Today I’d like to talk about the part of writing that doesn’t get stressed very often—the days we haven’t finished anything, we haven’t hit any goals, we haven’t achieved a single damn thing, save sitting at the keyboard. In those days of limbo, we loll about in our sweatpants and coffee-stained shirts, eyes red-rimmed after too many hours being a slave to our characters’ worlds. We slog, we toil, we siphon off bits of our psyche and our souls.
In these days we are silent, yet all roars within us.
Something emerges in that silence. Surges of doubt, certainly, but also a big something that we, as humans, have trouble harnessing—a deep restlessness. A constant, uncomfortable low-grade anxiety swirls in our bellies. It sends us to the kitchen more often than it should, or to gnaw on our nails, or to compulsively check social media. It makes us insomniacs. It gives us mid-life crises. It shows us we are dissatisfied. We ask ourselves questions like: Am I depressed? Am I unhappy with my life? What am I missing? How do I satiate this weirdness eroding my sense of contentment?
Among writers and other artists, it’s an impetus that gives rise to creative impulses. It’s a craving, a yearning, a NEED to create something unique, to add to the fabric of human experience. It’s a sensation we can’t ignore. Do you know what I’m talking about? Do you feel it?
There are ways we can channel this deep, restless yearning to keep from drowning.
DIRECT YOUR FOCUS ELSEWHERE and I don’t mean on another novel or short story, but some other creative, satisfying pursuit. Perhaps you play an instrument or work with wood or enjoy scrapbooking. Maybe you’re a gardener with a wicked green thumb and an eye for lovely arrangements. I’m a bit of an amateur foodie so I dig challenging recipes with interesting ingredients. Whatever it is, this outlet should have some sort of concrete, tangible result, some finite product that offers fairly immediate satisfaction.
These short-term projects not only help you refill the creative well and afford a much needed reprieve, but they often meet the need for completion that we crave. Writing a novel is epic. It takes time and energy and sweat and that soul-siphoning I mentioned above. Often, we find ourselves frustrated at how lengthy the process may be. Outside of writing, find something that affords immediate gratification to take the edge off, and to assuage the much-needed feel of accomplishment.
MOVE IT OR LOSE IT Engage in some sort of physical activity, whatever that may mean for you. Exercise gets the blood flowing to your brain, acts as a great release for stress, and can also serve as moving meditation. In those moments of physical release and quiet contemplation, ideas are often sparked and puzzles are solved. Beyond that, exercise helps keep your energy up and pumps your bloodstream full of much-needed endorphins. In other words, it gives you shots of happiness to balance the blahs, the melancholy, the feelings of inadequacy. It reminds you that you’re ALIVE.
PROCURE RELATIONSHIPS with other writers so you feel less alone. In particular, befriend those who are at the same stage of the process as you. Not only do they push you toward your goals, but they help ground you. My writing partners help me get a grip on the ebb and flow of my emotions at different points of the process. Just last week I complained that my WIP was utter garbage, never going to sell, and lacked depth. Do you know how my critique partner replied? She laughed (!) and said, “You said this about your last book during this exact point in your revisions. Keep going. You’ll rock it”.
Surround yourself with people who understand you. My family and non-writer friends love and support me, but they don’t understand me. Connecting with those who do, lifts me out of the gray muck that’s so common for artists, and keeps me striving toward my ultimate goals: painting pictures with words, eliciting emotion, inspiring and entertaining readers.
EMBRACE THE PAIN
Do we really want this creative angst to go away? Isn’t that what creatives live for? Without pain and suffering there’s not much growth, there’s not much gain. Without angst there’s no yearning. Contentment doesn’t create a drive within us. It dulls our senses, washes all in a happy light, and encourages us to rest on our laurels.
Angst and pain and unrest are really symptoms of our constant puzzling, our sensitivity, and our awareness—the burning in our gut that drives us to create. Would you trade those feelings in for easy street, for unawareness? For a banal existence? Me neither.
Relish the stirring within you. It’s a gift that pushes you harder and farther. Strive for the next level of consciousness, both in your writing and in the bigger picture. Cradle your pain. Believe it or not, it’s a reflection of love and beauty that can help you create something meaningful.
How do you cope with the day to day malaise?