Writing through adversity, huh?
Probably not the most uplifting blog topic. However, unless you lead some sort of charmed life, the ugly truth is that outside events will eventually impact your writing-world—illness, accidents, relationship-ending love-life complications, serious financial blows, deaths.
For artists, it feels as if there’s often an added layer of complication heaped upon those already heart-breaking events, because our culture sends us a mixed message. First, that art isn’t “real work.” Art, and artists, are continually undervalued by consumers. Look at the recent piracy discussions in publishing, and readers’ defense of why it’s acceptable to steal books, if you have any doubt.
At the same time, Western culture, especially in the US, touts toughing it out and getting the work done, no matter what. Don’t quit. Do the job. No excuses. Put in those forty hours plus, circumstances be damned.
Clearly, I think the first message is complete bullshit. As a recent viral meme pointed out—try going twenty-four hours without tv shows, movies, billboards, radio, music, commercials, magazines, video games, speech writers, books, graphic novels, fashion choices, museums, photography, dance, etc. Then tell me art is useless and unnecessary in daily life.
As for the second message…lets just say I’ve bought into that one. Get your shit done. If you promised something, carry through. Life happens, deal with it, and go, okay? Without a doubt, a decent work ethic is vital to getting and staying published.
Percentage wise, life is usually made up more of varying degrees of stress and upheaval than pure nirvana. Which means if you’re waiting only for those periods when the stars to align on a gloriously sunny day, as you sit in a charming Parisian coffee shop with your new Macbook, to write…you won’t ever hit a significant, sustainable word count.
But there’s stress, and then there’s STRESS. I’m not talking about writer’s block, or lazy streaks, or late for work/boss yelled at you/traffic was horrendous days.
I’m talking the kind of strain where a writer is mentally and emotionally spent from the impact of life altering events.
When the worst hits, the well of imagination and/or ambition may dry up.
There are multiple blogs, posts, TED talks, and panels on dealing with writer’s block and word-droughts. Most advice falls into the go-do-something-fun camp or the power-through-BICHOK camp.
Both are popular approaches because they have merit. Sometimes, reading a good book, taking a day trip to a museum or con, or a weekend in the mountains refills the well.
Occasionally, persisting and banging out words, any words, works, too. Battering at it until the wall crumbles, and you can once again see through to the other side, and your story.
However, there’s a third, overlooked option.
Often, people discuss fight or flight as a character’s options in a high-stress situation. Except, oops, there’s also a third possibility. Fight, flight, or freeze.
In our version of writer options, it’s refresh or power through. Except there’s a third choice here, too. Refresh, power through, or quit.
Sometimes, wounds are deep enough and weariness has ground you down far enough that even playing isn’t fun. “Fun” becomes simply another task sapping your resources.
And working? Working consists of making it through the day.
In those circumstances, mindlessly staring at that blank screen and blinking cursor or repeatedly opening and closing a doc file only produces more stress and anxiety, while accomplishing jack.
So if anyone needs it? I’m giving you permission to walk away. For a day or a week or month. For months upon months.
That thing about it takes as long as it takes to write a story? That. Walking away for a time can be part of that process. Don’t sacrifice mental or physical health reenacting a literary version of Sisyphus and his rock.
Walk away from the story or from the writing for as long as YOU need. You, not CPs, betas, well-meaning friends, industry “pros” or that guy on Absolute Write says is the correct amount of time.
Your notes will still be there when you come back. The publishing industry will still be there. The world won’t end, and no one will brand you with a Scarlett Q for quitter.
If they try? Send ‘em my way, and then go back to taking that time to heal yourself and your creativity.