Doldrums, or Demons?


In the last two days, two of my blogosphere buddies have both posted about writing obstacles and writer’s block, and various ways of dealing with the bane of the writer’s existence.

First, Uppington, via a very apt metaphor of taking a long road trip, wrote about the various pitfalls that can befall the traveler, and how to deal them. We have many options available, as in life, for getting through the tough times when the world seems to conspire against us ever putting pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard.

And today, Jenna Reynolds uses the driving metaphor to describe the battle with writer’s block. I’m not sure I know the emergency number for dealing with writer’s block.

All of this is to say that it seems like we are all feeling some weird cosmic vibe right about now, either with time constraints or imagination constraints, that are preventing any forward motion with our stories. For me, it seems to be a cross between, what? Laziness? Lack of ideas? ADD? Depression? I can’t even leave comments on blogs much lately, if it deals with writing. I’m in such a funk I’ve thought about giving up entirely. I mean really, who am I kidding? It’s not like I’ll ever actually get published, so what’s the point? I feel like I should probably turn my attention to other more productive pursuits. And then I think, I could just as easily be wasting my time sitting in front of the tv, watching some idiotic “reality” show like the vast majority of the country. So, whatever, if I choose to waste my time trying to write it’s no worse than what most people waste their time on, right?

So all this is to say that if I haven’t been around to visit your blog lately, I apologize, but as you can see I’m not really in the frame of mind to be leaving cheery comments.

‘All writers are vain, selfish and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives lies a mystery.  Writing a book is a long, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness.  One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.’
George Orwell in England, Your England

I think I’ll go play with my demons.

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20 thoughts on “Doldrums, or Demons?

  1. A lot of writers have trouble discussing their story ideas with others, but I’ve found that it helps to call up my Mom or sit down with my husband and discuss it. Last year, I published a short story in a magazine because of an idea my husband gave me.

    I’ve also found that it helps to start with an exciting scene or chapter to get the ball rolling. Rather than starting at the beginning of a story, imagine a situation you are really excited to write, then let it flow from there.

    I do know what you mean, though. I’ll find myself making excuses not to write, then realize that I’m filling my time with totally unproductive pursuits. Lately, it’s been watching reruns of “Murder She Wrote”. You can’t get much sadder than that. 🙂

    In all seriousness though, you should write. I’ve never read any of your fiction, but your blog posts demonstrate clear talent. Take it from me: If Stephenie Meyer can find a publisher, so can you.

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  2. omigosh…i am so glad its not just me!…i have been avoiding some blogs and sites out of guilt b/c i should be writing and I have a post in draft [my meme!] which is tormenting me for some reason…meanwhile every time I open a notebook or file I find my mind wandering and I quit out of frustration. I ‘d like to think its the doldrums…but it may be seeping into spring fever :)… either way I keep finding inspiration from folks like yourself! thank you for being so open…and like you, remind myself that I could be doing worse, or less 🙂 Thank you for sharing!

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  3. Sam — Thanks so much for all that! I don’t actually have anyone to bounce ideas off of, but your suggestion to write the bits I’m really eager to write is what got me as far as I got (about halfway) in NaNoWriMo. Just reading back over what I’ve got as a first draft right now (not the NaNo novel, another one)… it’s a disjointed mess that I don’t know how I’m ever going to string together into something coherent. Oh well, I guess that’s what revision is for, eh? I should quit reading what I’ve already written and just press on.

    Jan — And I’m glad I’m not the only one! I may call a friend of mine who does astrology and ask her what’s up that’s making us all feel so blue.

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  4. “I mean really, who am I kidding? It’s not like I’ll ever actually get published, so what’s the point?”

    hey,
    hey,
    HEY!!!!!!

    I’ll tell you what’s the point. Have you ever written a word in your life because you thought it would get published, or make you famous, or get you rich? So why start now? You’re kidding no one, and the point is the same as it always was: you love language, the music and light and torture and dance and drudgery and comedy of putting one word in front of the other and lining them up like toy soldiers and then knocking them all over or tearing the page up or hitting “delete” and starting the fuck all over again. You love it because your words are different than jan’s or mine or william’s or James Joyce’s or gypsy’s or Jane Austen’s but they’re all real and they’re all valid and they all matter and once in a while they’re beautiful, or profound, or funny. You’ve loved it always; you love it still; you’ll love it forever, even when you hate it.

    that’s the damned point.

