Writing as escape is something very familiar to me, and it is a comfortable sort of escape, at least in my book.
I’ve been told that I seem to process everything I feel or experience through my writing – I suspect that goes doubly for when the things I have been experiencing (or putting myself through, even if unintentionally) are making me feel like hell on toast.
Some of the worst times in my life, I have retreated to creating new worlds and characters, or playing within existing ones. (Now that means fanfiction – mostly – once upon a time it mostly meant playing out what was basically live-action fanfiction, sometimes convincing other people to play out the storylines I created with me.) It gives me something else to focus on – distraction! – or work through, or both.
When I’m stressed out or have too many things clamouring to be handled (this past week presents a fairly minor example of that, for me, unfortunately) I will start yearning back to my keyboard and pen. Even if the stories are difficult or if I have something I’m too stuck on to be quite as passionate about writing, that represents problems I can solve and a world at my own direction to lose myself in.
I will often start something new, perhaps small and fluffy (or perhaps intended to be so until it explodes into a longer, plot-rich, tricky story of its own) if I want to return to my writing to hide. Specifically when I attempt to hide in my writing only to remember my in-progress stuff concludes of a blog post I’m stymied on, a novella where everyone is still heartbroken and I need to get them through a major conversation before the healing begins and heads towards a happy ending, and a light, playful smut story that I’m just not feeling while in the midst of distress.
. . .that list may be a minor view into what I’ve been working on over the past couple of weeks. It’s been a little frustrating from time to time when I want to dive into that escape and am reminded that there are thorny brambles to eel past waiting there as well. (I don’t often call it ‘writer’s block’, writer’s bramble makes more sense for me personally!)
I’ve used reading as an escape since I was a little girl, of course, and while hiding in writing that way has grown more common for me, I don’t know that I can say I prefer it to reading. It can be more absorbing, and thus distracting, but it also takes more focus to get settled into.
When I was younger (and very depressed) a therapist actually told my mother I used reading as an escape and she should not allow me to read, or at least not as often. My mother boggled a little at this advice – she was expected to put a limit on her withdrawn, troubled fifteen year old daughter’s reading habits . . . after approximately twelve years of encouraging her to read as much as she liked, all the time (if sometimes attempting to temper choices) . . . because it was something that made her too happy to focus on?
My mother declined to make another appointment with that particular therapist, reminded and encouraged me to check in with her as best I could about my mental state, and maintained the weekly library trips we’d been making since I was a toddler. I was permitted to choose and enjoy my own ‘escapes’ as long as I checked in with her at least a couple of times a day, had real conversations at those times, and joined her for at least one proper meal every day.
When I grew older and started exploring writing more seriously, my mother encouraged me not only to write – as she’d always told me she knew I could and would someday – but to delight in it, to let myself feel good as I wrote happy things, or work out grief and anger by writing darker stories. To let my writing be whatever I wanted or needed it to be.
I’ve talked (probably frequently) about how I process emotion and thoughts through my writing. Part of that is definitely natural (heck, I did it with storytelling as a child, too) and part of it is probably my mother’s influence and encouragement through some of the times I had the most ‘dark in the head’ to process.
I have always been quite fond of Tolkien’s words on the topic of fantasy as escapism, among them these, from ‘On Fairy Stories’:
I have claimed that Escape is one of the main functions of fairy-stories, and since I do not disapprove of them, it is plain that I do not accept the tone of scorn or pity with which “Escape” is now so often used: a tone for which the uses of the word outside literary criticism give no warrant at all. In what the misusers are fond of calling Real Life, Escape is evidently as a rule very practical, and may even be heroic. In real life it is difficult to blame it, unless it fails; in criticism it would seem to be the worse the better it succeeds. Evidently we are faced by a misuse of words, and also by a confusion of thought. Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if, when he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls? The world outside has not become less real because the prisoner cannot see it. In using escape in this way the critics have chosen the wrong word, and, what is more, they are confusing, not always by sincere error, the Escape of the Prisoner with the Flight of the Deserter.
Especially to a depressed teenager who had grown up on fantasy and fairy stories (including Tolkien’s very own, of course) and didn’t know how to get away from the things inside my own head, nor the world around me that seemed sometimes to be pressing in painfully. . . They rang very true, and still do.
So sometimes I ignore projects I’ve had going for ages (weeks, months, years. . .) to start up a snippet of something I didn’t even have an image of and now have no idea what to do with – much less a plot. It works for me – or it doesn’t.
I’ll stick with my comfortable, messy, fantastical escape, however. Ta very much!