Monday, November 9, 2015

State of the writer: when you can't write

Here is the latest in my ongoing series of posts about finishing my novel draft this month in a somewhat NaNo-like fashion. Previous posts can be found by checking the archives for November.

The first thing I want to do is call your attention to this post from Mary Robinette Kowal, "Sometimes Writers Block Is Really Depression." It's a good post. Go read it. I'll still be here when you get back.


I don't have depression, but I do know what it's like to have mental illness get in the way of my writing. I have anxiety. It's been officially part of my medical profile for about three years now - I see a doctor, I take medication. I have made some behavior and lifestyle changes. All of these things help; none of them are magic cures.

(I am turning off comments on this post, but please, if your kind and helpful instinct is to email or tweet me with hints as to how I can manage my anxiety, know that I appreciate your thoughts, but I am asking you to refrain.)

It took me a while to get help. I wish I had done so earlier, but anxiety is a jerk, and wouldn't let me. It wasn't until I literally couldn't write - because the idea of starting something and getting it wrong filled me with such terror that I couldn't open my notebook, even though I had deadlines and editors waiting on things, even though I had bills to pay, and if I didn't write, I wouldn't be able to pay them - that I finally was able to ask for the help I needed.

Mary is right - sometimes there are story-based reasons for writers block. Sometimes, you get the don't wannas, and you have to ask yourself seriously how much writing, or writing this particular project means to you. But sometimes, there are days that you can't write. Sometimes there are days that you can't write, even though you want and need to be writing that day. Sometimes life gets in the way. Sometimes circumstances out of your control get in the way.

It can be really hard when that happens. First, there's your own feeling of disappointment or grumpiness at not hitting your goal. But there can be the outside pressure hearing that real writers write, that professionals don't have time to get blocked, that you should be writing every day, of the feeling that everyone else is succeeding faster. Hearing those things - even the parts of them that may be good advice, or worth considering, or standards to motivate yourself against on a good day - well, they can be less than useless on a bad one.

I'm a person who is generally happier when I am writing on a schedule. I have wordcount or pagecount or project goals. I make lists. I do this everyday. Not - anymore - because I believe I have to do these things to be a Real Writer, but because I have learned that this is the way I work best.

I have also learned that there are some days that - even though I have tried, even though I have put my butt in the chair at the appointed time, and turned off the internet, and tried all the tricks to jumpstart things - that I am not going to make those goals. (Please see yesterday's post on my current wordcount.) I've learned that beating myself up over this isn't helpful. I try, on those days, very hard to allow myself to see the things I did accomplish, and then to let go of the ways that I fell short, so that I can keep moving forward.

It's really easy to be cruel to yourself when you fall short of your goals. Try and take care of yourself, too.