Don’t Stop Believin’ (Or Writin’)

It’s been three and a half weeks since I last wrote a word of my new novel. They have not been good weeks. I’ve been listless and irritable. I’ve been sleeping badly. I’ve been feeing blue for no apparent reason. When I don’t write, I lose my center of gravity. I’m untethered.

It was all going so well, too. I’ve been planning this new book for months, but finally began to put words onto the page while we were staying in a small lake house in Maine this August. Once we got back to Missouri I settled back into my usual routine – up at 5 a.m. for two uninterrupted hours of writing, fortified by several cups of espresso along the way. After some weeks of this, I was at about the 12,000 word mark. When you write as slowly as I do, that represented a pretty decent return. By my standards, I was flying.

And then I hit a slight bump – a small plotting detail I needed to work out, but couldn’t. The sensible thing would have been to put it to one side and push on, but instead I stopped completely. Nothing got written for several mornings. I was still getting up at 5, but now I read, or did other work. I told myself this was all fine, a healthy break. I would return to the book in a day or two. Except I didn’t. Doubts had begun to gnaw at me. I wondered if this was really the book I should be writing. I flicked disconsolately through the pages that I’d printed out, reluctant to actually read any of it.

The thing is, I need to write. I’ve never been too bothered by how many words get written each morning – what matters is that something is getting put down on paper. Progress, even if small, is still progress. Each morning’s words are in the bank. Whatever other frustrations and disappointments the rest of the day might hold, I’ll still have them. That’s a huge comfort. But when I stop writing, I no longer have that ballast to steady me when the waters get choppy. And then things don’t go so well.

Of course, there’s an obvious fix: sit down and start writing again. But what’s so interesting – and so infuriating – is how difficult that can be, even after all this time, seven books in. Over the years I’ve become very creative in coming up with reasons why I shouldn’t get back to work. (The house is very clean right now, and we’re up to date on laundry.) Indolence descends, then calcifies, then crucifies. Suddenly the idea of switching on the laptop and opening that document seems utterly impossible. I know, I think, I’ll write a post about this writer’s block that’s afflicting me. And then I don’t do that either. It sounds like a joke, except it’s really not. Another day, another week passes, and still no words are written.

I still don’t have a solution to that little plot problem that stopped me writing a few weeks ago, but that doesn’t matter any more. I’m a writer. So I’d better bloody write. Bum, meet seat. The two of you are going to reacquaint yourselves. This post is where it starts.

Comments 4

  1. Thank you for sharing your struggles to write. Another reason to admire you. You keep it real with humility and humor. I couldn’t write if my life depended on it. Sending you writing vibes. You got this!

  2. Yes to all that. Is there even a definition for writers block? Sometimes I don’t even believe in ‘it’. Maybe it’s part of the process of writing. But whatever stops us writing eventually has to be powered through or thought through, or sat through, quietly. Maybe in a bathtub or in front of a fire with a book of poetry. Or ice cream. Or in action; running, driving nails, scrubbing something – something that ends in a result. Anything BUT writing.
    I missed a book deadline two weeks ago and am still mired in ennui. It’s not a plot line in this case. I know what it isn’t – it’s not ME, or some failing as a writer – though I am failing myself, clearly, only depriving myself (and my editor, at this point). Right now, I’m chalking up my own paralysis to the state of everything; the loss of hope in a decent future; depression that the gut wrenching news we face upon waking each day: every fucking day that goes by and Trump isn’t struck by lightning and other vile people aren’t held to the fire and ignorant, gullible people are used and misled. The energy needed to write is spent fretting, or angry, or feeling ineffectual in the grand scheme of all that is currently wrong. What’s one little book gonna do to help any of that? Frivolity!? Perhaps. But then…maybe, eventually that book you are writing will provide an escape to someone else – a little portal of fiction in some reader’s day. In times like these writing simply doesn’t feel that important. But then, think of what books do for us – have always, and always will. You are not alone, my friend. I know we’ll get back on our feet, bums in chairs, and carry on.

  3. I think that happens with all creative people. I’m a quilter and we have the same issues. I look at the output of others and am amazed at their constant work but hear a lot of others that have gotten in that same slump. Take a break. One morning it will all come back and your bum will hit the seat again and all your many fans will say. “Hallelujah he’s back”. And, we’ll be waiting; and it will be worth it all.

  4. Thank you, Alex for the push! I feel perfection often impedes direction and completion. As you once shared with me while standing in your quaint bookshop, “you must get it all out of your head first, don’t get tangled up in the rest, just write.”

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