Tuesday, March 06, 2007

When It's Not Fun Anymore

There was a very interesting discussion a while back about a client of mine who experienced writer’s block, and I was fascinated by the varied comments, suggestions, and feelings about writer’s block. Some of you felt there is no such thing, while others had a variety of suggestions on how to move beyond it. But what do you do if what you’re experiencing goes well beyond writer’s block?

I received a recent comment/question from a blog reader and have experienced this with a client. What do you do when the fun has left the writing? When you’ve become so paralyzed by the rejections and critiques that you don’t even know how to begin? You’ve gotten so caught up in what you’ve done wrong or what you should be doing that you’ve lost the ability to even find a story?

I guess I wouldn’t call this writer’s block. I would call it mid-writer’s crisis. It’s that point when you’re taking a look at your life, both personally and professionally, and you begin to wonder how you got here, why you’re doing this, and what’s the point. It’s when you suddenly realize that this craft you once loved is no longer fun. And it’s the most tragic thing for me to hear about. Yes, rejection is part of this business. Whether you’re published or not you’re going to hear it—from editors, agents, reviewers, and even readers who “don’t read that type of book,” but when it paralyzes a writer something is wrong.

I’m not a therapist (although there are days that I play one), so I can’t go into a long list of suggestions on how to get beyond your mid-writer’s crisis or even the psychological reasons for it. What I can tell you all is not to lose sight of why you got into this crazy business in the first place. It’s for no other reason than that you love to write. Just as I got into this business because I love books, I love authors, and I really love to negotiate. If we start to focus solely on something else—getting published, selling a New York Times bestseller, or making only the big deals—we lose sight of what we love. So, while it’s important to have goals, I think it’s even more important to keep the passion alive. Know and understand the market, learn from your rejections and from the comments in your critique groups, but don’t let them overpower you. You’ve been noticed for your voice and the stories you create and it’s important to hold on to that with everything you have.



elysabeth said...

That's powerful advice. And something that definitely needs repeating every so often. Thank you for doing that. I write for fun as it is and when it's not fun, I just don't write, don't enter contests, have no drive. When something strikes my fancy, I write and I try not to worry about the other things - just write for fun - E :)

Anonymous said...

I started reading this blog a few weeks ago, and want to thank all of you for your insight.
I have experienced this phenomena with my fantasy novel, my fourth manuscript. I tried to make it a romance (it isn't) to enter RWA contssts. I've had comments, crits, and suggestions that covered the entire spectrum, which totally confused and frustrated me. I let the story rest for about 4 months and discovered a wonderful online group called Critique Circle composed of writers of multiple genres. When I submitted the first chapter, I returned my roots and my voice really shines through. The suggestions from the critters are on the money, some I've used and some have been trashed. True, it isn't everyone's cup of tea, but this is the story I wrote, and I'm taking it back.
Happy writing,

Christine Wells said...

Great post, Jessica. I heard a published author say that one excellent thing about taking a while to get published is that it gives you the time to experiment and to really hone your craft. Often the writer who has sold early has to do a lot of their 'growing up' in public.

I had never looked at it that way before and thought it was very good advice. It makes the writing your focus rather than the selling, which is far healthier in lots of ways.

December Quinn said...

Thanks for this. I've been feeing awfully discouraged lately (I think it's the Mercury retrograde--no, seriously) and this is just what I need to remember why I do this. Because it's fun. It feels good to do it. When the words are really flowing I'm Queen of all I survey, I'm a rocket, I'm an explosion, I can do anything.

It's freedom. Why wuldn't I want to keep doing that?

(Although I actually think this is part of why some people, including myself, get blocked--when it feels like you're doing it for other people, it stops being free. JMO.)

Sally MacKenzie said...

Great post, Jessica. But...hmm...I can't say I find the writing "fun" exactly. It's like exercise--I like having written. Of course, doing promo for the soon-to-be released book is definitely becoming somewhat less than fun, so the thought of starting the new book is getting really appealing. I think I'll tidy up my office and fill out a few note cards today.

Kimber An said...

It's wonderful that you notice and care enough to give this advice, Jessica. I think writers being extra-sensitive is what enables them to create stories in the first place. We have to be close to the Human Spirit and that can be hard. Most of the time, storytelling is therapeutic for me. But, there was that one year we were homeless that I could not write anything at all. I do think 'Writer's Block' is actually depression.

Great responses too!

B.E. Sanderson said...

Thank you, Jessica. This is an important thing for anyone struggling with this malady. Reading it, I was thinking to myself 'been there done that'.

In the throws of this, I just stopped writing. I went for almost an entire year not writing anything. Then the stories started bugging me again, and I realized that even if no one wanted to read anything I'd ever written, I still had to write. I love it - but I agree it's not always 'fun'.

So to anyone else out there experiencing this, please know that you are not alone.

bunnygirl said...

I think if it goes beyond writer's block into a full-on obsession with getting published vs writing, one needs to find a new way to find that creative spark.

