Hey. There’s been a lot going on here. A lot of stress permeating the air. It’s put a damper on the writing.
And that’s what I’m here to talk about with you. Losing your determination, your will, to write.
This is not the same as writers’ block, though it can certainly contribute to it. It’s not the same as writers’ block because it can come over you even though you’ve been writing fine, and even have some great ideas coming to you.
It’s not about bad writing, or no writing, or over writing. In fact, I’d say, it’s causes are mostly external. Basically, it’s just life, LIFE, coming at you too much, or too fast. As life—LIFE—does this, you sit down to write. There’s nothing wrong with your writing, but in the back of your mind everything that’s going on keeps coming at you. [Yes, I know that other writers will tell you to take all that emotion and put it into your writing. And yes, I know that we—oh, I do it too—write to retreat from the world for a while, or help us process what’s going on.] I’m not saying this isn’t good advice, or that it doesn’t work. What I’m talking about is when, for whatever reason, that’s just not working. Then you have that thought. You probably know the one. The thought: ‘What am I doing?’ Then you start thinking of all the things you could be doing instead of writing. All THE THINGS that could be fixing your problems, or be better for you, instead of making up stories. This thinking leads to an apathy towards your writing. You don’t see the point of doing it.
As a writer, you’re part of a very subjective craft. There’s a lot of rejection involved in doing what we do, both professionally and personally. It can be easy at the beginning to lose your determination, but even long time writers can fall prey to this.
John Green wrote The Fault in Our Stars. It was an international bestseller, and they turned it into a movie. And then he stopped writing for a while. Which some of your, I’m sure, are confused about. Well, here’s the thing, everyone seemed to love The Fault in Our Stars. It was hugely successful. How do you follow that up? What can you do that tops that? Some people were calling it a masterpiece. There’s the expectation that anything he writes from now on is going to be as good, if not better. How can he care about his next story when he’s made his masterpiece? How can he care about his next story as much as he did that one? And if he doesn’t care as much about his next story as much as he did for that is it going to be nearly as good? Is it worth writing if he doesn’t care that much?
There are many pitfalls being a writer, putting yourself out there, including success. 😊
Elizabeth Gilbert tells a story in her book Big Magic about meeting a man at a book signing. This man had been writing for fifteen (twenty?) years, but hadn’t gotten published. He asked her what to do. She told him to try doing something else, but if he didn’t feel as fulfilled as he did when he wrote, then he’s a writer and he must deal with it. (It’s a good book. I recommend it.) This man had been writing for twenty (fifteen?) years, and had finally lost his determination. No writers’ block for him, but he couldn’t see the point anymore.
I think loss of determination is even more insidious than writers’ block. You’ve probably seen my post about writers’ block, and what to do about it. But with loss of determination, the setting in of apathy, you lose connection with the thing that drives you. It’s hard to pick that back up.
Now, there are two things you can do here. (There might be more, but I don’t see them, so we’re going to stick with two.) The first thing is, take a break while. Maybe a week, maybe two, possibly a month. Give yourself time to untangle yourself. Let the urge to write build up again. Maybe during this time some of things causing stress in your life will be resolved, thus taking that off your mind.
This can work, but the problem with this method can be getting back into the writing routine. Not always, but it could happen.
Of course, sometimes the loss of determination can be born of frustration. The frustration of not being published, of continuous rejections, of seemingly not getting anywhere with your writing. (Ironically, the only way to solve any of those things is to keep writing.) So, method one won’t really help.
In this situation, method two is the way to go. Method two is, what I like to call, finding the fun in writing again. It’s exactly like it sounds, find the fun. Go back to the first things you read that made you want to write and re-read them. It could mean finding something you’d never read (fluff reading) and reading that. It could mean writing something you’d never write, a short love story if your thing is horror. If you’ve been writing a novel, try writing a play (or taking one of your short stories into a play). Sit in a coffee shop and try to come up with stories for the people you see come in for coffee. I’m a big roleplaying nerd, so I create characters (in various gaming systems) and write backstories for them. Maybe write a blog post *cough, cough*. (Excuse me.) Do anything that’s truly only for you, so you don’t have to worry about it. It’s very freeing. It can help you re-connect with your writing, which is what you need to do when this happens.
Recently, I was talking to someone about getting my MFA in Fiction. The person looked at me with disdain and confusion and said: “What can you do with that?” At the time, I didn’t really say anything, the conversation including some bad news for me, but on retrospect I wish I’d said: “You dream.”
It’s all well and good to pay the bills, to eat, but that’s just the body. What soothes the mind? What makes you get up in the morning? As writers, we are the keepers of dreams. We have the privilege to share our dreams with the world. And that’s worth staying connected to.
Until next time: Be yourself, be well. Dream yourself, dream well.