The Old Agony Trope

October 19, 2022 § 12 Comments

By V Hansmann

Writing is agony. 

This trope drifts through the ages as a truth self-evident and universally acknowledged. Its corollaries – solitude, perfectionism, discouragement, envy, alcoholism, book – compound the blood-letting sacrifice of putting pen to paper. If creativity hurts that much, why do it? 

Fear, probably; fear and its slutty handmaiden, pride. Those two feelings are the perpetuators and destroyers of expectations. Fear will concentrate one’s energies to focus on the job to the detriment of all else. And pride will never be satisfied. In the wake of these projectiles is agony. 

Agony feels like a deeply neurotic response to writing. It seems performative and ego driven, but I’m sure it hurts. Writing that book was agony, and yet… and yet… here it is. Suffering didn’t improve the work, but it may serve as a bulwark against criticism. 

Shouldn’t writing be a joy? Bringing a new thing to light, something the world has never seen, a very part of you, to feel how newborns make us feel. So, why is love of writing suspect? Why not exult in the pleasures and satisfactions of craft? In being good at sentences whatever they are? 

You work hard. Be honest. Dig yourself.


V Hansmann was raised by wealthy people in suburban New Jersey; growing up to be neurotic, alcoholic, homosexual, and old. In June 2011, he completed an MFA in creative writing at the Bennington Writing Seminars, concentrating in nonfiction and poetry. He has submitted poems and essays sporadically ever since. Since August 2011, he has hosted a monthly reading series, first in Greenwich Village which went dark in March ’20, only to reappear six months later on Zoom. Most significantly, V’s now a Vermonter, having converted a derelict nursing home into a twelve-bedroom writers residency, Prospect Street Writers House, in North Bennington.

How Writers Can Make the Most of a Pandemic Winter

November 18, 2020 § 17 Comments

By Sweta Srivastava Vikram

It’s been raining nonstop in NYC as I write this essay. I am a sunshine-loving woman and the relentless downpour (We have had a wet week) dries up my creative juices. It makes me unnecessarily mellow and puts out my creative fire. I like being able to go for a walk in the woods or stroll in the park close to home to tap into my inner voice and connect with the stories that matter. 

Denial: Being homebound these past few days, I said to my husband, “You sure we weren’t transported to London one night while we were asleep?” Nothing seems strange or impossible in 2020. Because I remember autumn as a crisp and bright season in NYC, not grey and wet like the weather across the pond that our London friends and family complain about. Imagine what winter will be like?

Acceptance: Once I let the rant out of my system, I ordered a few brightening and heating lamps for our apartment. Because either you change your situation (which I can’t at this time) or your attitude around it. 2020 has taught us all that so much of our survival and sanity is dependent on our mindset. We are stuck in the pandemic for a long haul…sometimes, with awful weather. We can either accept it with grace or fight a battle with no outcome in sight.

Innovation: I can’t write on the couch. I can’t work on the floor. So, I carved out an intimate corner for my creative work, which is well-lit and has a space heater for my feet to stay warm. It also has close access to the kitchen—literally five seconds—for the numerous cups of chai I need. I, for one, have not returned to working from coffee shops or a co-working space. I don’t see writing residencies or writing retreats in my near future. I live in a NYC apartment, so the space is not something you will read about in an architectural magazine. But I love that it’s all mine for my writing. In this nook, I don’t work my day job. None of my virtual speaking engagements or client coaching happen in my writing space. No one else is allowed to sit in my writing chair. I show up here every day with gratitude in my heart.  

Meaningfulness: I view this pandemic as an opportunity to connect with our individual selves and society-at-large. It’s an unintended but profound mindfulness practice. When the days get shorter and colder and our ability to go out and see people (even if from a distance) becomes reduced, writers can rely on the company of their words. While 2020 has been brutal and unpreceded, it’s given us writers a lot of material to work with. If you feel too close to it, the timing seems uncomfortable, and it makes you anxious, don’t start to write. The brain is still collecting information. It’s percolating, fermenting, and processing. These are all vital limbs of the writing process. 

