Struggles and Breakthroughs

It’s been a while since I posted here. There are a number of reasons. I think I’m even going to share some of them with you guys, which means this is going to be a hard post to write, maybe even harder to hit publish on. I’m going to try anyway. Bear with me. This is going to be a long post.

I’ve mentioned here before that I’ve been struggling with writing. I don’t know that I’ve been fully forthcoming as to how bad it’s been. Now I’m going to, starting with telling you it’s been bloody awful.

At the end of Camp NaNo July last year, I’d written a novel, 150k words long, in 21 days. I was exultant, because even to me that was amazing, and I rarely give myself enough credit. And then a strange thing happened.

I stopped.

For those of you who don’t know me or how I normally am as a writer, I barely take the rest of the day off from writing after typing the most fabulous pair of words ever, “The End.” Instead, I typically start either planning the next book or editing another I’ve written the very next day. For the first year and a half I was writing seriously (as in treating it like a job where I had to show up), I took like 2 full days off. This isn’t meant to brag, honest. I’m trying to give more recent friends and followers of this blog a baseline by which to judge what’s been going on since the end of July last year.

So I stopped. I didn’t feel like doing anything writing-related the next day, July 22nd. Or the day after. Or that week. Yes, I found this odd, but I figured I just needed a little break and I’d come back to it full of my usual zest for the next story. That’s not what happened either. Prognostication is clearly not one of my talents in this life.

I forced myself to do some editing during August, mostly because I’d set myself some deadlines for publication and I didn’t want to miss them. I hated every minute of it. This was also unusual, as I typically love editing. It’s a chance to make the story all it can be, to make it shine and all that. I also view it as an opportunity for learning. But this time, it was pure unpleasant work and I whined to myself endlessly.

September, Possession came out and some things changed in my personal life. At first, I thought maybe that was the problem, why I was having trouble getting excited about NaNo and the next book to draft. I figured I just wasn’t looking forward to having my time with someone exciting and wonderful cut short, even for a month. That I viewed it that way should have been a hint that something was seriously wrong with my writer self. I apparently missed that memo though.

I made it through a round of edits on The Nine, sent that off to my editor and re-evaluated a number of projects I had on the go. I wanted to trash EVERYTHING I looked at. Even the short stories I wrote during September, October and November, I hated. I wasn’t happy with anything in my writing world. Yet I was pressuring myself to write anyway, even when I wanted to scream.

I’ll give you a word of advice here. Don’t ever do that to yourself. I made things INFINITELY worse for myself by doing it. Learn from me. If you’d rather cry and scream than sit at the keys, don’t sit at the keys. Take care of you instead.

I did NaNo. I shouldn’t have. I was mostly sure I wasn’t ready for it, that I wasn’t in anywhere near the right headspace for it. I convinced myself to do it anyway because I hadn’t thought I had my head in the game for the July novel either and that seemed to turn out very well.

(Note: I have not gone back to revise the first draft of From Heights We Fall, the novel from July. Partly because I’m scared, partly because I was just smart enough to recognize that in my current state, I will destroy anything I try to edit. I won’t see any good, and will make all the wrong choices as a result. I have finally learned to pay some attention to my state of mind, now at least.)

So I did NaNo against my better judgement, because it was NaNo and I never skip NaNo. It didn’t go well. I cobbled together 50k words, but barely. I hated the experience, where I always love NaNo in all its forms. I started 2 novels and wrote 3 short pieces to get to 50k. I still don’t feel like I really won NaNo last November. I will likely have to entirely junk BOTH novel starts. I’m not sure and I’m not in a place where I can make that decision.

December was a bad time, for a lot of reasons, and writing was one of them. I kept telling myself I had to make up for the disastrous NaNo by being ready to race ahead into something at least for January, or better, for my late-December vacation.

Do you see where I was going wrong here? I didn’t then. I do now, months later. Still not paying any attention to how I felt about writing itself. Just go, go, go, must produce, must do more or I’m wasting my time. Seriously, that was the general tone of my thoughts. So bad.

I think I number of friends had some idea that I was struggling, but I don’t know that anyone knew how crippled I felt as a writer by the time we rolled into January. I did and do appreciate their support, encouragement and friendship. I just couldn’t bring myself to confess how horribly things had gone awry for me. I think that’s when I first started to entertain the idea of quitting, of letting The Nine be my last published novel. Yes, it really got that bad.

And then it got worse.

