I was supposed to have a Ferret post up, well… last Tuesday. Last Tuesday came and went, and Friday arrived, and I looked at my blog calendar and went, “Oh. Oops.”
I had originally planned to do a post on… something else. Probably worldbuilding. But I kept hitting a stumbling block. And then I decided to write about my stumbling block, and realized it fit quite well with ‘The Middle Years’ series we’d just finished up, so… bonus post!
Warning: this post is very long. But I suspect there’s a lot of people out there, besides me, who need it.
It’s been two and a half years since I had a consistent writing habit. Usually, I go weeks at a time without picking up a piece of fiction I’m working on.
It’s been so long since I wrote anything other than blog posts on a consistent basis that I’m starting to feel like a beginner again.
My lack of writing hasn’t been for lack of trying. I have written, and that is one thing I adore about NaNoWriMo – I know I will always have one productive month out of the entire year.
I have written short stories. I’ve worked on editing older novels, and I’ve even jotted down ideas for new stories.
But inevitably, something always happens to suck away my creativity, and my time.
FYI: This post is not a guilt-trip.
There are words all writers hear:
“If you want to write, you have to treat it like a job.”
“If you want to call yourself a writer, you have to write every day, no exceptions.”
“Find a time when your creative juices flow, and use that time every day.”
“Write through writer’s block.”
Sure, all that advice seems like a good idea.
But sometimes it just doesn’t work. And I’m trying not to be cynical of the advice-givers, but I hear advice like that often, and I wonder (and marvel) at the evidently care-free lives they seem to lead.
I can pinpoint, nearly to the hour, when I started having trouble writing those 2 1/2 years ago.
2013 started really well. So well, it should have warned me ahead of time.
I started off that year at full-momentum. For NaNo 2012, I’d written Catalyst. I immediately entered it in two contests – the Curiousity Quills NaNo Virtuosos contest (which had rounds, and votes determined who made it through each round) and the Oklahoma Writers Federation, Inc. annual contest (in the unpublished Scifi/Horror/Fantasy novel category). I ended up placing 3rd in the final round of NaNo Virtuosos, and took FIRST PLACE in the OWFI category, and had an agent request for the full manuscript of Catalyst.
And then my life, almost overnight, went to hell.
That summer of 2013 was the summer some long-term domestic abuse issues came to the forefront of some family matters. Ties were cut with some people. Others were finally convinced to seek counseling.
That summer, my grandmother came very close to bleeding to death when an artery burst in the back of her nasal cavity.
That summer, I had so many migraines, so much fatigue and vertigo, and felt like I was very nearly on the edge of a mental breakdown from all the stress, that I finally sought medical help. I was diagnosed with high blood pressure, and they would barely let me leave without a prescription. What I had really been hoping for was a referral to a mental health professional, because I didn’t know the first place to start. (FYI, I treated my high blood pressure with diet and lifestyle changes, and it’s now completely normal.)
That summer, Tabby, my 13-yr-old cat that I’d had since I was 15 was diagnosed with kidney failure. He died 3 months later, and I found myself in a very dark place, mentally.
I started having small anxiety attacks every time the phone rang. Every worst-case scenario would fly through my mind as I froze before cautiously reaching for my phone to check WHO was calling. I dreaded calls from family and friends, because one would be “XYZ went wrong today.” and the other would be “How are you?” I didn’t know how to cope with either, especially when the answer to the latter was “I woke up, and I fed the animals, and I fed my family, and I fed myself. Is that enough?”
I couldn’t walk through my house without bursting into tears because all I saw was where Tabby SHOULD HAVE BEEN. But he wasn’t there, and I needed him so much. I don’t remember how many nights I cried myself to sleep.
In the middle of all of that, I had very dear friends who were celebrating very wonderful things happening in their lives. And it hurt so much. I was happy for them, when I could be. But I wanted to be happier for them, and it just wasn’t possible in those moments.
The end of 2013 felt like it was taunting the beginning of it.
2013 had started with hope – like I was finally seeing my hard work, especially in the writing realm, pay off.
2013 ended with nearly all of my hopes dashed, and my heart broken.
The two years since then have been fraught with many, many trials. There have been car repairs (we’ve probably dropped $3000 on this stupid car in the last three years), vet bills due to animal sicknesses and deaths (two chickens, the dog repeatedly sprained a foot, the (other) cat needed radiation treatment for hyperthyroidism, etc). The garage door broke, we needed plumbing repairs, we had to build a new chicken coop, and in the midst of all that I came to realize that I was dealing with depression just because I was emotionally exhausted, and I also began to wonder if I was dealing with some PTSD after re-hashing a lot of my childhood.
