So You Haven’t Been Writing

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Confession: I haven’t been writing everyday.

I haven’t been showing up. I haven’t been sitting at my desk or in a café or in my window seat at Barnes & Noble. My laptop has been dead for days. I literally had to dig my backpack out from under laundry and empty candle packages.

Honestly, my mind is a little cluttered these days:

  • Will George R.R. Martin finish A Dream of Spring?
  • I can totally go one more day without washing my hair
  • We’re short-staffed again.
  • I’m sorry, but your story became too passive.
  • They won’t loan you money to open a bookstore with this much student loan debt
  • He’s not good for you anyway
  • Don’t let them see you angry
  • Why, yes, that is a cheese stain on the page of my book
  • Maybe if I just add a dragon to this story, it’ll be more exciting
  • I’ll just eat my feelings today
  • I’ll write tomorrow

And on and on it goes. Sometimes I find it hard to cut through all of the noise in my head. Halfway through Camp Nano, I’ve lost almost all of my steam. I’m not even a quarter of the way through this draft and I don’t know what it is, but something’s not right.

I have this problem: when I give myself to something (someone), I give it all without a second though. I fall madly in love with that project, that place, that person, that book, that idea, and usually, by the time it’s finished, there’s nothing left of me at the end. But it only occurs to me after everything’s said and done that I somehow lost myself along the way. And writing usually helps me discover who I’m supposed to be now, to get back those pieces that I threw to the wind.

It hasn’t happened with this project yet. I think it might be because my brain hasn’t wrapped entirely around the plot. Contemporaries are so hard to write because they rely so heavily on the characters and the emotional pay-off. And recent feedback on my last novel really has me frozen because all I can think about is agency. But maybe I’m thinking too hard about the plot, about the characters, about what I want the final draft to look like.

But maybe it’s also exhaustion and frustration and staying up late after working on my feet all day and not getting enough sleep even when I’m not staying up to read (or write) and drinking too much coffee and worrying too much about the future and feeling like a constant disappointment and a failure and like I can’t take care of myself because of a) my anxiety and b) there are just so many life things I have to do that writing can’t always come first.

Not writing makes me feel guilty. It’s self-inflicted and hard to put aside.

I honestly thought that maybe I would write an inspirational post about how you shouldn’t be too hard on yourself when you step away from the page. Like maybe I would say things like: life gets in the way, you can take a break to breathe, it’s better to focus on yourself than the story in your head, let it come naturally, you will write again, you will achieve your dreams, you’ll find your way through this roadblock. I even thought I’d mention at least once that it’s not worth it to hold it against yourself, that living is apart of writing, as is reading and exploring and falling in love with yourself and the world and others. It’s okay to step back and let life run its course and the story to draw you back in at a later time.

But the truth is, I suffer for my art. I hold it against myself when I remember to just live, when my thoughts are more on friendships that are beginning to crack, how to not hold on so tightly to people who will never stay, how to just ask him to stay, how there is too much comparison happening, how things don’t just happen at your will, how dreams take time.

The thing is, there will come a point in the future when I sit down and write. I won’t think much of it then, probably not until after I’ve returned to the finish draft. Those months will feel like magic, a breeze against my cheek in a room with all of the windows closed as I reread those scenes: a guy in a bookstore with his hands on her face, a conversation she had with her father at the kitchen table, an elderly man paying for a cup of coffee with pennies, looking at a summer sky through a moonroof, fireflies in the yard, Google searches that lead to rabbit holes, late-night conversations with him about his favorite author and the book he hoped to one day write, fighting with friends via text, losing yourself in a job you don’t enjoy, crying in a Starbucks bathroom.

And it might take a few moments or months or years before I understand where those all came from and why they took me so long to write in the first place.

Fighting the Draft Slumps

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The (first) (second) third (fourth) (fifth) draft slump is real, y’all.

I tend to be a pretty slow drafter, but that’s because I like my first drafts to be as full as possible, not just snippets of scenes or bits of dialogue. A lot of my writer friends word vomit whatever’s on their mind and then work backwards for draft two, filling in as need be. It works for them, and it might work for you.

It doesn’t for me. I’ve tried. My first-draft game-plan is always overwrite. I work best when I have too much rather than too little. And I think that’s because I like to lose myself in the first draft, see where the character/place/plot wants to take me as opposed to where I want to take them.

My WIP has been a weird experience. Like writing takes up a weird part of my brain, and not just some, but all. If I’m not writing, I’m thinking about writing, and if I am writing, well, I’m actually (hopefully) getting stuff done. And I’ve found that the more drafts I have, the stranger the experience.

Unfortunately, Draft 3 requires a lot of heavy-lifting. I have restructuring to do, have to move a character from the past into the present and change how my MFC sees that character. (This is probably the part I’m looking forward to the least because even though I accomplished what I’d set out to do with that character, it isn’t working with the rest of the draft.) And moving them into the present will raise the stakes and make everything more heartbreaking when it all falls apart.

It’s not just the moving that’s hard. I basically write every draft from scratch, and each time, I have to grieve with my MFC all over again. That is probably the strangest part. In real life, I’m overly emotional. I’m almost always crying over music and books, living in the past, getting angry over everything and nothing at all. As a writer, I tend to put it all on the page. I want readers to feel, to grieve and laugh and think while they read. I want it to be a visceral experience. I want them to close the book and basically be a mess of emotions.

So, really, I guess this slump is mostly due to feeling overwhelmed by the amount of work that needs to be done in this draft, but also longing to write a new story so I can stop grieving someone who isn’t even real. But here I am, lacking commitment to the things I create, and it’s borderline devastating.

My mind is a mess. Heck, I started this blog with the intent of keeping track of my writing. But I haven’t posted in a month, and that, despite the newness, despite the excitement of this project, leaves me feeling guilty. Because all I do anymore is start things and not finish.

In the past, I’ve taken up a slew of things: writing nonfiction, knitting, cross-stitching, baking, eating healthy, going to the gym regularly, a dozen or so Stephen King novels the size of an encyclopedia, yoga, mindfulness, painting, TV shows, writing poetry, a face-wash routine, making my bed every morning, growing plants. I have opened more books and started writing more stories than I can count. I’m always trying to do something, but I hardly ever finish. As a writer, as a creator, I want to finish things. But why. Can’t. I. Finish. This. Draft?

If you’re out there lying (laying? I’ll honestly never know the right one) on the floor, feeling some of these frustrations, I’d love to know how you fight these slumps, how you keep up writing and creating when finishing something feels out of the realm of possibility.