Oh sure, the story ideas were still showing up and I was still making notes on them. But the ones that I had pretty well fleshed out, that used to unfurl in my mind on hearing one or two of the right song(s)? Those stopped whispering. Then all but the newest ideas and characters stopped giving me the time of day. Everything in my writing world felt flat, dead, useless. I couldn’t create anything. I felt irretrievably broken.

By the end of January, the desire to quit had become that thought I couldn’t get out of my brain. Even the idea of sitting down to write practically had me in tears. Like I said, things got worse when I thought they couldn’t.

Never tell yourself it can’t get worse. Just don’t. Ever. Trust me.

February, I got the outline for the rewrite of ST, now called The Pendant of Bershan, finished. I was happy with it. There was potential. And I thought to myself (famous last words), “Oh, this’ll be what I need to get me back into the swing. This will go well and it’ll be like it was again.” So I started writing in March with high hopes.

Oh dear god, was I wrong. I did do one smart thing. I decided that I was going all the way back to NaNo-level goals. 1667 words a day. Less pressure. I wanted to back away from the point I’d been at, where less than 4k after a full day of work wasn’t good enough. It was a smart plan, but it didn’t entirely work. I couldn’t even meet that goal most days.

Pendant is currently sitting at 11k after ostensibly 3 weeks of writing and the idea of continuing with it makes me want to throw things. I don’t even want to launch Scrivener anymore, because then I’ll have to face Pendant, which I should be writing now. I can’t. Right now, I just can’t.

And I am going to sit here on my blog and remind myself that it’s okay. That I can put Pendant on hold until I’m ready to write it. Even if that means working on something else. Even if that means it never gets written.

One story isn’t worth wrecking myself over.

Through all of this, I haven’t felt like myself at all. I’ve been hurting and struggling in many ways. I nearly quit writing forever. Just yesterday, I actually said to myself that I had to stop calling myself a writer because clearly I wasn’t anymore.

Oh man, that hurts to type.

But Writer is who I am. It’s an integral part of my identity. I’m not even sure what I am if not that. I’ve felt so lost during all of these struggles. I can’t even tell you how lost. I know I need writing about as much as I need air to breathe. And I proved that today.

This morning, one of the blogs I follow put up a writing prompt. I saw it before work and made a mental note to do something with it when I got home. Why? Because I felt the old stirrings in my brain and my heart. A story, winding itself out of the combination of that prompt and myself.

I got home and didn’t even take my shoes off. Didn’t put away the groceries (thankfully there wasn’t anything frozen or needing refrigeration). I grabbed my steno pad and a pencil. For random prompts, I prefer to go old school that way. I also do it when I’m struggling, because sometimes the change in medium kicks things loose.

I wrote for well over the suggested 6 minutes. I wrote 2 full sheets, both sides, nearly 400 words. It felt good. Hell, it made me feel alive, like taking that first lungful of air after being under water almost too long.

I don’t know for sure where this new piece is going, but I have a general idea. I think it’s going to link up with a Paranormal Romance flash fiction I wrote early last year. And I think it’s got legs. But I’m not going to get ahead of myself on this. I’ll let a general story map it’s way out in my head, but I’ll just see where this one takes me.

It might be fun to write out of my typical Fantasy genre. I did a few short stories last year for blog events in the Paranormal range. They were rather fun. I’d like to have fun writing again.

So there you have it, the story of this writer’s ongoing struggles to write. I’m not all the way back. This feels way too early to make that call. But I will say, I wrote some good stuff today. I may write a bit more before the end of the day. Can I share the beginning with you? It’s just a little bit.

“I wasn’t afraid of him, but rather my desire for him. It grew quickly, out of control almost before I knew what was happening. I wanted him, even though I didn’t know his name. Even though he hadn’t so much as looked my way.

And then he did.”

Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed this little taste.

