‘What creates a writer is huge, psychological dysfunction.’ ~Kathy Lette
I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately. Not much writing to be honest, but plenty of reading. Partly because we’re very short staffed at the bar and I’m working there lots, but mostly because I’m just not ready to dive into writing to deeply yet. If you’ve been reading my posts for a while you’ll know that I’ve been having issues for the past year or two. Sure, they’re issues of my own making, but they’re still issues, and this blog is all about the realities of the writing life, so I thought I’d slit open a vein and share with you.
When I first decided to back away from writing for a while, quitting wasn’t what I had in mind. In my mind I was simply burnt out and needed some time to relax and then I’d get back to it with even more energy than before. But as time went on, getting back to it was harder and harder. It seemed like no matter how much I wanted to start writing again, I just couldn’t do it. I’d sit down in front of the computer and stare at a blank screen until I was cross-eyed. Then I’d go blog hopping, or download a movie. I managed to do some critiquing for friends, write a couple of short stories, and even start a few projects. (4 to be exact…I have a scene for each, but that’s it.)
I’d parted ways with my last agent before I finished my contracts with Berkley and Kensington so I thought maybe if I had a new agent interested in one of my ideas it would spur me on some. So, I spent some time sending out queries and talking to those that showed interest. When a couple of agents I really liked showed some interest, and I still couldn’t make myself get down to it I knew I was in trouble. Thoughts of completely quitting writing started to float through my head and I seriously considered it.
So I picked up more hours at the bar, and gave myself permission, true permission, to not even think about writing. Of course I still thought about it. Every now and then I’d think about working on a a whole new something different, but I still never sat down in front of the computer. I’d been super excited about working on an anthology with a friend just for a fun, but when it came down to the wire I just wasn’t able to force myself to write anything-even something just for fun. So I decided to focus on other creative things. I did a couple of photo shoots and set up a portfolio, and thought about turning my second bedroom-my previous writing space-into a studio. And I started reading again.
Not just reading friends books, or ones that I felt were research or competition in the same market as mine, but reading for fun. For entertainment. For enjoyment.
Ever since I got my library card I’ve been reading constantly. Pretty much anything and everything I could get my greedy little hands on. Some I only read a chapter or two of, some I devoured and then went out and bought for my keeper shelf. In the last couple of months I’ve rediscovered something I wasn’t even aware I’d lost-my love of books.
It was during this time that I realized why I was struggling so much. It wasn’t because I didn’t want to write. It wasn’t because I was trying to write the wrong genre either. It was because I seriously felt that I was incapable of writing something unique or special.
When I got over my initial burn-out I realized it had come on because I’d started to feel like I was simply churning out stories, and I was starting to struggle with my characters. By that I mean I was starting to feel as if I was unintentionally regurgitating them. I couldn’t come up with a new proposal for my editors because every time I started to get something going I’d sit back and read it, and think, “Wow, this feels familiar…and not in a good way.”
This thought made me look at my pile of recently read books, and think about the ones that I hadn’t been able to get into past the first chapter. It made me think about my comfort read authors that have been around for a long time. Authors like Linda Howard, Lee Child, Susan Elizabeth Philips and Janet Evanovich.
What am I getting at? I’ve figured out what’s been holding me back. I want to repeat the success of my previous stories, but not the stories themselves.
I only started writing in 2002, and my plan was to write a novel by 2010. Well, I way surpassed that goal. Not counting novellas and short stories, from 2005-2008 I wrote 9 novels. I now see why some writers limit themselves to one novel a year and it’s not because they can’t write faster.
Now, I’m not saying that writing fast, or many, means they won’t be as good as slow and steady. What I am saying that I learned something about me, and what I want as a writer. I want to slow down, take my time, and work at creating characters and stories that are brand new to me. I want to filter through all the ideas and characters floating around in my mind (and in my idea files) until I hit on something, or someone that truly excites me and makes me feel that driving urge to let my imagination flow with words on a page.
A couple of years ago starting to write a new story was just like starting to read a new book – exciting. I’d lost that. Now that I found my love of reading books again, I know my love of writing them isn’t far behind, and I’m getting excited again because another phase of my journey is about to start.