    MJ, you are the best! I should have known I could count on you to kick my ass instead of indulging me in my pity-party ;)And you’re right, of course, I’ve never really expected to get published but I have always had this in my heart.

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  5. Hey – great post! I’ve been struggling myself as well. I still get the occasional tiny burst of inspiration, but for the most part things are not progressing as fast as I would like. Perhaps it’s because I haven’t been reading as much since finishing my last book. Or it may be other concerns (such as studies). Either way, I guess I’m experiencing writers block for the first time??

    We all seem to feel your pain, Pace! Lis’Anne gave us some good suggestions below in her comment for breaking the block, maybe one of those will help for you? I guess we just need to hang in there and keep believing spring is coming.

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  6. I think it’s a combination of many factors dampening our creativity. The economic mess we’re living in is highly stressful. The publishing game is a tough business to break into. Agents and editors are overwhelmed with a boom in submissions and we think “what’s the point” in trying. Spring is upon us and we feel guilty for sitting inside at the keyboard when there’s a host of things we need to do in the yard or the house. I’ve noticed that very few of my writer friends take a vacation from writing, and writing is a job like any other. Sometimes a 1-2 week vacation is the answer to the writing doldrums or demons.

    Go buy a couple of new novels and lose yourself in the pages of someone else’s world. Throw a beach towel on a lawn chair, kick off your shoes and soak in some vitamin D! I’m sure we writers are lacking in that necessary aliment to the detriment of our body’s delicate chemical balance. It’s no wonder we sometimes feel less than stellar about our work; our bodies are crying “get me out of the office before I shrivel up and die.”

    We’re losing our multi-faceted existence in front of a computer monitor. It takes life experiences to bring a greater depth of realism to our writing worlds. Sitting at the keyboard every waking hour makes for a stagnant outlook on life. I’m heading out the door to enjoy the sunshine and warmth (and do some much-needed yard work). I hope you’ll take a break and enjoy a change of scenery, too!

    Lis’Anne

    You could be right, Lis’Anne, I’m sure the economy is stressing us all far more than we realize. Even if our jobs are not in imminent danger, the threat is always lurking in the back of our minds. That can’t be helping. Unfortunately, a vacation is out of the question, and there’s no sun to be had here today — it’s snowing!

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  7. Well, I am one of the growing number of people who is currently unemployed and, yes, it is very stressful trying to keep up with everything money-wise. I don’t even want to begin to say how hard it is. But I’ve also been writing while looking for work. However, I think I’ve been overdoing it regarding my writing.

    So, I decided to take a mini-vacation this weekend. I’ve been reading, watching television, etc, everything BUT writing and I’m even going to a movie today (a treat from my daughter) and I haven’t been to the movies in months!

    And I have to say I’m feeling a lot better and will be ready to get back to writing tomorrow. I think I was just pushing myself too hard these last few weeks and I needed a darn break! 🙂

    So, yeah, I definitely recommend taking a break every now and then. And most definitely not feeling guilty about doing so. 🙂

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  8. Oh Jenna, I am sorry to hear that. My heart goes out to you, I know how it feels. I was laid off years ago right after 9/11 and did not find permanent employment again for over a year (I did find some temp jobs that lasted several months each). I promise I’m not going to go all Pollyanna on you here, but a movie sounds like a great escape, and much needed.

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  9. I’m with Lis’Anne: creative output requires some input, too, so don’t consider it writer’s block, consider it “research” if you go shopping (especially at a bookstore!), or out to lunch (eavesdropping is really import research for dialogue; so is gossip) or whatever it is you like to do to renew your energy. Read something that makes you laugh, something that makes you cry, and something you always meant to get around to -I’m not encouraging procrastination, but I suspect you’ll know shen it’s time to wrestle w/the angels* again.

    * I know Orwell calls it a demon, but Margaret Atwood wrote an essay called “An End to Audience” in which she likened the writer’s dilemma to the biblical story of Jacob wrestling with the angel. They wrestled all night, with Jacob demanding a blessing, and the angel refusing to bless him until he said his name. That’s what we all do as writers, she sez: struggle to define who we are, in the hopes of achieving that inspiration, that “rightness” of language, that – well- blessing. But it’s not coming until we ground ourselves, acknowledge our strengths and weaknesses: ’til we say our names.

