There comes a point in every writer’s life when he or she has that moment. You know what I’m talking about…that second of sheer terror when a rogue thought appears and begins planting seeds of doubt.
“What if I can’t write anymore?”
It’s a very real, very common fear among us literary types. In Bag of Bones, Stephen King addressed it. His main character had been attempting to publish stockpiled manuscripts for years only to find none of them were any good. Each of us has a moment where we look at our in-progress folders and wonder what’s going to come of the things we’ve started but have yet to finish. We wonder if the legacies we’ve created to date will be enough to sustain us (and in most cases, we know they’re not). But most of all, we wonder about the reality which could accompany that hypothetical loss of words.
Let me tell you what it feels like.
I have twenty-three unfinished works in my In-Progress folder. Twenty-three of these little monsters are things with mostly- or fully-formed plots in varying stages of completion. Some are short and some are long. They could be something one day. If we expand that to all of the unfinished things I’ve started over the years, we jump to somewhere above eighty. Granted not all of these are marketable things. Many of them are bits and pieces of things that have come and gone and will likely never see the light of day. Some of them are stream-of-consciousness writing, or scenes from dreams… things which could one day be used to fill in gaps in a plot somewhere. My point is, there’s a lot of stuff just hanging out there in the bowels of the cloud, waiting for a day in the sun.
It used to be I could write 6,000 words or more every day. I could rip through a short story in a day or two, a novella in a week. I used to have that writing stamina. Case in point – I wrote my paranormal romance novella, Blood Doll, in four days sitting in my grandmother’s hospital room in September 2011. It was what I did to keep my mind off the fact that she was sicker than we realized and would ultimately land in a nursing home for the last three years of her life. But back then I could do that, and the words coming out of me were good.
But the last four years have seen me on a steady decline word-wise. It really began in April 2012 with the crippling depression following my father’s death. Losing him changed me, and not for the better. I got very, very lost, and if we’re being perfectly honest, I’m still doing a little bit of searching. Not to find who I was, mind you…but who I am now without him in my life.
From April 2012 to December 2014, I completed and published two novels, a co-authored novella, and five short stories, each with longer lead times in between. Also during that time, I had the rights to four works returned to me, which on top of the nightmare that was my life for those few years, was a blow to my writerly ego. They were doing pretty well, but my publisher chose to go in a different direction, and I had no control over the fate of my beloved books. Couple that with the multiple times I’ve been burned by independent presses, it sort of put me off the idea of submitting anything. Frustration and heartbreak suck, y’all.
Since January 1, 2015, I have completed two short stories. Only one has been contracted. I have two publishers waiting on novels which aren’t written. I have two blogs languishing by the wayside while I sit here paralyzed by my own self-doubt. I have ideas, sure. Lots of them. I even have notebooks full of outlines and scribbled notes for various plots and scenes, but I can’t find the words to properly execute what’s in my head.
There’s real, physical pain associated with this type of writer’s block. Anxiety hurts, and the tension it causes in my body brings headaches, muscle pain, and all sorts of other aches and itches. The Pavlovian response to those negative stimuli is enough to break any writer of the habit. The thought that doing something I love will come with that sort of physical pain has put me off even trying lately. I know, I know…that’s a stupid way to look at things and I’m only hurting myself in the end. Logically, I get that.
Emotionally…that’s another story. So rather than sitting down at my computer or with my tablet and actually doing the writing, I find all manner of things to fill up my time. Yes, it’s a bad habit, but it’s one I’m trying to break. I know better than to let it get the best of me, but sometimes I can’t help it.
Having attended multiple conventions since my “professional” writing career started five years ago, I’ve heard every argument imaginable both for and against the concept of writer’s block. Some people say it doesn’t exist and is an excuse to procrastinate. Some say it’s real and is deadly. Others waffle between the two extremes. Personally, I believe it can be some of both. Having survived nearly a year of it, I can say it’s certainly not always an excuse. Has it been in the past? Yes. But right now, it’s not, and it’s horrible.
That man is my literary hero, in case you didn’t already know. It’s those very words above which have kept me plodding along all these months, adding words here and there to the various and sundry things in my collection. As a matter of fact, yesterday was the first day in months I actually made some sort of headway. Two-thousand words in one day is nothing short of a miracle for me right now and while I’m very happy with yesterday’s session and the outcome, I still find myself worrying about what today and tomorrow will bring. Can I do that again? Can I top it? What happens if I never finish that story?
The next time I sit down at a keyboard, there’s a good chance I’ll not get out but 100 words. Maybe even less. I can’t control the output these days. At least, not with any real consistency. I’m self-doubting and second-guessing. It sucks. It’s hard. But it’s also life.
My point here is that we aren’t always procrastinating. Sometimes we really are stuck. But it’s a phase, and this phase, like any other, will eventually pass. I’ll find my words again one day. And if you’re stuck like me, you will too.