Why is writing so hard?

August 2022

Why is writing so hard? It isn't for lack of things to write about and it isn't for lack of time. Something about staring at an empty text editor and a blinking cursor renders the brain incapable of turning thoughts into words no matter how long you devote to the act. If you can somehow manage to successfully convert some of your thoughts into words then more often than not you realise that the words don't come together to make a coherent sentence. The ability to create many coherent sentences and arrange them in such a way that they convey the thoughts you had in your brain is surely pure voodoo.

But maybe the issue isn't with the words or sentences, but with the thoughts in your brain. Maybe those thoughts aren't quite as well formed or structured as you thought they were and as a result can't be written down any more than you can take a photo of the wind. To be able to write thoughts down we need to confront them, untangle them, and understand them. We also need to separate the useful and interesting thoughts, where we learn new things things or make observations about the world around us, from the noisy and self-destructive ones (we all know which ones those are). It's possible to do this and not write anything down, but writing is clearly a good way of finding out how successfully you have organised the sock drawer that is your brain.

Historically, I have not been good at writing down my thoughts. I have tried at various times in my life to keep a journal or write blog posts but never managed to get into any kind of rhythm with it. One reason for this might be that I'm not very good at confronting my own thoughts. As it turns out confronting my thoughts is something I have been forced to do over the last year or so.

As a child I was often told that I "moved too fast". My parter regularly has to tell me I have gone into "fast-forward mode", meaning I have become overly-excited about something and am acting like I've just done a few lines of coke. I have always worked too much, put in too many hours, always feeling like if I just do that little bit more something good will happen. And the problem is that it felt like the good things did happen. Always doing that bit extra meant I got noticed, got promoted, got rewarded. So I kept doing it. I continued this approach for fifteen years and then in March 2020 the pandemic hit. At the time I was the CTO of Echo, an online pharmacy, and like many companies that offered a delivery service demand went through the roof. I was working seven days a week, eleven hours a day, doing everything I could to help us keep up with the growth. By July I was completely burnt-out and I took a week off work to "recover" but just went right back at it afterwards. In October I passed out in the bathroom, badly cutting my lip as I fell against the sink. My partner found me collapsed in the hallway. I had been drinking pretty heavily that night and that probably contributed, but it was likely the earliest sign of the cancer growing in my body. Six months later I was diagnosed.

I remember getting the call from the doctor who told me without much ceremony "you have Hodgkins Lymphoma" followed by the slightly comical "but if you were to get any cancer you'd want to get this one". I remember feeling calm and accepting of this utterly awful news. I told my partner in a very matter of fact way and then called my parents to "update them".

"Wow, I'm handling this so well" I thought.

I was told by the team treating me that it was advisable to see a counsellor or therapist, and so I started having weekly therapy sessions. It wasn't until the second or third session, after I'd had my first chemotherapy treatment, that the calm and "in control" Jon melted away to reveal an utterly emotionally overwhelmed Jon. The tears came, in floods and floods, and they kept coming. I suddenly realised how incredibly angry I was. How sad and defeated I felt. It wasn't just the cancer. It was the pandemic, the lockdown caused by said pandemic, the wedding that got cancelled because of said lockdown, the stress of a decade and a half of working too much, my relationship with my parents etc. etc. A whole lifetime of thoughts that had until this point just lived in my head started to get said out loud and I came to realise how noisy and chaotic my mind was. I started to take mindfulness seriously, read books on the topic, actively practiced, and slowly (very slowly) started to become more aware when my thoughts were spiralling. I leaned to be with my thoughts. I slowed down.

And so here I am, just over a year later, still being treated for this horrid disease, still learning to live at a more sustainable pace. The next phase of my treatment is a stem cell transplant, which I have been warned will be particularly unpleasant and will require an extended stay in hospital followed by a long recovery time at home, but it should lead to a complete cure. I responded well to the most recent round of chemotherapy and my last scans were all clear, so I'm going into it with good odds, but life likes to throw shit at you so who knows.

We humans are stupid creatures and so often need to learn things the "hard way". When I met my partner she was reading the Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, which at the time I poked fun at for being "spiritual mumbo jumbo". She tried to introduce me to yoga and meditation which I did at best half-heartedly. Now I have egg on my face, cancer in my blood, and am writing blog posts about being more "present in the moment". Life comes at you fast.

Life is also not all bad. In fact far from it. Yes I have cancer, and that is pretty rubbish. But this year we also finally moved into our new house following a long renovation. The end result is better than we could have imagined and we've ended up with a beautiful home that we couldn't be happier with. We now live a stones throw from Epping Forest and go for long walks there daily with our rather silly but adorable dog Bowie. In January this year I co-founded a business with two incredibly talented (and lovely) people, we have hired an amazing team and are building something I'm genuinely excited about. A month or two ago we bought a piano (benefit of having more space) and I have been playing a little every day, slowly getting better. I have been cooking more and my success ratio in the kitchen is definitely improving. In between chemo treatments last year I managed to squeeze some recording in and will be putting out some new songs later this year. There is so much to be thankful for, be proud of, and to celebrate. There is also pain and suffering. As the French say, that's life.

So writing is hard. Not due to a lack of thoughts but because of too many. Too much thinking, too much noise, not enough understanding, not enough stillness. As I have started to slow down and to be more present, my thoughts spiralling less, I have also found that individual thoughts have more space to develop. Which is why I am going to give the writing thing another go. My plan is to write something every month, just whatever is on my mind. Who am I writing for? Well mostly just for myself. Which isn't totally out of character for me as I've been writing, recording, and releasing music for years now which I'm pretty sure no-one listens to except for me and probably my mum. But if you are reading this and have found it interesting then that's great. Hopefully my words turned into coherent sentences and just possibly through an act of techno-telepathy I have been able to copy some thoughts from my brain into yours.