Down but not defeated

I always have a rough time near the end of the year. I don’t know why. I suppose because I’m goal-oriented and inevitably I have not met my (loftly, often ridiculous) targets for myself.  This year the things I failed to achieve were Grown Up Life related: family, house, stability, career happiness. I am most frustrated with myself for being upset over the lack of those things because I’ve always felt I’d given up on them in my twenties. But for some reason about midway through this year they became, mentally, a Big Deal.

What the heck does that have to do with writing?  Well, long story short I got really low in the past week and I did nothing useful, other than force myself to keep social appointments (which was good, getting out of the house and seeing friends actually does cheer me, introverted or not), and I totally missed part 4 of the Chuck Wendig 200 Words at a Time challenge.  But it’s pretty typical for me to come out of these funks determined to Do Something, and throughout the funk I’ve had a Red Box short story struggling to come together in my head, so now I’m determined to write it.

I’m also determined to do something for Part 5 of the challenge, especially because writing endings is really difficult for me.  Practice is good.

I’ve also come out of the funk being a bit fired up about a post I saw on Tumblr.  It was a writer’s response to an Ask about what to do about writer’s block.  The writer in question suggested first that the person asking must not be a writer if they’re writer’s blocked; and then suggested, simply, that the answer was to write.  That wasn’t the part that really bugged me, though. It was the responses, including one very vehement one, about how much that writer’s blocked person was NOT a writer because clearly they were sitting around waiting to be Inspired and not actively trying to write; True Writers wrote compulsively all the time because that is the defining characteristic of a Writer, after all.

First, writer’s block, at least as I’ve understood it and according to the definition on Wikipedia, does not mean you are not trying to write. In fact you are probably trying really damn hard, and/or, too hard–you’ve basically psyched yourself out.  You may well be putting down words.  But (if you’re like me, who considers themselves to have been blocked for the better part of 3 years) most likely every word you put down feels like death, feels wrong and ugly and makes you feel worse.  Every idea you have dies in the cradle; at no point do you find that sweet spot where you break through and ride the story out.  Yes, as this person adamantly insisted, writing is indeed a craft that must be sought out and pursued and worked for. This person asking about how to break out of their writer’s block never suggested it wasn’t. As I see it, they were actually asking for help with that craft–asking for techniques to work around a problem they could not sort out.  If a person building a desk can’t figure out how to hammer nails in properly, you don’t tell them “just keep hammering, you’re clearly not hammering enough.”  You try to figure out if they’re swinging the hammer wrong or not holding the nails properly. 

My writer’s block has a very clear source: lack of confidence. At some point, I lost my faith in my writing skills. This is a gigantic problem for a writer, believe me.  You can’t revise if you don’t trust yourself and your writing instincts.  Telling me to “keep writing” is next to worthless, because I’ve definitely been writing. I’ve just hated everything I’ve produced, been halfway to furious with the results and been cowardly and hesitant when revising.  Nothing has the passion and assertiveness I had 3 years ago, and I can tell.  And the more I feel that way, the more difficult it is to get even a sentence out.  The block gets bigger and I’ve yet to find a way around it.

So before folks get up in arms about those sincerely asking what to do about writer’s block, let me suggest that probably most of us who are blocked aren’t waiting for “magic feathers” and “inspiration” with our thumbs up our asses.  Probably many of us are fighting through and desperate for someone to suggest techniques that might help us find a different approach or techniques to help figure out how to restore our lost confidence.  If you have never suffered through a period of time where your doubt and fear and insecurity cripples your very ability to put down a sentence, lucky for you. But please don’t suggest that suffering from this mental malady means I’m not a writer. I do write. I am a writer.  I’m just really at a disadvantage, right now, and could use a hand up instead of anger and accusations. 

That Magic Feather

Long time no write, because, well, I haven’t been writing much of anything up until perhaps a week ago.  Not for lack of trying, most of the time, but I suppose much of that “trying” was taken up with “despairing” and not as effective as it should have been. 

Two things that were not really revelations, but somehow still feel like revelations: 

1. I am an introvert, well and truly.  Spending time with people, whether I like them or not, uses up my energy, physical and mental, and it takes 100% solitude to recharge.  As my work demands that I spend more and more time with people,  in meetings, presenting, or just in the day-to-day interaction, I need to accept what I am and figure out how to balance my life.  How to recharge my batteries so I don’t end up like I recently did, mentally incapable of doing anything other than lie in front of the television playing video games. 

2. I can often write when I’m depressed, but not when that depression heavily involves an utter loss of faith in myself.  The day job was making me seriously doubt my self-worth, and it quickly bled into everything.  Again, it would seem obvious, but not in the moment.  Instead all I did was feel utterly confused that I couldn’t at least write in the midst of my depression, and that would make me lose faith even MORE, and the depression would get worse, and… you see how it goes. 

I’m actually a bit startled at how much that lack of faith undermined my writing.  Some of the things I wrote when I was trying to force it were just terrible.  Poor word choices, awkward sentences, absolutely no emotional connection.  Even I felt distanced from the text and I wrote it!

Seriously, I don’t think this is perception, I think it has something to do with how belief, passion, and confidence come across even across a written page.  I’m a shy mouse in person but when writing, I always feel stronger and bolder and more vibrant.  I can express myself in text; I feel less shy and I can consider my word choices carefully.  Or that’s how it usually is.  Also, as mentioned before, I hear my stories as I write, and when I started to lose faith, I couldn’t hear them.  I could only hear my own self-loathing and derision as I fought to put down even a handful of words.  And of course, that would only worsen the cycle. 

What changed?  Honestly, work let up a bit, I got some time to myself at work and time to myself at home, and I think my batteries just recharged.  Slowly, my attempts to write became more focused and the output improved.

And then, just this past week, I revised a short story I had kicking around, shared it with my awesome writing pal Die, and Die handed me that good old Magic Feather: a hearty helping of support and encouragement.  I can get suspicious of praise (thanks, self-doubt) but I trust Die to speak up if something isn’t working, and always has good suggestions for things to improve. 

It was perfect timing, and I feel energized about writing again.  I’m still not where I was two months ago.  But definitely getting better.  Crossing my fingers that this is a real recovery and not a double dip depression ;).