Writing Again

I’ve started writing regularly again.  I wanted to wait a week or two into it before making some kind of announcement, because I wanted to make sure it would stick this time.  It was a rough winter.  It has been a rough couple years.  I used to sort of laugh when people would say that writing is about perseverance, because I was never out of ideas or enthusiasm to write (even during my most depressed period), but now I know what it is to have neither the energy nor the enthusiasm for it.  When just getting by takes all of your energy, there isn’t a lot left over for unnecessary things like creativity.

I’m working on a new thing.  A story without an outline or predetermined ending.  I’m not usually a discovery writer, but this is a just for fun project, so I’m going to see where it takes me.

I haven’t abandoned the Tattoo Magic project.  But this idea just grabbed me, and while normally I’d throw it in my ideas folder and keep working on what I’d been working on, the actual urge and desire to write has been pretty scarce lately.  So I grabbed hold if it while it existed, and I’m trucking along, hand-writing a few pages while on lunch at work and putting those into Scrivener when I get home.

In the worst case scenario, one or both of these projects get put in the mental drawer with the other half-finished projects.

Brainstorming Through Writers’ Block

Once I’ve figured out whether I’m suffering from writers’ block or depression, if the answer is writers’ block, the only way is forward. But that’s like saying that to solve a maze, you just have to solve the maze. It’s not a strategy.

The strategy that I use is a mix of fixing writers’ block advice that I’ve picked up from various places on the Internet.

First, I have to identify the problem. Am I arguing with what the characters want to do? If so, I should just let them do what they want and revise my outline. Am I frustrated with the way the last scene came out and where it put the characters? Then maybe I should write that scene again, from a different perspective or allowing the characters to go in a new direction.

But by far the most difficult for me is when I likeep where the characters are, and I like the ending I have in mind, but I just don’t know how to connect the dots. Usually this happens when I’ve diverged from the outline (which is very common for me) but I haven’t made a new outline and I still like the ending.

Clearly the solution is to update the outline. But how?

Again, I have to identify the problem. But this time, it’s the characters’ problem. I list out what could go wrong for each character based on everything I’ve already written.

Usually it’s best if multiple things go wrong. One of my weaknesses is that my first drafts are too linear. It’s a lot more dynamic and engaging to have the characters working through multiple problems and having to deal with wrenches as they are thrown in.

Hopefully, the end result is that I can merge their problems into an outline that gets them to the end. Fixing the block is an arduous process, but it’s worth it in the end when I can start writing again.

Writers’ Block or Depression?

As a writer who suffers from motivation-affecting mental illnesses that can be exacerbated by stress, it’s important for me to be able to identify the reason why I’m staring at a blank page and feeling like I can’t write. Writing is stressful. My day job is stressful. Living in this country as a queer person is stressful. So it’s possible that my “writers’ block” is early stage depression.

But sometimes writer’s block is just writer’s block. How can I tell the difference? And why do I need to know?

As for how, it usually boils down to how my chest and stomach feel (heavy and acid respectively usually signals depression), and whether the time spent staring at the page leads to distractability (writer’s block) or negative self-talk (depression).

If I’m actually crying, chances are that the answer is depression.

Being able to tell the difference is important because my strategies for adjusting my writing life to accommodate my issues are vastly different. The only way through writer’s block is to power through it. I have to shut off the devices and just sit there until my only choice is to write my way out.  I need to sit down and make myself write no matter how hard it is. But trying and failing to power through when the underlying issue is depression just leads to, you guessed it, deepening depression. I need to walk away and engage in some self-care and when I’m feeling better, the motivation will come back.

And there you have it: the effects of depression and writer’s block are the same, but being able to tell the difference can save tons of time and emotional pain.

Routines

One of the things I’ve discovered while working through my post-death-in-the-family writer’s block is how important my routines are toward my being an effective writer.  This blog is one of those routines.  I initially created it to give myself accountability toward my writing goals, and judging by recent events, I still need it to help fulfill that purpose.

