When life gets in the way…
When life kinda sucks, it affects your work. Everyone knows this, right?
When life kinda sucks and your job is a creative one, it really affects your work. Whether we like it or not, our creative mojo is heavily influenced by what’s going on in our lives. It’s one thing to be busy–you don’t have the time to write because you’re __(making ends meet/sick with scarlet fever/in outer space/etc.)___. It’s quite another thing to forgo writing because you just don’t feel like it.
This is something I’ve tried to avoid admitting for a long time. I’m the Queen of BICHOK after all–I work from the wee hours of the morning to the wee hours of the night.
Sure, I’m not writing the entire day, but only because there is a LOT more in an author’s job description than just writing (such as blog posts like this. ;)).
But whether I’m writing or working on writing-related-things, when I don’t accomplish enough each day, I feel rotten and guilty, and in turn I get depressed.
Now…what if I was depressed to begin with? What if I’ve just gotten some crap news or had a fight with a friend? Then I don’t feel like working because I’m unhappy…and when I don’t manage to meet my daily goals, I get even MORE unhappy.
It’s a freaking exponential curve! O_O
Sometimes it helps to be on a deadline (self-imposed or editorially imposed). You have to get it done, so you BICHOK miserably until the end. But…most of the time, those deadlines only serve to make it worse. You pull your hair out, stare mournfully at the computer, and wonder how you ever thought you could cut it as a writer.
I’m letting an emotional hiccup interfere with my work! you think. WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME!?
Yet, no matter how hard you try, when you sit at the keyboard, the words don’t come. Or what you do manage to get out is painful and slow. On an average day, I can produce about 3000-4000 words. On a good day, I might reach closer to 5000-6000 words.
On a bad day…I can sit and type all day but only manage 100 words–100 bad words that won’t even end up in the final manuscript because I was only working to keep myself from feeling guilty.
And this is when it’s time to for me–and I bet a lot of you other artists out there–to step back and reevaluate. This is when it’s time to decide two things:
1) First, figure out why you’re not producing. Is it something as “simple” as writer’s block–i.e. you don’t know what to write next? Or is it bigger? Is it a sheer lack of motivation or interest in the story? Is it something hanging over your head that keeps you from sinking into your book?
2) Next, forgive yourself. If it’s more than just laziness or writer’s block–if it’s a rough patch at your day job or drama in your family or straight up depression–then you absolutely must FORGIVE YOURSELF. Deadline or no, if you didn’t produce today, that is OKAY.
It sounds so easy to just “forgive”, but as the master of beating myself up, I know it’s not really that easy. And that’s where the final steps comes into play…
3) Take a break. Yep. Do the one thing we guilty artists are loath to do: step away from the computer and DO SOMETHING THAT MAKES YOU HAPPY. Maybe for the next three hours or for the next six months (if you don’t have a deadline, that is). If you aren’t producing anything worthwhile, then you could be making it worse by continuing to try. Spinning your wheels might lead to epiphanies later on…or it might lead to deeper depression and more work-avoidance.
There’s a reason why you see a lot of authors taking more time for their third/fourth/fifth/ten millionth books. They realized they were killing themselves trying to meet a deadline that seemed reasonable a year ago…but wasn’t actually going to work.
As much as I don’t believe in inspiration as the only way to write a book, I DO believe that your emotional state is the key to writing a good book. A book you love and want to share.
And this leads me to the last step.
4) Talk to someone. Be it a writer friend, your agent, or your editor, TALK TO THEM. Tell them what’s happening to you. Tell them you’re frustrated with your writing because you’re not producing like you want (or perhaps used to). Sometimes just expressing our problems and admitting verbally that our emotions are interfering with work is a HUGE stepping to moving on.
Like I mentioned on Friday, life threw me a big curve ball last week. For days, I was in a really emotionally looooow place. But…I had a deadline on Wednesday. I met my deadline (thank goodness), but only after I managed to talk through my problem with one of my writer buddies. Hearing her opinions convinced me not to feel guilty and also showed me how I could move past my emotions and meet my deadline.
Now you tell me: Do you ever find your creative endeavors (or perhaps other endeavors like jogging) to be affected by your emotional state? If so, what do YOU do to power on?
June 11, 2012 @ 11:03 am
Great post! I think sooo many people can relate to this. Talking is an important thing to do. For me, a good cry helps and reading/watching something fun and exciting too.
