The writing side of your life – once you’ve truly embraced it, absorbed it, made it part of you – is like a new skin. It surrounds and covers you, forms a protective barrier, keeping your emotions and squishy opinions safe from the daily onslaught negativity and rejection and slimy internet trolls.
When you start out and your writing is raw and innocent, this skin is delicate, easily marred and easily broken. But as you grow through and with life, every fall and bump and clumsy tumble toughens it. Callouses form and harden, scrapes dry and scab over, and the worst gashes fade into story-worthy scars.
As years and decades flit by, exposure to life will turn this skin into a flexible, protective suit of armor. Eventually, it will be your natural bulwark against critics and haters, who by definition, are gonna’ hate. And that’s real nice. A mighty fine thing. But it’s a pretty slow process.
If you want to speed it up, you have to main-line some kind of writing steroids. You have to introduce an external catalyst to creativity and motivation.
You have to give your writing-skin some poison ivy.
Poison ivy, that insidious vine, isn’t all bad. Sure it’s painful and unsightly, springing up at the worst possible times, in even worse places. But it also has the ability to bring your mind into a state of hyper-focus, where your brain is twisted and bent on one thing: itchy scratches and scratching itches.
Go finds some oily, nasty leaves (the kind made of focus and determination and motivation are the best) and rub them all over your writing. On your drafts. On your edits. In between your independent clauses. Rub them in the most annoying places you can think of, and make sure to get the oil in there really deep.
Rub them on yourself too. On your wavering confidence, on your self-doubt, on the weakest parts of your artistic bones.
A day or two will pass with no results. You’ll think, “thanks a lot, Oliver, I wasted like, 22 whole minutes finding and rubbing those leaves. I could have watched most of Wheel of Fortune instead!” And you’ll sit and be annoyed with me, typing like you usually type, thinking like you usually think.
Until a herald appears. The oil of motivation sinking into your brain, causing an allergic, innervating reaction. A red smear on a Word doc, an itchy piece of awkward grammar that you can’t help but scratch. You’ll think nothing of it at first, mindlessly clawing at the annoyances as they appear. You’ll rub and rub just so the frustrating feeling goes away, but that will only work temporarily.
Soon the red smear will spread to entire manuscripts of impartial edits, hundreds of damaged sentences you can’t help but repair, tens of thousands of word-itches that can only be scratched by typing them out, one-by-one. The oil has now been absorbed by your brain, and no amount of laziness or doubt can wash it off. You won’t be able to ignore the vexing throb and burn of all those words that just need to get out, all those edits that need to happen, all those ideas that need outlines.
All those itches that invariably need scratching.
And don’t even think about dumping half a bottle of calamine lotion or Benadryl gel onto the festering mess. Let it flare and shout its anger out into the world. Let the itches itch. Let the annoyance and frustration build, until the blisters and boils and the crimson patches of infected writing are the only thing you can conjure in your mind. Let them interrupt your sleep. Let it be the first thought on your mind before food or drink or other worldly wants.
The itch will become all you know, the scratch all you want. And you will write because you have to. You won’t have time or energy to think about “not being good enough” or mull over “will this be rejected” as you force the words down onto that poor keyboard, chasing after the never-ending tail of an insufferable itch worm.
And then, with as much creeping subtlety as when they arrived, the itches will fade. The redness and swelling will recede like a beach at low-tide, leaving freshly exposed writing-skin made tougher by the fury of the flaming reaction. Your skin, in a matter of a few weeks, will be more resilient and more experienced. Your writing will be stronger from having fought the itches and won.
And after you’ve had it once, sometimes in the shower or at your desk or on the toilet, a phantom itch with dash across your skin and you’ll remember how the poison ivy made you feel.
And then you’ll write, knowing that the itches might come back. Secretly hoping they will come back. Just so you can have the joy of scratching them all over again.