    Go eat a doughnut and play with Allie till you feel like saying your name!

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  10. Thanks Digital Dame. Hey, Pollyanna sounds okay to me as I’m doing my best to remain optimistic although I know this is going to be a long, rough ride. There are just so many people out of work right now. I’m even having a tough time finding temporary work.

    But I’m hanging in there and staying strong. 🙂

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  11. Maryj, the link worked fine, thanks. Atwood is so good, I think I’ll pick up a copy.

    Jenna, I found it helped me to stay in a routine. During the months when I wasn’t working I drove my son to school in the morning, then headed straight over to the gym to work out for a couple hours. It kept me in a routine, kept me moving, got me out of the house and around other people so I didn’t sit home and feel isolated, plus all the added benefits of the exercise (upping the endorphins so I didn’t get depressed, staying healthy, and so on). If you can work through temp agencies, be relentless about calling them for work, minimum of once a week. Pick a day and time and keep it like an appointment, so they know “Oh it’s Tuesday at 9:00, it must be Jenna calling.” It keeps you uppermost in their minds for when they get jobs in. I was registered with five different agencies. I kept getting called back to one job, and eventually the person I was in covering for quit the company and I was hired on in her place.

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  12. Hey Astro Sis,

    There’s nothing much I can add to all the other beautiful comments that have been left here.

    But here’s a quote from Bette Davis that I love, “To fulfill a dream, to be allowed to sweat over lonely labor, to be given a chance to create, is the meat and potatoes of life. The money is the gravy. As everyone else, I love to dunk my crust in it. But alone, it is not a diet designed to keep body and soul together. ”

    Whenever I hit the writing doldrums, I realize it’s because I’m focusing on the, “will this novel get published?” rather than my love of writing. As soon as I fix my focus, I’m okay.

    Sending you hugs…

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  13. Thanks Astro Sis! That’s a wonderful quote. Our culture is so focused on making money, that when we turn our attention to something that nurtures our souls but not our bank accounts we’re made to feel guilty. To paraphrase what Atwood said at that link Maryjblog provided, writing is something that’s ok to do when the cooking and cleaning and shopping are done, it’s seen as a hobby and not a worthwhile pursuit all by itself. As long as something makes money, we deem it worthwhile.

    I will fix my focus 🙂

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  14. I like Didge’s advice to Jenna. Sometimes the best you can do is think like an employed person – make the bed as soon as you get up, make “appointments” to manage your obligations, make a point of being on time for stuff. It won’t change the lousy stinking economy, but it can help make you feel like the sort of person who can ride out the storm.

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  15. I’ve really enjoyed reading these comments…Thank you everyone 🙂 i have gotten so much inspiration from reading this. And I love Margaret Atwood! I am heading to that link next. I was just today talking to my Dr about the lack of Vit D and movement in mine, and many people’s lives…How true that we need to get out and live life if we expect t o write about it too! (Meanwhile, the sunshine is calling…streaming in on the keyboard and warming my fingers more since we recently arranged the “office” to make more room for the dining table :)…maybe it will help

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  16. Wow. Great post, and what a wonderful series of comments. DD, don’t you dare give up! Thanks all. Especially Maryj – “I’ll tell you what’s the point. Have you ever written a word in your life because you thought it would get published, or make you famous, or get you rich? So why start now? You’re kidding no one, and the point is the same as it always was: you love language, the music and light and torture and dance and drudgery and comedy of putting one word in front of the other and lining them up like toy soldiers and then knocking them all over or tearing the page up or hitting “delete” and starting the fuck all over again. You love it because your words are different than jan’s or mine or william’s or James Joyce’s or gypsy’s or Jane Austen’s but they’re all real and they’re all valid and they all matter and once in a while they’re beautiful, or profound, or funny. You’ve loved it always; you love it still; you’ll love it forever, even when you hate it.” Can’t hear that too many times, and it will probably turn up as a quote on my Blog shortly, and I think also printed off and hung over my computer. Can’t thank you enough for those words.

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  17. thanx, Uppington! Digital dame & I have been friends since we were kids (I think it’s Toni Morrison who said “we was girls together”) and I saw this funk creeping up that I feared was about to obscure the “Real Didge.”

    Being from New Jersey, where we believe anything worth saying is worth saying loudly, I just had to “shout” a bit to clear the fog 😉

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