I should have known the importance of routines and self-accountability from my day job, where my life is run by the checklist I created to make sure that all of my work gets done to my specifications.  While ultimately I’m accountable to my boss for the quality of work, it’s my job to make sure that I’m giving him work of the highest quality in the first place.  And while my preferred work style is focusing intently on a given task and seeing it through to completion, the necessities of my day job don’t always allow that, so I’ve had to adjust.  Enter the checklist, a visual reminder of where I was in my quality assurance process.

My blog was initially intended to be similar to my work checklist, a visible reminder of where I am in my “becoming a writer” process.  Yet over time it became a thing for itself.  I wanted to make sure that my blog updated regularly because successful blogs update regularly and my word is my bond.  If I say I’m going to update on Mondays, I better update on Mondays or explain why.  To that end, I started working a little buffer in against unexpected events like weekend Internet outage or inexplicable depression.

I think that taking that too far actually hurt rather than helped.  In preparation for Camp NaNoWriMo, when I planned on focusing all of my writing energy on creative writing, I buffered up blog posts that would take me through the middle of May.  Once I’d basically given up on hitting my Camp NaNo goals, there was nothing dragging me back into the process of thinking about writing.  I even stopped listening to my usual podcasts in the car.  But avoidance wasn’t refreshing at all.  I think the fact that there was nothing forcing me to engage in writing dragged out my recovery period.  I doubt it was coincidental that once I had to kick my butt into gear to update my blog again, I started writing again.

So that’s one thing I’ve discovered about me.  I won’t dispute that buffer posts are a good thing toward making sure I meet my own self-set blog posting deadlines, but too many buffer posts can be a bad thing.

Progress Update

I’ve managed to slog my way through more of the Touchdown novel this week, taking me up to 26,218 words, or probably about 1/3 of the way there. It’s an increase of under 3,000 words for the week, certainly not my best week ever, but I consider it respectable since I’m still fighting serious writer’s block.

I have a feeling that I’m going to end up junking a lot of this part, since if it’s no fun for me to write it’ll likely be no fun for anyone to read, but that’s just the nature of writing a novel.

Meanwhile, I’ve done some background work on submissions. It’s time to hit another cycle since all of my works have come back in with rejections. I had been putting it off until I feel better; now is that time.  I also wrote a couple of blog posts so that I can build my buffer back up from “do or die” levels (though one of the posts is itself on the perils of over-buffering).

All in all, the week has been moderately productive, though not amazing. I’ll take it. It feels like I’m on the road to recovery.

Writing Fail

I was going to write another post about short stories, but I’ve decided to write about my recent failures at writing instead, since that is more pertinent to my current life.

I’m dealing with a lot of drama (both good and bad) in both my extended and immediate families, which has really been affecting my motivation to write. There is an illness in the family and several relationship changes. That is coupled with the fact that there are just too many people that need me right now. I’m not the kind of person that does well with changes. And I’m not one of those writers that uses writing as a method for dealing with emotional turmoil. Instead, in order to write I need to be in a calm emotional place.

I haven’t been able to find my calm place recently. Sometimes I don’t have the time to write, but even when I do, I struggle to find the place that I can write from. Sit down and write is a good mantra,” but I just can’t make myself do it. And the more I try, the more upset I become, and the more distant my calm place gets.

It doesn’t help that I received two short story rejections in the same week. I always have emotional difficulty when that happens. When thinking about rejections in advance, I’m confident that I will be OK because I don’t actually expect things to get accepted. In reality, rejection always hurts. It doesn’t seem to matter that I have been getting rejected consistently for three years.

So my writing lately has really suffered. The only thing I’ve been able to do with brainstorm my story for NaNoWriMo. I’ve committed to trying to do NaNoWriMo to completion this year, but it’s very daunting. I wasn’t able to complete it last year, when I had a lot more time and motivation. How will I do it this year, with everything going on?

