On writing: or not

skywriters block

I’ve stopped. It’s been coming for a while. It wasn’t intentional at a conscious level, although I suspect my unconscious knew exactly what it was doing. I actually feel all right. Not elated, but not desperate either and most importantly I feel better than I did when I was doing it.

I’m talking about writing of course, or more specifically writing to get published. Somewhere along the way I lost sight of why I was writing in the first place. I don’t know whether this is a hiatus or something more permanent. I am trying not to think about it because I think that is what I need to do (or not do). I do know before I stopped I was crabby and bitter rewriting the same novel over and over because the thought of starting something new seemed pointless. Everywhere I looked success was happening to other people. If I could only cut out the excess words, make this character nicer, show not tell better I would make it too. I would get published.  Each rejection scored deeper than the last until I began not only to hate everything I wrote but also myself for having the audacity to think I could write at all.

It’s been nearly two month since I last ‘wrote’ anything, and by that I mean rewrote/ tweaked/ added to something I had already written. I haven’t actually written anything new for over a year other than fragments, which I haven’t been able to finish; a massive red flag, which I completely failed to notice while in the grip of self-loathing and envy.

It’s been a relief to still those derisive, berating, destructive thoughts. To say ENOUGH!

It may well be the case that the only difference between a successful author and failed writer is the former didn’t give up, but equally doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome is the definition of insanity.

I’m sort of waiting but not waiting at the same time. I may never get that full on first time rush again, but I’ve decided, by not deciding, to leave it up to my unconscious; the place where my writing comes from, but it is also where my dark, destructive thoughts arise.

In the meantime I will read and read and read some more. I love books. I love brilliant characters. I love where fiction takes me. I will not read to analyse and dissect, but for the utter joy of it. I will support my fellow writers when they get their break without envy or regret. I will learn to love the craft again.

If I am meant to write I will write, but this time I won’t worry about what it is, or how many words it is supposed to have. I won’t worry about POV or motivation or whether the characters are likeable. I won’t worry about finishing it, sharing it, or even liking it. And, atrocious simile or not, I will stop wearing my writing like a hair shirt and wear it like a silk scarf instead – casually, lightly and most importantly of all for the sheer delight of it.

I’ve not so much stopped writing as stopped head butting the wall.

Any other writers out there reached this point? If so, what happened next for you?  


10 thoughts on “On writing: or not”

  1. You’ve really touched a nerve within me, Juliet. Something snapped as I read this, and I think it was a smidgen of envy. I want to read and read and read for pleasure. I don’t want to think about editing and critiquing, but I do still want to finish the story I’ve begun writing, or do I?

    I’ve lost faith in my story, convinced it’s not going to work, but I have a deadline to work to. For the first time, I have an unfinished novel that needs to be finished and refined by March. Has the deadline with it’s associated pressures spoilt my writing joy? Hard to say at this point, but my other problem is a lack of time. When I have the time to write, I do still enjoy the process.

    I don’t believe for a moment you didn’t get a publisher because of POV problems, unlikable characters or other writing related flaws. I believe that gaining a publisher these days is extremely difficult unless you have some astounding credential that makes them pay attention to what you write. I’d still buy your book if you self-published. Maybe like me, you know you can’t market and you won’t sell many copies, but the beauty of it all is that once I’d published Absent Children, I stopped thinking about it and the next story took off in my head.

    Enjoy your ‘time off’.

  2. Hi Juliet, I had to respond to this post. I really feel for you having gone through that crappy slump and I agree with the previous poster Juli that your lack of a breakthrough in getting published is unlikely to be down to some fatal flaw in your writing. I had a look at your about page and you have achievement a hell of a lot more than most, something not to lose sight of.
    I am currently revising my first novel and finding it a gruelling process, regularly losing faith in the quality of the manuscript. What I feel about the book now is that I just want to get it to a coherent, readable finished state and then I want rid of it. Of course I will try to get it published but mostly I just want it out of my hair so I can pursue other writing ideas.
    It sounds like your novel has taken the joy away and blocked you from new writing for too long. I really hope this turns out to be a pause and you will continue again at some point in the future.
    One other thing: I attended a course at the Irish Writers Centre yesterday about short story publishing and while I found it very useful and informative there was something vaguely depressing about the whole thing and I think it was that aura of desperation and self-doubt that aspiring writers have. You could hear it in the questions people asked. I found myself vowing not to let that happen to me as I’m still relatively new to this and mostly enjoying myself.
    I’ve gone on a bit long here. Keep the faith!

  3. Hi Juli, thanks for commenting. I wrote this post awhile ago but was scared to post it in case people saw me as a failure – I am so glad you connect with it. It’s funny but since I have come clean with myself and said this isn’t fun anymore I have been able to write a complete short story, which I actually feel proud of (although it has a strong autobiographical element and I may not publish it). I can see how publishing is also a way of letting go, but for me I think I have still not found my voice and this ‘time off’ is really about me writing in whatever style I want and not worrying about it being a certain thing. Good luck with the next book. x

  4. Hi, found this because of Agnus Castus lol, but I write too – for many years as a journalist but now nearly done with a book. I just wanted to say – yes, have been through this stage, and it’s horrid. But as I think you’ve discovered with your new short story, this is just a PART of the process. I think most writers go through this – and a lot of people don’t keep going, to break through it. Eventually, the blocks just stop becoming scary, because you know you can do it – and they pretty much stop happening. So glad to hear it’s working out for you now. And now off to ACastus! x

    1. Hi Amanda, thanks for your good advice. Yes I am writing again, although I wouldn’t say I am back in a rhythm. Just letting myself write what I want, when I want. Lots of luck with your novel and I really hope AC works as well for you as it does for me and others who have commented. Do come back and let me know how the book and AC work out.

  5. Thanks, Juliet. Writing fiction is so strange. It bears absolutely no relation to writing fact, I’d say (which was a humbling learning curve!). Now, I KNOW I’ll hit walls. But then I also KNOW I can work through them. They just don’t really bother me any more. But until I worked through to that stage, I went round and around and around writing Chapter 1-3 of one book after another – or sometimes the same one for months!
    One big thing I realised – I didn’t know my craft. In the end, I took over a year off from writing to learn it, and I’m so glad I did. It’s like having a roadmap. you don’t get lost so much.
    Though, of course, then I learnt that between learning craft and getting back to writing, there’s this really wooden, boring, unpleasant stage where you need to implement it for a while until it becomes natural! I’m sure there are other surprises awaiting, but I’m actually enjoying it now (phew). Sounds like you’re going back there. It’s an amazing thing to do – and you get to do it in pjs with chocolate. Win-win. x

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