In my last blog on Writer Unboxed, three months ago, I wrote about being a weary writer.
I miss the feeling of being lost in my writing, of being in the zone—I haven’t felt like that in a while. I wake up every morning with an empty feeling inside, longing to feel lost in a story like I used to. Some mornings I feel so bad about it, I want to cry. I shuffle downstairs, make coffee, and look at my writing projects, jumping from project to project. I want to write. I do write. But not with excitement or passion.
That post produced a flurry of reactions. Over forty comments from other writers who had at some point (or currently) felt the same way and offered empathy, solace, and advice. I received ten emails, some from writers I’d not met before. And a few days after I wrote my post, Donald Maass wrote one addressing my post.
I am so grateful to all of you. Thank you for taking the time to reach out and make me feel less alone. Here’s what I learned: most of us have been here at some point or another. Unsure. Unable to find the flow of our writing. Frustrated. Some at the point of giving up.
Here’s what else I learned: there are many ways to approach this problem.
Experts often fall into two schools of thought: write through the “creative block” (although I hesitate to use that terminology, it’s the description that seems to fit best) OR take a creative break—do something besides your “primary creative endeavor” (for me, writing), perhaps do nothing at all.
Write Through, Write On
I am terrified of taking a break. (This could be a whole other blog in itself—not intending to be secretive here, it has to do with fear I’ll never restart and/or get too old and never get published.) Instead, I’ve chosen the write through approach, or as I call it: love the one you’re with.
Remember the old song: Love the One You’re With? This song’s lyrics actually fit to a “T” the approach I have these days. Take this riff:
Don’t be angry—don’t be sad
Don’t sit crying over good times you’ve had
There’s a girl right next to you
And she’s just waiting for something to do
Exchange girl with work in progress—you may have to sing the lyrics really fast, but it works—and see what I mean?
Part of the reason this approach works for me is that I don’t have writer’s block—not technically speaking—I can and do write. Instead, I feel stymied. Locked in a feeling of a lack of passion for what I’m writing, whatever that is (yes, sadly, even this blog post). But I can write. I am writing. I have written over ten thousand words in the past month—part of a novel, a short story, and a couple of blog posts—even during this whirlwind excitement of life.
It’s the flow, the passion that is so different from what I used to have.
Maybe it goes without saying that I’m a passion-driven writer (I’d go so far as to say it’s the way I live my life), so figuring out this particular part of the equation—why I feel the way I feel and what is keeping me from returning to the enthusiasm and flow—does not feel natural and is a work in progress. I’ve never had to do it before. On the other hand, I don’t know if I need to figure out exactly why, but I do know I need to figure out how to get back in touch with those feelings. Who of us doesn’t want to experience that effortless feeling when the writing flows?
But there’s another important reason—I’m afraid my words will reflect my lack of passion. Although I may have all the words in place, they may fall flat and reflect my feelings of ambivalence. In short, I’m afraid whatever I write will be boring to read.
Go Gently and Be Kind
As I work through this period, I continue to try and be gentle with myself, to use language that doesn’t demean my writing. To use positive language and take action that encourages me to write. When I described my writing, above, as potentially flat, that’s as negative as I want to get. Sometimes I catch myself using language to describe my new WIP as the “the dumbest story ever,” which I fear is counter intuitive as well as demoralizing. When I feel that this is true, when I feel that fear, I am gentle with myself. I acknowledge my feelings of inadequacy, but I also remind myself that even if this work is not my finest, I am learning.
To help me accomplish this goal, I started working with an editor, to help me hone some of my new ideas and to re-read an already-completed manuscript. When my fear creeps through my writing, I can turn to her and get a more objective view. I can also use her feedback and encouragement as a way to learn how to develop my fiction-writing skills—another positive I can get out of this less-than-enthusiastic writing period, a time to improve my mechanics.
I hate to say I’m hopeful—in case I jinx myself—but there are moments this month I feel a fleeting passion for writing. Not for what I’m currently working on, but once in a while I’ll have what feels like a zap of clarity and thrill, an idea comes then goes, and in that instant, I feel a cloud lift. A feeling that if I write it will be easy and beautiful and it will flow. I can’t say that I feel this way even close to as often as I used to—in the old days, I could hardly type fast enough to keep up with already-fabricated-in-my-mind stories—but this is a glimmer of hope that didn’t exist when I wrote my last post, a step in the right direction, a step outside the locked-in feeling I’ve had for months.
If I’ve learned anything from this period of time, it’s that you can’t always predict how or why your mind will work in certain ways. Maybe sometimes the one you’re with becomes the one you love . . . I don’t know. That’s a part of the story I haven’t yet written. All I know is to write on.
What about you? Have you been here? Have you ever loved the one you’re with? Or are you passion-driven (like I was and sometimes still am)?
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