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Care and Feeding of the Weary Writer

Photo by Daniel Arrhakis via Flickr’s Creative Commons

Last year I posted here with confessions from a weary writer [1]. I talked directly to the camera, like I was on a reality show. My writing was at a low point, and I was in a flat panic. I was afraid I’d never get back to the writing zone. I no longer felt a passion for writing like I once did, but I wanted to write.

To be honest, when I reread my post, I cringed a bit. My first thought: Was that me? I took that as a good sign.

Today, I’m revisiting that post with updates. Where am I today? What takeaways can I offer?

What’s changed

I’m happy to report I’m writing again—and enjoying it! I finished a short story, started another, and I’m beginning to write a new novel. In addition, I’ve hired an editor to work with me on revisions to a novel I wrote five years ago. I also no longer feel like a fraud, like I did in my original post.

More importantly, I wake up early—sometimes in the middle of the night—thinking with anticipation about what I’m writing. Again, as I’ve been my whole life, when something happens, my first question to myself is how will I write this?

But, true confession time. I do have lingering fear this is only a reprieve. That it’s short lived. That I could relapse and not be able to again write freely, so I don’t take writing for granted like I once did. But this fear is both a blessing and a curse. I’m acutely aware of those dark writing lows, but I also have more ideas of how to address them. And I trust my fear will recede as my confidence regrows.

What hasn’t changed

I’m still afraid I’ll never be traditionally published. This remains a deep and abiding fear. I’ve had a rough path in this regard (as many of us have), but (not to be morbid here) I feel afraid my time is running out. That’s my real fear. I talked to my physician-writer son about this once, and he gave me sage advice: Are you dying tomorrow? What else are you going to do?

This sounds brutal, but it’s really not. What he meant was: keep pursuing your dreams until you can’t or don’t want to anymore. How can I know if I will ever be traditionally published? All I can do is keep trying. If I don’t write, don’t submit, don’t try, I knowI won’t be published.

What’s made a difference—the takeaways

From my initial post, I learned in comments and from personal messages that many of you feel similarly to how I feel. What specifically did I do? What advice can I give? What can any of us do in this situation when we feel we can’t write or aren’t writing with the same zest we once did?

1. Don’t avoid thinking about it. I can’t say for sure it helped me get back to writing faster or helped the time go faster, but I can say that for me it didn’t slow the recovery process to examine my fears and confront them. It certainly felt better to actively pursue my problem. I’ve spent a lot of my life as an avoider. I’m a weird mix. I talk about my feelings a lot, but when things get painful, I avoid doing things about my pain. Instead, I want to push it aside and pretend it’s not there. It scares me too much. These days, I try to look fear (and feelings) in the eye, and though I don’t necessarily embrace my fears, I examine them and look for ways to make things better.

2. Seek help. From friends, from family, and if necessary from professionals. Talk about it. To everyone. This sounds trite and obvious. But it’s also true and necessary. I was lucky that after I wrote my original post, several writers reached out to me, and I emailed them, talked to them, commiserated with them. People gave me good advice, but mostly people just listened. I started working with a very supportive (but tough) editor, and I went to a therapist who has been very helpful especially in helping me realize that I should allow myself to feel the pain and grieve the losses.

A caveat: I actively avoid negative people. I avoid doomsayers and mean-spirited or indifferent people. This is general advice, not just for writing. This doesn’t mean I only talk to people who agree with me, but I won’t spend time with people who make me feel bad in some regard.

3. Think. Deeply. About everything. Whether it’s about why you’re going through what you’re going through or about why the world is going through what it’s going through or about how the squirrel outside your window evolved so it can jump as far as it can jump. Deep thinking is not another description for rumination or spiraling—it’s thinking about the core of life, the meaning of existence, in both practical and theoretical terms.

4. Embrace joy. One of the suggestions my therapist made was to embrace joy—in whatever form it takes—do the things that make me feel better. This seems intuitively obvious, but it’s not really. Sometimes when we feel bad about one part of our life (like writing), we inadvertently inflict pain on ourselves in other ways, too, or obstruct ourselves from just finding joy. And conversely, by increasing your joy in one area of your life, other areas of your life (like writing) may benefit. If you aren’t sure what brings you joy (like I wasn’t), again do some deep thinking. Joy can be as big as getting on a plane and visiting a friend you haven’t seen in a long time or as small as indulging in a new TV show.

5. Love yourself. However and whatever you are right now. You’re amazing. I got teary-eyed when I wrote those words because I don’t say it often enough to myself, but I’m saying it to you. You’re worth it. The writing. The love. The joy. All of it. And you will be repaid (not that it’s a reason for doing it, but you will be). Also, don’t be too hard on yourself. It doesn’t help to beat ourselves up for not being able to write easily. It is what it is, as the saying goes. And there’s some peace in that.

6. Write. Write. Write. I wrote even when I didn’t feel like it. I wrote morning pages. I started to blog on my personal blog more often, already as many times this year as the entire year last year. I wrote letters and notes and emails and—yes—everything counts. Just write. We are writers, it’s what we do.

7. Always, always remember there’s someone else out there who understands how you feel—like me. If I can overcome my weariness and confront my writing fears, so can you. I’m rooting for you. And I’m here for you.

Shut off the camera. Cut to real life.

Now tell me. What’s your deepest darkest fear? And what are you going to do about it? The camera’s rolling.

About Julia Munroe Martin [2]

Julia Munroe Martin [3] (@jmunroemartin [4]) is a writer and blogger who lives in an old house in southern coastal Maine. Julia's other passion is photography, and if she's not writing at the dining room table or a local coffeeshop, you'll likely find her on the beach or dock taking photos. Julia writes The Empty Nest Can Be Murder mystery series as J. M. Maison.