Something is happening as I near age 40 that most definitely did not happen in my 20s: I no longer have this need for everything to be “happy and good” all of the time. That is not to say that I welcome unhappiness, or seek it out (another difference from my 20s); it means I recognize the inevitable suffering of life and seek ways to cope with it. I like to refer to the state of not-perfect-happiness-all-the-time as “discomfort.”
I call it discomfort because it’s not just a feeling I only have in relationship to my own intimate life; even when my life is a calm sea, there is the suffering of my loved ones, and people in the world around me. I don’t feel separate from any of that anymore. I ache over tragedies that happen to people I will never know and some I can’t even understand. But not all of these terrible things affect my day-to-day life; sometimes they just linger in my heart for a little while. I don’t try to rush past the discomfort anymore, and I don’t stick around to wallow in it–I muse on its presence (and work it into my writing when possible).
As writers, we often want the process to be smooth and simple. To write something and call it done rather than have to revise and get criticism. We want fame and fortune to find us instantly. Instead, consider these ways that discomfort helps you and your writing:
- The best novels are not about happy, comfortable people, but about conflict and friction, instability and change.
- Comfort often means complacency, not taking risks in your writing, or not writing what you really want.
- Discomfort is a signal to us that something ought to change. When it comes to writing, there’s always something to change.
- Rewriting is a process of extreme discomfort—of moving, breaking, shifting and killing parts of your work. It’s sometimes unpleasant at first, but the only real way through to the result of a good book.
- Try mixing up your “comfortable” routines as a writer. Change where, how, when you write. Revise something you called done. Start something new. Write the thing that scares you.