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About Julie

I'm a writer and photographer. I always have something with me to take notes for ideas or writing projects I'm thinking about or have on the go. I also like to go around with my camera and take pictures of anything that strikes me as beautiful or evocative. I'm perpetually working on one story or another, while waiting for enough distance to judge the last one (or more). I'm always working on several projects at once, developing the next book, even as I'm editing the last. Beyond that, there's always plenty of scraps and twists of ideas rolling around in my head, eventually turning themselves into full blown stories.
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16 Responses to Struggles and Breakthroughs

  1. ❤ you. I think many of us have experienced are experiencing the same thing. I know I am. Sometimes life and things get in the way. I agree…anytime I force writing, it's awful. *hugs*

  2. Kiersi says:

    Liz–I feel you so much on this. I went through this same thing almost the entire Fall, and it is REALLY HARD. But you ARE a writer, even if sometimes your own doubts prevent you from doing that. I’m sorry you went through this, but I’m happy to hear you learned some things and grew as a result. ❤

  3. Aww, Julie! *HUGS* I’m so sorry. I could tell these last few months that something wasn’t right, and I’m glad you’ve come to terms with it and may be on the right track. I’ve had similar problems, and even I (who is not famed for constant writing) sometimes feel like I HAVE to be writing. I’m trying to let that go and do a little relaxing. I write because I have to and because it’s fun, but if it’s not fun anymore then the only thing left is have to, and that can just cause too much pressure. It’s bad enough to have difficult obligations to fulfill for other people, but when it’s for myself, it’s SO much worse because I’ll constantly be judging myself.

    So. I KNOW you’re a writer, because for so long I’ve come to this blog and felt the essence of someone who lives in stories breathing through the words on the screen — I’ve seen how much of a writer you really are, and no temporary drawbacks (however long) is going to change that. Never NEVER say you’re not a writer anymore, because it’s not true. Just allow yourself the freedom to rediscover yourself and your writing. 🙂 So glad to hear you’re somewhat back into the groove, and I wish you the best of luck! *more hugs* ❤

    • Julie says:

      *hugs* Thank you! I’m glad to know others still see me as a writer.

      I know all about judging yourself. Maybe what I need, what we both need, more than anything is to just love the stories we’re telling and let that be enough while we write the first draft. And to keep remembering that when we edit, because it’ll help carry us through that difficult process.

  4. Wow, Julie, that’s rough. I’m glad you’ve stepped back and are taking it a day at a time. Sometimes when I struggle with writing, simply writing in my journal opens things up. There are times when I just have to rest too. Have you read Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg? It’s my writer’s bible. It’s not a how to write book, I don’t think. I see it as showing how important writing is and how it can be a part of us, even if we aren’t creating something to be published.

    This is another time you must be glad to be an indie. You can choose your publishing timeline and create the space you need to be healthy and successful

    *hugs*

  5. quix689 says:

    I’m sorry the past few months have been so horrible for you. 😦 I’ve been too wrapped up in my own head to be around blogs and Twitter much, and I’m sorry I didn’t notice how badly you were hurting. I’m glad things seem (*knocks on wood*) to be getting a bit better. I normally don’t like paranormal, but I really liked that bit that you posted! I hope things keep getting better for you! *hugs*

    • Julie says:

      *hugs* Thank you. Don’t feel bad about not being here. The last few months, there hasn’t been much blog to visit here. Very few posts and mostly I was trying to put a brave face on for those. I’m glad you liked the snippet. Hopefully there’ll one day be a finished story for you to read. 🙂

      I hope things have been good for you. I’ve missed your posts and presence around the blogosphere.

  6. Oh man, this is beautiful and honest, just like you. *BIG HUGS*

    • Julie says:

      *HUGS* Thank you! I try. It was as hard to write and post as I’d feared. But worth it, especially with those who’ve said they were touched by it or have experienced something like it and felt less alone. 🙂

  7. R. K. MacPherson says:

    I know entirely of what you speak. I’ve dealt with similar (though not as personally exciting) issues lately. The fact is my batteries need recharging before I can write. Sometimes it’s longer than I think it “should be.” I dawdled on Assassins revisions and editing all last year because I wasn’t feeling creative. I got it out the door, but I’m not happy about it. People have told me they loved it, but that won’t change my opinion.

    I needed time to break away. It’s only now five months after Assassins came out that I’m getting serious about working on a novel again.

    Being a writer is a big part of what I am, but it can’t be my identity. If my writering breaks down, where does that leave me?

    Writing is what I do, not who I am.

    I hope that helps.

    • Julie says:

      Thanks. I’ll have to give this some thought. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one who’s gone through this, though I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

  8. R. K. MacPherson says:

    Reblogged this on Raven's Nest and commented:
    Writers often feel like they have to perform on demand. That they must be Dashiell Hammett at all times or they aren’t a writer. Worse, as happened to me, they tried to make being a writer a core component of their identity.

    That isn’t sustainable for most people and what happens if it fails? If you don’t write, are you not you?

    Read this excellent post by Julie and see if you can identify with the struggles she describes. I certainly could.

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