2015 ended with my husband being laid-off (well, he received his notice mid-November, and his last day of work was Dec 3). Fortunately, he found another job again at the end of January.
Now, as 2016 moves past its ‘dawn’, I find I am a shell of my former self.
I don’t know what my dreams are anymore. I barely know what I enjoy anymore. I have spent so long living in ‘survival’ mode that I don’t know how to function otherwise.
Writing is art. It is nearly impossible to create art when you have no joy.
It is impossible when you don’t know how to dream anymore.
This post is for every writer who feels like they are stumbling through the dark, just trying to find light to read by, let alone words.
I didn’t detail all the hardships of the last three years for your pity. I didn’t do it to make excuses.
I do it so that others of you going through this know that you are not alone. I know what it’s like to want to write and literally not be able to because there are so many other things that must take priority.
I have dreams. Even if I’m not sure what they look like in this moment, I know they are there. I’ve written them down over the years, and while I may not be able to read them and see them come to fruition right in this moment, they are not lost.
Your dreams are not lost until you give them up.
But on that note, if you find that your passions have changed, if you find that there’s something you love far more than any of your previous dreams, it’s okay.
It’s okay to have a new dream. It’s okay to even give up an old dream if all it does is make you depressed and hopeless.
Sometimes, when you give up a dream, and work on a new dream for a while, though, you find that old dream comes back to you in a way you never would have imagined before.
Take a step back before you give up your dream, though.
Creativity is often treated like a well. Sometimes it can go dry, and when that happens, you have to dig a new well. I’ve not dug a well, but I have dug in our heavy, Oklahoma clay soil to make my garden beds. It’s hard. You don’t want to have to do this for your creative well ever.
Ideally, you treat your creativity like a spring. Springs are self-sustaining, and they just need maintenance to stay clear so they don’t become stagnant. Everyone’s creativity works differently, though, and it’s with persistence that you will find the things that feed your creativity.
(And on that note, don’t forget that you have to literally feed your creativity. If you find that you’re lacking focus and energy, look at the fuel you’re giving your body. Your brain is the conduit between your soul and your body, after all, but your brain is still a physical part of you, and requires TLC just like your body does.)
You are so much more than ‘just’ a writer.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t tell people you’re a writer.
But don’t let writing hinder you from living.
Writing is just what you do. And it can be what you are, but you’ll write so much better if you’re other things, too. If you live.
I’m an urban farmer. A caretaker of this little .21 acres of earth that we’ve somehow acquired, and I can tell you nothing clears my head faster than getting outside and getting my hands covered in dirt.
I’m a seamstress, though I haven’t worked on anything other than a baby quilt in the last two years. I nearly went to school to study fashion & costume design. Sewing is the only other thing, besides writing, that I’ve actually won awards for.
I’m a cook (though mostly be necessity). I bake. There is something soothing about kneading a loaf of bread by hand. I’m going to try my hand at sourdough soon, and I’m so excited for that! I love the idea of not buying yeast.
Others of you are moms or dads. Business owners (and not of your just writing business, but other ones). You’re public servants. Doctors. Nurses. Veterinarians. Sales people – in retail. Some of you work at McDonald’s. On construction crews.
But you dream of writing as well.
Don’t let life make your creativity spring go stagnant. Even if you only get an hour a week to maintain it, keep going.
And if you can’t always write in that one hour, don’t give up. Just make sure whatever you do doesn’t end in frustration. Do something fun.
So, Rebekah, if you’re not sure you want to be a writer, what are you doing about it?
Well. I’m not giving up. But I am stepping back. I’ve been in a similar situation once before, and it’s why I’m not a fashion or costume designer today.
For a time, I was a freelance seamstress.
And you know what I found out?
I love sewing. But I despise sewing for money, on someone else’s deadline, and on someone else’s project. I ‘made it my job’ and I hated it.
I tried to make writing my job, and that hasn’t ended well, either.
So I’m stepping back, and letting writing become a hobby I love again. I don’t know how long that will take, and I’m going to keep working on writing things, but no more deadlines. No more worrying about “what if a publisher doesn’t like this? what if a reader doesn’t like this?”
I simply need to love writing again.