By Jacqui BanaszynskiFor five years now, I’ve been acutely aware of the arrival of Friday mornings. Not because my datebook tells me so. Not because the weekend is ahead. But because I am suddenly eager to do the all the household chores I avoid all week: Sweeping, scrubbing and polishing the kitchen floor. Emptying the refrigerator, removing all the shelves, washing them and putting everything back in a carefully thought-out order. I find myself twitching to go outside, rain or not, to pull weeds and divide irises and maybe run to the garden store for some new plants. I am oddly motivated to clean the garage.
All those chores seem so much less painful than writing the weekly Storyboard newsletter.
I’ve been at this juncture often in my life — like pretty much every time I face a writing deadline, which has been pretty much every day in a long career in journalism and teaching. My non-writer friends are baffled when they learn this about me. The reaction from most: But you love to write!
That doesn’t mean I don’t love what I’ve been lucky to do for a living. There are many other careers I’m sure I would have found engaging: flying airplanes, walking trails as a forest ranger, maybe drafting architectural blueprints. But I can’t imagine any providing the variety and experiences and sense of purpose that journalism has. And if you’ve done any job long enough, you learn that none come without parts that just feel like work.
Writing is that part of journalism for me. It’s hard. It’s lonely. It makes me feel insecure. It makes me want to scrub the floor and the refrigerator and the baseboards and the windows and the light-switch plates.
This is where I insert that clichéd journalistic transition that makes an individual story representative of a greater reality: Jacqui is not alone.
Countless writers I’ve met through the years have confessed their own struggles with writing, and the quirky things they do to avoid it. Many make those admissions reluctantly, afraid that it means there is something wrong with them: They aren’t “real” writers (whatever that means); they lack talent; they’ll be found out; they’re perfectionists and nothing they write is ever good enough (whatever that means). It’s fun to suss out what different writers do to avoid writing. Only then do they realize that there’s nothing wrong — or, frankly, special — about them. The procrastination they take as a fatal career flaw is just part of the process. It’s where we all have to make the jarring shift from reporting mode to writing mode, where we set down the shield of our notebook and have to stand in the spotlight of our byline.
Knowing that, of course, doesn’t make it a breeze to work through. Because there’s that word again: Work. And that’s what writing is: Hard, lonely, insecure work. And just often enough, the kind of rewarding that makes it all worth it.
I wish I had learned this earlier in my career. It would have eased some of the anxiety as I stared down the blinking cursor on my Atex screen on deadline. It would have helped me take control of my avoidance habits and use them to my advantage. I now give myself permission to work in short bursts of mindless physical activity and try to trust in whatever mysterious thing happens as my balky brain finds its way to a story. I sweep the floor or do the dishes or fold some laundry while I ponder an opening line or a tricky segue. Then, when I’ve gain some clarity or look at the clock and gulp, I sit my ass back down and type.
And sometimes, when I’m lucky, the typing becomes writing.