So a few months ago I was trudging through editing purgatory and making my FINAL revisions to The Things They Didn’t Bury—combing through every sentence and every word trying to get it as close to almost perfection as I possibly could before its publication in December. The first ¾ of the book I edited in a fury, diligently working on it every free hour I had for almost two weeks. I made some HUGE changes and added a whopping ten thousand more words. I was totally in the zone, every error or confusing bit of prose or problem with continuity jumping right out at me and the subsequent solution just as clear. Things were going great. In fact better than great! I was suddenly having revelation after revelation about a two year old manuscript that just a week earlier I was so sick of looking at that I was this close to ripping my hair out! I could finally see the finish line and was experiencing this new rush of confidence and excitement that seemed to have arrived just in time—you know just a few months before I planned on actually sharing this formerly solitary endeavor with the masses.
And then in the midst of my triumph and accompanying victory dance came the funk. Fast and furious it took over and ruined everything. I have no idea where it came from or why or how. But I hit a wall. A really thick wall that I couldn’t tear down, scale, or even tunnel under. I only had 20,000 words to go, just six more chapters to revise and then I’d be done. Forever. Then I could finally move on to editing the next book and finishing up the rough draft of the 3rd. But all of that was still in limbo, so much time wasted all because I couldn’t get through those last 20,000 words. And it wasn’t like normal writer’s block where I just couldn’t find the words. This funk had more than just my creativity on lockdown, it also somehow managed to completely arrest any kind of motivation I had to even open up the word document and stare at the screen.
I was so sick of that manuscript, I mean literally sick; just the thought of it made me want to vomit. Sorry for the mental picture but I’m just trying to be honest. I mean I wasn’t just tired of working on it I actually loathed the thing. Which was scary because just a month earlier I was still totally enamored and all giddy every time I opened up the word document. So obviously this was bad, I mean really bad, so bad that the fate of its publication literally hung in the balance.
This had never happened to me before. Sure I’d had my days where I just didn’t feel like writing, not because I couldn’t come up with anything, but because I just wasn’t in the mood. But this wasn’t about just not being in the mood—moods are fleeting and for me a bad one never lasts more than a couple of days. But it had been three weeks, going on four and I just couldn’t afford to waste any more time. I felt like I was moving backwards. I started brainstorming remedies and trying to clear my head, which resulted in watching a lot of True Blood, and pinning a lot of cheesy inspirational quotes on pinterest, the sentiments of which I couldn’t seem to adopt. But none of it was working. And then one day I made a breakthrough.
I wasn’t any more interested in getting back to editing than I had been the day before or for the past two weeks for that matter but I did realize that maybe this psychological stalemate I’d been having with my manuscript had nothing to do with my creativity or my abilities but it had everything to do with how long I’d been working on this one story and my subconscious, as afraid of change as always, just wasn’t ready to let go of it. What if subconsciously I wasn’t ready for the end and therefore was putting it off. The closer I got to the publication date the more nostalgia and self-doubt and fear and all of these conflicting emotions began to impede my creative process.
But it wasn’t just my fear of finally being finished and having to move on to the next thing that was holding me back but it was also my fear of failing. Of course when I hit publish at the end of December that was an incredibly realistic possibility and so I had been purposefully trying to evade the inevitable—not that I’m going to fail as an author or that the book is going to fail in general but that for some readers it will. Because some readers just won’t like it. I will not please everyone or even most everyone and those are the facts.
So what was really stopping me from writing? The very cliché quest for perfection. We all do it (even though I didn’t realize how much so until recently) and it’s that fear of being imperfect that was getting in the way. I was trying to combat it any way I could by brooding over the same paragraph for four days, or spending hours plotting out projects two years in the future, or trying to come up with a completely ridiculous writing schedule that detailed my itinerary every day for the next year. Yes I am that crazy! So once I realized that ALL of my stress was SELF-IMPOSED I had to stop. I mean how stupid? So I got rid of my ridiculous deadlines and I took a break—at the end of which I was chomping at the bit to get back to work. There will be enough pressure on me when I’m finally a working author (you know the kind whose writing actually pays their bills) that I might as well enjoy the process now that I’m still a nobody who only writes for fun. That’s what it’s all about anyway.
So if you’re suffering from your own funk here is my advice:
The problem is not your ability. The problem is you’re imperfect and you haven’t accepted it yet.
The story will still be there whenever you decide to get back to it and if you’re good at what you do, you’re not going to spontaneously wake up one day and have somehow lost your talent—if you’ve spent time building up those skills, they aren’t just going to go away. So don’t panic. Just because you’re having an off day or an off month it’s ok. Just be patient.