unsympathetic — trust me, it’s the opposite. I’m completely sympathetic. I’ve been there. I’m sometimes there still. It doesn’t change the cold, hard fact that all the power lies with you.

I do not disagree with the intention behind this. It’s perfectly true that nothing will get done unless, as Wendig mentions several times, you just do it.  But.

But.

Some people can’t. Some people who want very much to do as Wendig says, who want to write and be that writer who sits down and just does it, are incapable of doing just that. The implication in the article is that they are less, because obviously if they were okay, they could do it. In particular, the sweeping statement of “You’re depressed? Get in line.” says get over it. Or in this case, work through it, perhaps. Wendig goes on to point out that “Nobody ever said it was going to be easy.

Articles like this don’t speak to the mentally ill; they streamline their message for their audience in a way that involves glossing over details. Throwing in “nobody ever said it was going to be easy” is a facile avoidance of the impact of the preceding sentences. It’s the equivalent of the pithy but also inaccurate “Do or do not; there is no try.” Yoda wasn’t talking to the mentally ill any more than Wendig is, but they both encourage othering, stigmatism, and alienation by implying that those who think “it’s too hard” are just wimps. The wrong words can actually encourage further negative thinking in people with depression or anxiety; it is more natural for them to accept that they are just as bad/broken/useless as they already believe.  Granted, if their illness is significant, they may not be able to think anything else, and there’s nothing a writer can do about that.

And that’s not to say that tomorrow, or a month from now, or a year from now, they won’t be in a position to explore the issue more positively, and perhaps become that writer they want to be. Or they won’t, and they need to recognize that that is not a failing. This is where we as a culture fall short, encouraging the false dichotomy that implies those who don’t Do are in fact less valid than those who Do.

I’m not saying Wendig – or anybody else – should go back and edit and add caveats or explain differently. That’s not the purpose of their essays. And trying to say “this is for everybody except you” just draws more attention to potential negatives, as well as watering down the initial message. When simplicity is the point, write simply, and harshly if need be. It might be nice for authors to consider how their words might affect certain portions of their audience, but it’s certainly not a necessity. 

My point is: sometimes it’s not in the potential-writer’s best interest to write. Maybe you’re one of those people who can be depressed and still crank out a novel, and that’s great. We can’t generalize that to all people with mental illness, particularly chronic, clinical illness. You need to recognize that your health comes first. If writing, or trying to write, is making you suffer more, don’t do it.

This is a caveat that should come with any essay that says “this is how you do X.” Language and clarity don’t always allow for it to be a conspicuous caveat. And it’s not the responsibility of authors to call attention to it unless that’s part of their message. That does not invalidate the point, however. Writers and readers need to be aware that sometimes, it’s not writing that You Just Do. Sometimes, it’s just living.

I indirectly referenced this in my post on why I am not a writer. There have been times in my life when writing and trying to write and not being able to write have had a significant impact on my mental state. In those times, an article like Wendig’s could cause ripples that would continue to affect my life for weeks or months; there was no “getting over it.” It wasn’t until I started to recognize that my situation was unhealthy, and began to focus on my health and well-being that I was able to see just how much damage I was doing to myself with my insistence that I Must Write.

You Just Do is a good philosophy; the important thing is how it’s applied. It’s not about writing; it’s about living. If writing is how you live, metaphorically or otherwise, then you’re gold. If writing – or the thought of it – leaves you dying inside, however, that’s when You Just Don’t. You’ve got more important things to do.

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One Response to You Just Do

  1. E-Beth says:

    I think this is well written and speaks clearly to the fact that mental illness is just that: illness. You don’t tell someone with a broken leg to “walk it off.” You give treatment, palliative care, and a ton of physical therapy until they *can* walk it off. Well said.

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