Unlike many writers I know or follow on social media, I’ve actually been pretty productive writing-wise since the pandemic began. That isn’t to brag, and it isn’t to say that I haven’t had days where focusing on my work has been impossible. I absolutely have. But my work has always been my escape from what’s going on in the world, or from stressful things in life, and that has held true of late. So I have, for the most part, been able to lose myself in a couple different stories since March. I finished a first draft I had in progress, did the bulk of my research for that project, and completed a revision – that draft is currently with my agent, awaiting her read and her notes. I also added about 20k words to a project I’d started – and shelved – last summer and had always wanted to come back to.
Yet for whatever reason, recently the words just haven’t been coming.
I’m not sure if it’s this particular project – maybe this one simply demands to be written more slowly than other ones have, and it’s something I’ll have to chip away at. Maybe the stress of the pandemic and the general state of the world is finally catching up to me. Or it may be something else entirely catching up to me.
Maybe the past six years since selling my debut of jumping straight from one project to another with just short breaks in between is finally resulting in the inevitable burnout that I’ve been afraid of for so long. Maybe “writing like I’m running out of time” has finally caught up to me.
There are publishing career concerns at play here as well, of course. That’s impossible to avoid when you write for publication, or for the hope of publication. The fact that I don’t have anything under contract with a publisher right now is also almost certainly a contributing factor to this feeling. This is hopefully a temporary situation, and one almost every author faces at some point in their career. Publishing is an industry that very definitely makes you Wait For It, which is extremely difficult for those of us like myself with Big Alexander Hamilton Energy. So what that means for me right now is that I’m unsure what direction it makes the most sense for me to be going in. I have a few historical projects either started or conceptualized that interest me – including the first draft of the WIP I’ve been plugging away at for the past month or so – but they’re all a bit different, so which one would be best to follow the project that is with my agent currently, if indeed that becomes my next published book as I hope it does? There’s also the fact that there are a couple of other genres I’ve been waiting to try writing in as well, but is now the right time to branch out? Does it necessarily matter what I work on at this precise moment as long as I’m enjoying it and the words start flowing again?
Whichever explanation is correct – and it’s most likely some combination of all of the above – that leaves me not entirely sure what to do. I’m in a weird headspace of wanting to write, wanting to work, but seeming to not have the mental energy or clarity of thought that writing – or creation of any kind – requires. More often than not lately, when I sit down at my laptop my head feels like it’s stuffed with cobwebs. And it isn’t that I don’t have stories I want to tell – I do, too many of them to count sometimes, it seems. And it isn’t that I’m not excited to tell those stories – I am. I just can’t seem to actually do it right now.
Today I sat down to write, with the idea of maybe starting something completely new, in a genre I’ve never written in before, just for the hell of it. Just for fun. Maybe the WIP I’d been trying to write is the problem, and I just need to switch it up to something else and see how that goes for a while. Yet even though I’d been composing sentences in my head all morning, that blinking cursor on the blank Word document I opened just seemed to completely stymie me. Cue the cobweb-stuffed head feeling.
I also opened up all the documents for recent projects I’d been playing around with in the last year or so, skimming through bits and pieces of some of them. While I remain excited about all those ideas, the words just weren’t wanting to come for any of those, either.
So I started writing this blog post.
I realize that what I’m describing above sounds a lot like what is generally referred to as “writer’s block”. This may be an unpopular opinion, but I don’t personally like that term. To me, “writer’s block” implies some sort of magical reason why someone is struggling with writing, and that there isn’t really anything they can do about it until it goes away. When I get stuck – whether on a particular project, or generally – I usually know why I’m stuck, and that helps me figure out a way to push through it. But this time, even though I think I’ve identified a veritable soup of reasons why I’m feeling stuck, the way through is not at all clear to me. Writer’s block? Maybe. I’ll probably never get over my ingrained dislike of that phrase, though, wherever that dislike stems from.
Any fellow creative reading this is probably sing-shouting at me, Eliza Hamilton-style, “Take a break!” And there’s a large part of me that realizes that that is probably the answer, or at least part of it. But then there’s that annoyingly persistent part of me that insists I want to be writing, really I do. The feeling I get when I sit down to my laptop seems to disagree, though. And that’s a really uncomfortable feeling for someone who has always been able to write her way out.
So here I am, a thousand words later, and I still don’t have the answer. All I can say at this point is these are the only words I’ll be writing today. Maybe tomorrow will look different.
Maybe it’s time I finally learned to Wait for It.