Skip to content

On Writing in Drafts: Starting with Purpose

I shared a story last week about my social anxiety totally overwhelming me in college, but in hindsight I can see its clear effects at least as far back as high school. Last year, though, I reached something of a crisis.

A year or two after I figured out what the problem was, I finally faced just how bad it had gotten, and how much it was interfering with my life. Then I went looking for help…and I found it at about arm’s length.

My dad is a certified cognitive-behavioral therapist who specializes in anxiety. That’s painful, isn’t it? Just knowing that resource was there all along….

And it’s not as though that was the first time we’d discussed it. He always told me the same thing, “You need to exercise, and if it gets really bad you should see a therapist.”

We went to Arkansas to visit them in February, though, and while we were there I started having a major attack. Dad took me out for a long drive, and we talked it through, and after I spent half an hour or so complaining he told me that what I really needed to do to was exercise.

I sighed. Of course I needed to exercise more (doesn’t everyone?), but the physical effects of the constant anxiety left me way too drained and distracted to stick to any kind of routine. I told him that, frustrated, and he nodded patiently…and then he explained why I needed to exercise.

It’s got to do with the biochemistry of anxiety. I’m not going to go into the details here — because I’d get them wrong — but he said that “drained and distracted” feeling is the result of some nasty chemicals anxiety puts in the bloodstream, and a good brisk walk should be enough to burn up the worst of them.

He prescribed an hour a day, and I promised myself I’d follow through (and didn’t really believe it), and then I headed back home without a ton of hope. In fact, I was heading back home to a really intimidating business meeting the following day, and on the drive back I could feel the anxiety attack starting.

So when I got home, miserable as I felt, I followed through on Dad’s suggestion. I went for a walk, and I made it an angry one. I stomped and thundered, constantly pressing faster and harder, and the whole time I imagined all the poisons that made me so miserable burning up in the heat of tired muscles and searing lungs.

And when I finished my walk, to my great surprise, I felt better — not just emotionally, but physically better. I was exhausted, and sore, but it was a natural tired sort of pain. The other, though — the nausea and the shortness of breath and the heartache — it was gone. Totally gone.

I sat on the couch for an hour doing nothing, and when the tiredness passed I felt totally normal. Two hours to recover from an anxiety attack that easily could have leveled me for a week. It was miraculous.

In the four months since that day, I’ve missed my workout four times. And every time I did, I missed it. It’s not something I do because I should, but because I understand, in an immediate kind of way, what it’s got to give me.

Rough Drafts and Good Foundations

I’ve got a habit of telling you a little story and then trying to make an application to writing, but this one’s kind of the opposite. It’s the writing metaphor that has helped me stick to my therapy.

It’s worked, too. I’m not perfect yet, but my anxiety is much better controlled than it has been in years. I sleep better, I concentrate better, I feel happier…and I’ve lost 44 pounds in the last four months.

And every step along the way, I’ve been writing. I’ve been changing my story, starting with that one major rewrite to my daily schedule. It’s the marble statue again. I did a pretty solid job outlining my life and filling in all the details until I knew the full shape of it. I’m a grown-up now.

But I’m not done. This is just the beginning. I’m going through a pretty intensive revision right now, but I’m sure I’ll keep on polishing for the rest of my life. That’s what we’re going to talk about this week: rough drafts and good foundations tomorrow, and sticking to it and getting a novel written on Saturday.

Comments are closed.