Try a new genre. If you write long, go short. If you write short, try poetry. Give fiction blogging a try. Take a painting class, or learn the basics of manga and make a graphic novel. Get out the digital camera and illustrate one of your novels or poems.

Alternatively, some people find their creative juices flowing again when they try to do something non-creative, like sports or a science class. The creative mind rebels and starts offering up new ideas again in frustration.

That there are a lot of ways to get your mojo back. If you're a writer at heart, a little jaunt into something different will eventually lead you back to where you started, refreshed, full of new ideas, and ready write again.

Christa M. Miller said...

I realized that even if no one wanted to read anything I'd ever written, I still had to write....

Exactly - this has been my experience too, despite the fact that a few zine editors DO think others want to read what I've written! (Go figure...)

Anyone here read M.J. Rose's blog? On Fridays she has a psychologist guest blog, answering writers' questions. More good insight comes from there!

Jessica, thank you for this post. It's the simple answers that are often the most important!

Rebecca Burgess said...

Step away from the manuscript. This is not my area of expertise per se, but I'm currently working on a graduate degree in psychology and I also write. I have skated on the edge of this problem and in my experience it occurs when I have lost balance in my life. If you are obsessing about getting published or about what your publisher or agent is thinking, doing or saying you have probably lost the thread of what gives you joy in the writing process. This is also true if you take all constructive criticism to heart. Some criticism is genuinely helpful, others not so much. You need to really listen to what people say; if it's right it will ring true with you. Also always consider other peoples agenda, we all have them. I don't think most anybody is malicious on purpose, but I do have a critique partner who’s critique I temper on a regular basis largely because she has been unable to produce a paragraph to share with the group for almost six months now. She is struggling with some issues herself and I often find what she has to contribute is speaking more to her own stunted progress than it is to the pages sitting in her hands.

Take a break, write something else (essay, short story, or a daily journal). Stop reading industry blogs and stay away from PM for at least a month, both of these resources are full of great advice but often skate an uncomfortable line between exalting writers and castrating them, neither one is healthy.

The weather is getting nicer, go for a walk or ride your bike, and remember, this to shall pass.

Anonymous said...

It's so hard to stay grounded in this business. Rejection is a huge part of it - and no matter how many books you publish, often financial security is still elusive. I feel myself getting burned out every once in a while. I step back, take a break. But writing is something I HAVE to do, lol.
(I think) Churchill said, "Success is going from failure to failure with enthusiasm." I think that the trouble might be a realistic view of what sucess is. Everyone has a different view of what success is.


Anonymous said...

I went through this very same thing. It was a combination of rejections and studying creative writing in a place where genre fiction is looked down upon by the majority of the faculty. At least that was the impression I got from most of them. I didn't write for three years except for what I had no other choice but to write for my classes. That was just crazy for me because I'd been writing since I was old enough to hold a pen and was telling stories before that.

I finally shook it off when I picked up a manuscript I'd written, and I really enjoyed reading it. I thought if I enjoy reading it then someone else might too, and if they don't then who cares because I can pick it up years later and read it again myself and enjoy it again.

And to everyone who doesn't respect genre fiction...Well I'll be polite and say that I've never really enjoyed reading books where all the characters are slowly killed off for some kind of cathartic ending...

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this timely post. I needed to hear that.

Michele Lee said...

What happenes when it's not the editors and agents that drag you down, but the other writers? How do you handle the added stress of other somewhat more successful writers who once encouraged you and now are telling not only you, but their editors and small fan base that you are a horrible, unoriginal, immature person? When you've barely made a handhold and a few steps in the cliff of a writing career, how do you handle other writers stomping on your fingers?

Karin Tabke said...

Hmm while I love writing, it's also my job. So, okay I love my job. But there are days when I do not like my job, but if those negative days turn into weeks then months, and I'm still not happy (regardless of the reasons why) it's time to find a new job.
That said, imho writing isn't a normal job. It's a creative job, it's a public job and a performance job and many times the creative juices and pressure can be too much and burn out sets in. It happens. A lot. I think writers need to give themselves a well deserved break every once in a while and seriously chill out.
That or a handy Xanex works just dandy. ;)

Marie said...

Thank you for this excellent advice. There are times when I experience the feelings you describe but I know that I love writing too much to ever think of giving up. As I'm unpublished and therefore have no deadlines I can take a break every now and then. I find that this usually helps.

Lynn said...

I've never had writer's block. Maybe it's my training as a journalist. I just keep slugging along, no matter now many rejections I get.

Be like a shark. Keep moving forward.

spyscribbler said...

Sometimes, you just have to go through the cycles. I ended up hating my day job this year, and would've quit on the spot numerous times. Eventually, you have to find a way back to what you loved. For each person it's a different path.

As far as writing, and anything else, it helps to look out how far you've come and what you've accomplished, rather than how far you are from where you want to be?

Find what you loved about writing and reading, then find a way to nurture it. Also, reading old stuff can be a boost. Go to a writing retreat? Hide away in a hotel room for three days and just read favorites?

I know a small press doesn't do much for an agent, but it sounds like it could give this author a big boost? A single reader email can make my month! They're mostly why I write.