I keep stumbling across posts along the lines of, "Write the Thing That Makes You Bleed." That theme is present even in posts that don't specifically focus on that topic. The message? Writing hurts. You should write the painful thing, the thing that makes you bleed, the thing that scares you.
You have to bleed to make it real. It must hurt you to be valid.
I do acting things. In my experience, that method of work is unhealthy -- dangerous, even. You should take care of yourself and your mental and emotional health. You come before the work. It doesn't always have to hurt, and it certainly doesn't have to be painful to be valid.
Writing, to me, is like a more static form of acting where I get to be all the
characters. Some of those characters have almost nothing in
common with me. Do you know what I do when I don't "feel it"? I pretend. It's called acting, after all. I can pretend and sometimes that is safer than bleeding.
I got onto this topic thinking about my two main writing projects. One is more "bleed-worthy," shall we say, while the other is less so. I find that I enjoy the
less "bleed-worthy" project more. I have fewer hangups. My writing is
better, more efficient, and I get more words out per day. I also really
love these characters and their story, precisely because I am less emotionally invested in them. I can like them as characters and not as scattered pieces of self.
other project requires more emotional commitment from me, and I'm
beginning to suspect that that's why it has dragged on for so long. Emotional investment means that I'm too close to the
story to see it clearly. This story doesn't hurt, but I am closer to it emotionally, and that makes me a worse writer.
I knew a director who wanted to cast someone as Ophelia in Hamlet because she had recently and suddenly lost her mother. The director thought it would make Ophelia's grief over the sudden death of her father more "authentic." I pointed out that it might not be a good time for the actress to play that part. The director countered that it could help her work through it. I pointed out that Ophelia commits suicide.
Theatre as therapy? Writing as therapy? I agree with and support those things -- in a controlled setting, when the writer or theatre-maker is ready for it. Your journal is a safe space. Art therapy is a safe space. Writing professionally for something that you intend others to read and publish -- not necessarily a safe space.
When you are writing, you need to know when -- if -- you are ready to write the thing that makes you bleed. And part of that is being able to realize that writing the thing that makes you bleed is not necessarily the best thing for you to write right now. Or, hell, ever. Healing is realizing that you might not be ready. Healing is prioritizing your health and not feeling guilty when something you want to write scares you.
I reject the notion that you need to hurt yourself to be valid.