This isn’t the first time this is happened to me, and it won’t be the last. Even though in my depression I sometimes think I should give up writing, I recognize that that is a destructive thought, and I’m not going to do anything as drastic as deleting my writing folder or burning my manuscript. I’ll find that calm emotional place again soon. But I know from experience that trying to force it will just make the feeling last longer.

So that’s the state of my writing affairs right now. I’ll keep you all posted when or if things change.

Motivation Block

What I’m experience right now, I wouldn’t call writer’s block.  It’s not that I sit down and can’t think of anything to write.  I’m more in the throes of what I’d call motivation block–I have a bunch of things I “should” work on, and a bunch of ideas floating around in my head, but none of the things that I should work on appeal to me.  Instead, I want to keep writing on my novel, which is presently out with my beta readers.  And I need to take a break from it to improve it more anyway.

I think that my regular job and family stuff is playing into this at least a little.  Work is extremely hectic, to the point where I’m working through lunches.  Guess when I would normally write?  And between family illnesses and other issues, my personal life is just as hectic.  It really saps my motivation.

I know that the solution is the same.  I should just put my but in the chair and make myself work on something.  But that’s really hard to do when life is so hectic and I just want to relax in my free time.

Recharging

What I have recently discovered about working on a single writing project for a long period is that it’s really difficult to just jump right in to a new project.  I even have something that I briefly worked on for a new writing group that is already started.  I’m having three major problems right now: 1) letting the plague novel go, 2) finding the motivation to do something new, and 3) the “shoulds.”

First, letting the plague novel go is the most major of the major problems.  My natural inclination is to finish the project that I started.  While I have practiced multitasking, which is necessary in my day job, it’s just not the way I’m wired.  I know that getting the plague novel out of my head before I pick it back up will be good for me.  Stephen King said so, and I practiced it with short stories and found it to be true.  Coming back to something with fresh eyes just helps.  That doesn’t make it easy to tell my brain to stop making improvements as I get feedback on, though.

Second, I pushed really hard on my second revision (the putting the hand-written revisions in the computer revision), and the result is burn out.  I don’t want to write.  Compounded with only wanting to write on the plague novel, this is a serious issue.

And third, none of the things that I “should” do are appealing. I should fix up some of my old short stories and try to sell them again now that I have more practice, I should work on the story that I wrote the first chapter of and do important things like outline it and scrap the first chapter because it’s cool but it sets the wrong tone for the rest of the story, I should list some other ideas and find one that appeals to me, etc. etc.  I know what I should do. I just don’t want to do it.

Leaving me in a quandary.  In know that the solution is to just sit down and write.  But I don’t want to.  It’s writers’ block to the Nth degree.  But if I can’t get through this, I can’t be a writer.

 

Combatting Writer’s Block With Revision

I’ve never been a fan of rewriting in the middle of writing, because the process starts to take over my life, I stop writing writing, and I start obsessing over little nitpicky details and mistakes that I made early on.  That being said, one of the things I’ve been using to combat writer’s block and get myself excited about telling the story again (even though that part I’m on right now is really hard for me to write) is going back and reading some of the earlier chapters.  So I’ve been doing a little bit of revising lately while I’ve been struggling with Chapter 21.

Which is good, because some things that I thought were in the story, I had told instead of shown.  There were some little scenes where I knew what happened, but instead of showing the scene, I said ‘this happened’ and left it for the re-write.  Mostly this happened in parts where I didn’t have a handle on a character that was in the scene, or hadn’t quite researched how X or Y should look and I didn’t want to write an inaccurate description.  Having characters inaccurately interpret things is different than having them inaccurately describe them, but that is a topic for another day.

Anyway, my point is this: I think that reading and adding some of those fun little scenes I sort of glossed over has really helped me combat writer’s block.  And maybe most of these scenes are unnecessary fluff and they’re going to go into a deleted scenes file on the re-write, I don’t know.  It doesn’t matter.  The point is, I’m excited about writing again, and that’s really what my hangup was.