Monday, March 21, 2011

Exhaustion and Fear

At some point every writer hits what we generally term "writers block." I've blogged about it before and put forward the idea that it isn't actually a block, but sheer exhaustion.

Today, running on five hours of sleep and a stiff cup of coffee, I've been thinking about it further.

Writers exhaustion is very real. It could be a minor didn't-get-enough-sleep-last-night issue that keeps you from putting words on the page for a day or two. It could be a mind-numbing months-long ordeal. (The latter is usually triggered by outside forces like being sick, stress in our non-writing lives, eating poorly, family drama, etc.) Whether it's short or long term exhaustion there's really only one solution - rest.

It's frustrating to not be working on something you love but severe exhaustion is crippling, not only to your writing but to the rest of your life as well. Don't try and push through it. Just take a break. Everyone needs a vacation now and then, even writers.

But, I've also been thinking about the idea of "writers block". I have reached the following conclusion. The only "block" to my writing is me.

Because sometimes I sit down to write and I'm not tired or hungry or depressed or angry and the words just don't want to come out.

I believe there is only one source of this block - fear.
Fear of trying something new. (Writing a horror novella for instance.)
Fear of not achieving my goals. (I said I'd finish this by the end of the week but I don't think it's possible.)
Fear of not doing the story justice. (It's so perfect in my head, what if it's crap when it hits the paper?)

"Oh, that's not my problem," you say.

Let me just say, bull-shit.

None of us likes to admit to being afraid of doing the thing we love. And sometimes we won't know what it is that scares us, but fear is the only constant explanation for writer's block.

There are other reasons thrown out there. "My story just isn't working." "I don't have any ideas." "The wind isn't blowing from the east." "I've run out of pretzels." But the fact of the matter is we write every day. We write emails. We write blog posts. We write on forums complaining about how the words just don't want to come and we can't write ANYTHING. Except of course, everything we are writing.

The only thing stopping me from writing my novella is me and my fear that it won't be scary or horrific or that the ending will suck. It is not some mysterious plot hole or the stars being in the wrong alignment.

It is fear.

And the only way out is through it.

So I will keep working on the novella. Even when I only write a couple sentences a day. Even when I doubt every single plot point. Even when I'm certain it will be the biggest piece of crap ever.

Because eventually I'll remember that writing is what I love. And I'm good at it. And really and truly I already write horror with the label torn off. So why am I worrying about it?


ruth said...

Oh, yeah... absolutely it's fear. I've been so honked on this memoir. I know why, but that doesn't help. Stomach knotting fear. :( Which is only an explanation. Not an excuse.

So courage, and all that. Dive back in. Write anyway.

A.G. Carpenter said...

I believe that recognizing a problem is the first step to solving it. Sounds kind of silly, but admitting I'm afraid to write something helps me move past that fear. Did a few short memoir essays for a Creative Non-Fiction class a while back. They were some of the hardest pieces I ever wrote. Constantly wondering if people would think differently about me once they read them. (Maybe they did, but in the long run it didn't matter.)

Good luck with yours. :)

Mark Fenger said...

The best cure I've heard for writer's block is the bum in seat method. Establish a word count that you want to write each day. Sit down for as long as it takes to meet your goal.


No excuses.

The other important thing is to start immediately. Don't brew yourself a coffee, don't check your e-mail. As soon as your writing time starts sit down and write a few hundred words with zero procrastination, again, no excuses. Once you have a start it's much easier to come back to it after you brew that cup of coffee. (methods courtesy of Stephen King)

A.G. Carpenter said...

Mark: Butt in chair is a great method. Too frequently we don't stick with it the way we should. (Of course, with a toddler at home I find myself with legitimate reasons to get my butt out of the chair, but that's another story.)

Of course, writing every day helps keep the momentum going. When I'm writing every day I don't tend to find I'm at a loss for what to write. It's only when I stop for a while that I lose that "spark".

Thanks for stopping by. :)