June 11, 2012 @ 12:32 pm
Oh good point!! Watching/reading helps so much! I think my first step was to go watch WILLOW this week–haha! 80s fantasy is always a pick-me-up. 😉
June 11, 2012 @ 2:05 pm
Thanks for posting this, I didn’t realize that this is what I needed. I think I will be leaving the house today and get some fresh air. I can practically hear the pool calling my name…
June 11, 2012 @ 4:11 pm
Oh, the pool! Yes! Go relax and do anything but writing! 😀
June 11, 2012 @ 3:17 pm
I most definitely go through this, and have been recently. It’s really *really* hard to do the whole forgive yourself bit, but you’re right. It is also 100% essential to getting past it. <3
June 11, 2012 @ 4:13 pm
Yes…forgiving myself is also realllllly hard, but I’m getting better at it. The key for me is remembering that the worst that will happen if I don’t get as much accomplished is…well, I’m a little slower than I planned. No death, no homelessness, no world-falling-off-its-axis. So really, why make it into such a big deal when it isn’t? That thought process seems to help me. 😉
June 11, 2012 @ 3:30 pm
So true Susan, I get into the guilt-spiral at times because I feel I’m not doing enough… but my deadlines are all self-imposed, so I can fail to meet them and it’s not a huge deal. I think it is wise to recognize your emotions and try to deal with them as best you can, because it does make a difference. Hang in there, and I hope this week is much, much better than the last.
June 11, 2012 @ 4:14 pm
Thanks, Kat! It IS much better already. 🙂 And you’re so right: it’s NOT a huge deal. Even when the deadlines are external, if it’s really a problem, editors can be very forgiving and understanding people (they go through the same things we do!!). So again, talking to someone can usually help a lot. 😀
June 12, 2012 @ 1:57 am
Such great suggestions! And yes. Deadlines help. 🙂 But so does not stressing about deadlines. I got off the phone with my editor after having just worked through the HUGE revisions that needed to happen in this round, with an extremely tight fifteen day time frame. I hung up the phone feeling unbelievably stressed, ran to pick up my kids from their last day of school. Within two hours, our world came crashing down, and I realized it meant my kids would need me to be extremely present. My hubby came home from work that day and announced they had a big meeting asking everyone to work lots of extra hours. So I’d have no help with the “extremely present” parenting thing. It gave me a chance to remember what was truly important (my kids), and I found that giving my time to them made me less stressed every time I BICHOK to work on revisions. They’re actually going unbelievably well, considering the circumstances. Maybe even better than if the crisis hadn’t happened. I guess we’ll see exactly how well in four days when they’re due. 🙂
June 12, 2012 @ 12:35 pm
GOOD LUCK!!!! Oh my goodness, that sounds rough! But–as you’re finding–you CAN do it. It just won’t be pleasant. But in 4 days, you can freakin’ relax!!!! I’ll be thinking of you until then!
June 12, 2012 @ 3:23 am
Oh gosh, I feel like this ALL the time. I’m always thinking about writing, yet sometimes, while I’m sitting at the computer, I feel like perhaps what I think is really good may seem lame to others. So, I often get distracted with other things (like you mentioned in #2) and then I feel guilty taking too much time away from my writing. I think I need to spend more time with with my writing, but at the same time, there are so many other things I must do, too. I know I need to do other real-life stuff, too (like my trip to the library, although, bringing home 4 new books may be TOO distracting! LOL!) It’s so hard to manage the time. I don’t see how you do it, Susan!
BTW, sorry to hear you had a bad time last week. I’m hoping your talk helped you out 🙂 Friends: there’s nothing like them!
June 12, 2012 @ 12:37 pm
<3 So true about the friends bit. 😉 And hey, sometimes reading is the best thing to do. You never can have too many books under your belt. I'm the total opposite lately because I've let work and stress take me AWAY from reading…I literally haven't read a book in over a month–isn't that TERRIBLE? But I just went to the local library last weekend and checked out in INCARCERON. I'm so pumped to finally read again!!
June 13, 2012 @ 12:24 am
A whole month without reading another book? I feel lost if I’ve gone a week without reading a book. But, I’m sure if I had a busy writer’s schedule like you do, things would be different for me. I’ve heard lots of good things about INCARCERON. Hope you like it! I’ll be reading one of my other library books while meeting Richelle Mead at my favorite book store tomorrow, so, that’s more time away from the stress of editing (which I’m hoping will clear my mind more!)