In 1922, Ernest Hemingway lost a suitcase filled with stories and a fragment of a WWI novel.
Well if he did, it obviously it didn’t work. The incident appears in each of his posthumously published works. In other words, he spent the rest of his life lamenting the loss and writing about it incessantly.
I know exactly what this feels like… I have my own trunk-full of stories and the idea of tossing them out the window fills me with terror.
Fear of lost luggage
When Ava Gardner asked Hemingway if he ever had an analyst, he replied:
I’ve said before that writing is cheap therapy. I’ve used it as such myself. In fact, I’ve often thought that people who major in Psychology are just trying to figure out why they’re screwed up while English majors already know why — they just want to figure out how to tell everyone about it.
After years of journaling, I have a pretty good idea about the ways destructive patterns can ruin your creative work. For example, mixed into the 2MM words in my journal, three particular themes repeat over and over again.
Reading through old entries, it’s easy to see how each obsession takes the stage. It’s almost comical because the journal entries often recognize the fact that the pattern is beginning, and then I go on for days writing thousands of words to describe things I’ve already written about perhaps two or three dozen times.
I’m tempted to list those problems here, but then that’s bound to set me off on my usual holding pattern. I have stories to write and ideas to share, and getting rid of the baggage is the whole point of this little piece.
In general, I think it is possible to pin the recurring themes in my journal to the more general idea of being afraid of abandoning the past. I’ve lived with these pains so long that they have formed an identity of their own. They have a mythology and a gospel. They are sacrosanct.
I know, I know. It’s psychotic. So, let’s figure out how to get rid of or make peace with the beast and move on.
The quick fix: get me through today
Below are three things I do to get back on track quickly. It doesn’t get us to clean, but let’s start by removing the urge to play the fiddle on our wrists with shiny razors.
1. Step away from the keyboard
The phrases I use in my journals are so predictable that I should write a program that shuts down the computer when I type them in.
When you find yourself falling down the rabbit hole, it might be time to simply take a break. Go outside and take a walk. Draw a picture. Fold the laundry. Do lunch with your friends. Hell, do your friends. Whatever it takes. Just get away from the work for a little while.
2. Put it in the drawer
The story isn’t bothering you but you might be bothering the story. Try putting it in a drawer and write something else. Not that the something else should be your journal. Try writing some non-fiction, something structured and direct that will take your mind off of the flowing abstraction of fiction.
3. Change your music
Simple but effective. Sometimes I go from Jazz to Classical, or Classical to Funk.
Avoidance will not save you
All right. That was peppy and clever but in the end you’ve got to face the real troubles weighing you down. You have to tackle them head on and release yourself from the hold they have over you.
It means that you have to allow the past to fade and realize there is nothing you can do to correct what has happened. The only path forward is through the present and the choices you make today on your journey to tomorrow.
The baggage of the past is what is keeping you from writing today. Let it go and write clean.[Ref for Hemingway stuff above: Trauma Theory and Hemingway’s Lost Manuscripts by Marc Seals]