Monday, January 13, 2014

Are We Having Fun Yet?

While I’ve tried to be an evil little bunny here and talked about writing-related things recently, the truth is I’ve felt like a big ol’ Liar McLiarson lately. And if you follow my personal blog in any capacity, you know why.

I was in a bad spot throughout 2013-writing wise (and a chunk of 2012 too).

You see...I stopped enjoying writing.

I do not call this “Writer’s Block” because, obviously, I think that whole concept is bullshit and if you whine at me that you’re “blocked”, I’m going to stab you with a pen. I wasn’t blocked; ideas were constantly streaming, I had tons of works in progress. In 2013, I wrote about 400 000 words total on various novels, novellas, and short stories.

I just...hated all of them.

“My words are broken” was my constant refrain. I kept putting my head down and working anyway, hoping to get through it, but I hated writing. Each word felt like it was plucked from my brain with tweezers and put on the page all wrong. Revision involved picking at the same sentences over and over and having them make less sense the more I looked at them. Editing involved excising large chunks of text, entire characters, and subplots, only to put them back again (and then delete again, etc etc). Given the choice between writing or knitting while watching shitty TV, I was picking the latter for the first time in my life and certainly for the first time in the dozen-odd years I've been doing this seriously. And this is nothing like me—no matter how painful, or difficult, or how scary writing was, I have always enjoyed it.

But whether it was a for-pay project or something for my own enjoyment, I’d come to hate all of it. I’d lost that burning need to tell the story, to express something. I stopped dreaming about the characters. I stopped hearing them. With no exaggeration, I can say it’s the most terrifying feeling in the world for me. Like I stopped knowing who I was.

Not to be overly dramatic but this is totally me.

What I’m saying is: it was bad.

It still is.

One of the hardest things for me is to ask for help, but I finally did, going to Lilith Saintcrow as she’s been at this longer than me and I knew from her writing-related blog posts that my typical process and productivity was similar to hers. She reassured me it’s a normal phase careers go through and offered me strategies to get through it (citing long term burnout as part of my problem—WHO WOULD HAVE GUESSED THAT BEING A WORKAHOLIC MIGHT BREAK YOU?), including refilling the well and not writing for a few months.

So I did that (which helped--the slight stirring of WANT is there again), but I was going through a major life upheaval around the same time. I picked up TheArtist’s Way and twitched my way through all the mentions of God to grab the bits of wisdom, trying to both recover myself and dig down deep to see what specific steps put me here. There are many of them (obviously, as it takes a lot to fuck me up THIS severely), not the least of which is the amount of pressure I put on myself. Especially now that an average of seventy-five percent of my income comes directly from writing—the rest being freelance—it’s hard to sit down and do anything without thinking about what I should be writing so I can pay rent and stuff. “You’re going to stave if you don’t spend your time wisely”, paradoxically, is quite paralyzing.

But I busted ass all fall writing shit I hated that would help pay the bills, and decided that this month—January—I was starting the year off right. I’d take the pressure off and the ONLY project I would write was a brand new book purely for myself, at my own pace.

I wrote 3K words over a week.

And I hate it.

The character isn’t talking to me. The world isn’t clear. I’m missing entire chunks of backstory. I’m convinced I am not smart enough to tell this story (it’s set in Nairobi—WHY would I set a freakin’ book in Nairobi??).

On the weekend, I got organizing stuff for the for-pay writing I do—just a list of projects I was overdue giving someone—and I had the mad thought of, “Why don’t I fuck around with one of these for a bit?” (Since I don't do freelance work on the weekend.)

Evil writers, let me tell you something.

I had fun.

I had fun on something I normally resent. I played with the characters, I wrote scenes that highly amused me. I didn’t stress about an outline or word count goals or the end result. But for a few hours, writing felt less like a job and more like something fun again, and in the most unexpected of projects--something for the market in a genre I loathe. But I grabbed onto that fun and held on, because it was the only spark of something I've felt in a while.

And you know what else? Last night before bed, the Nairobi book started talking to me as well. I don’t have a full handle on it yet, but it tossed a few huge revelations my way, and I know it’s simmering.

So here we are, evil writers.

We talk a lot here about shutting the fuck up and doing the work, because that’s what a writer does: she does the work. She sits her ass down every day and writes, whether it’s five hundred words or five thousand words. She values discipline and follow-through, and constantly strives to improve her craft. She doesn't wait for the muse: she beats it over the head with a two-by-four, drags it into the house, and pokes it with fire when it doesn't behave.

But she also needs to have fun.

Because when you’re on the twelfth reread of the book, you’re going to hate the story even more if you didn’t even like it when you first wrote it.

When your royalties work out to about ten cents an hour spent on a book and you’re questioning why you wrote it in the first place, perusing the first few enjoyable lines of the story should answer that for you. 

When the negative reviews come in getting the characters’ names wrong and seeming to have skimmed large chunks of the book, you have to remember that someone did like the book: you.

Because the only constant in this job is you. Everything else is a variable: who will read it, who will like it, who will buy it. None of that is in your control. Just you are.

Write for money—write to pay the bills. Deliver that sequel you’re not as jazzed about as the first book. Keep the market in mind when you’re brainstorming. There’s nothing wrong with any of that: skills to pay the bills, and bitches gots to get paid.

But if you're losing that joy, recognize it and do everything in your power to grab it again. Have fun or else you’re better off becoming a career artisan hummus maker*.

*Or something similar. Not that. Because that’s MY backup career.


  1. I have to say that writing-wise, 2013 wasn't my year. I know that I suffered from burnout, too--who knew that working three jobs could be so bad for your health and well-being?

    Once I gave myself a much-needed break in December, I realized how much I needed rest. The well of energy was dry and needed time to refill. Now I'm much more focused and my old determination is back. I hope 2014 is full of joy and creativity for you, Skyla!

  2. Thanks for the honesty in this post, Skyla. I've had a week or a month like this, here and there. I'm grateful it never lasted so long. Here's to you having fun and finding your way back to the joy.


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