Association: I also remind myself that writing is like yoga asanas and meditation—you show up daily with dedication without any attachment to the outcome. Some days will be prolific; other days, will be null. But show up because having a habit and purpose can help us feel connected. Be fine with all days not being the same. Be okay with not hammering yourself to produce a daily quota of words. Befriend writing on a deeper level. Sit with the discomfort but don’t pressure yourself to churn out pages after pages. Being a writer doesn’t just mean tapping away at the keyboard or scribbling in your journal all day. All these experiences will stay with you. When the time is right, you will write. This approach ultimately reassures me that I will always be a writer (whether I am writing a book or being creative with a social media post), so it eliminates any fear associated with my identity as a writer and encourages me to show up to writing daily.

I interviewed three women writers who live in different countries—Canada, United Kingdom, and the United States—to get their input on how we, the writers, can make the most of a pandemic winter….no matter which place we call home.

London-based Sejal Sehmi, IT consultant and UK editor of Brown Girl Magazine, said, “Being in the midst of the pandemic especially in the winter is sure to arouse a lot of anxiety and uncertainty – much as what I myself have suffered during the peak of the lockdown. But it’s also a time that these fears can also give way to suppressed emotions which sometimes can only be articulated in words. Make it a point, at some time in the day, to keep a regular routine of writing something, anything, even if it’s just a Dear Diary moment. Early mornings, whilst I appreciate it is more challenging because of the shorter days to come, I feel is the best time to jot anything that comes to mind down on paper/journal. Once this becomes a routine, your creative juices in its own time will naturally build something you will enjoy reading back on.”

Sehmi further suggested something I can’t live without either: “Meditation can play an integral part to having a clear focused head and be mindful of looking for creativity even within the four walls we are surrounded by. We often spend so long seeking inspiration from the outside world and forget how close to home it actually is. This is the time, more than ever to use our words to self-heal and self-comfort.”

Another poignant suggestion comes from Seattle-based Joyce Yarrow, author of Zahara and the Lost Books of Light (Adelaide Books, NY/Lisbon). “When I think about being a house-bound writer during this pandemic, what comes to mind are the many books written by authors while serving time in prison. Although the majority of these ‘prisoner-authors’ have little in common with me—I am not a convicted thug, thief, kidnapper and rapist like Sir Thomas Malory, who wrote Le Morte d’Arthur—there are some I greatly admire, such as Nelson Mandela (Conversations with Myself) and Piper Kerman (Orange is the New Black). The bottom line is that I’ve always admired people who are able to transcend their surroundings and create a safe place in which to be creative. Whether we confine ourselves willingly or are sequestered by circumstance, developing the ability to visualize and create worlds that we literally wish into being is a gift to be treasured. And by nurturing our gratitude for this gift, we can not only survive—we can thrive.”

Anita Kushwaha, author of Secret Lives of Mothers & Daughters, Harper Avenue, said, “When we went into lockdown here in Ottawa back in March, like so many of us, my creativity took a nosedive. I couldn’t focus for long enough to write or even read. After a while, though, writing became my haven from the uncertainty of the world. At first, things moved slowly. But in time, the pace picked up and I even managed to complete a new manuscript over the span of the next five months. (Fast for me.) Now that we’re in the second wave of the pandemic, writing has once again become a kind of sanctuary for me, a place where I can go and have at least some control over what happens. My one suggestion? Observe and embrace the changes in your creative process, find new ways that work for you, and cut yourself some slack if you aren’t meeting your own expectations in terms of output. We’re all living through something incredibly challenging at the moment. Good luck and keep going!”

While we are ALL in the pandemic together, we are still individuals with our own strengths and struggles and hesitations. Figure out what works for you and your creative process this winter. 

“You don’t start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it’s good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That’s why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence.” ~ Octavia E. Butler


Sweta Srivastava Vikram is an international speaker, best-selling author of 12 books, and Ayurveda and mindset coach who is committed to helping people thrive on their own terms. As a trusted source on health and wellness, most recently appearing on NBC and Radio Lifeforce, Sweta has dedicated her career to writing about and teaching a more holistic approach to creativity, productivity, health, and nutrition. Her work has appeared in The New York Times and other publications across nine countries on three continents. Sweta is a trained yogi and certified Ayurveda health coach, is on the board of Fly Female Founders, and holds a Master’s in Strategic Communications from Columbia University. Voted as “One of the Most Influential Asians of Our Times” and winner of the “Voices of the Year” award (past recipients have been Chelsea Clinton), she lives in New York City with her husband and works with clients across the globe. She also teaches yoga, meditation, and mindfulness to survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence as well incarcerated men and women. Find her on: TwitterInstagramLinkedIn, and Facebook.

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