Conquering The Funk

*To celebrate my one year blogging anniversary, I’ll be posting some of my favorite posts from 2013 through the month of December*

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:

STOP.

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.

*Originally posted on 2/5/13*

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2 thoughts on “Conquering The Funk

  1. I’m so glad I read this. I had a rough couple of weeks where I got virtually no revisions done. It’s my first novel and I had the same feelings as you did. I felt sick, even ashamed for not making any progress. I didn’t mention it and I stopped blogging for about a week.

    Now I’ve realized that patience is key in the writing process. I have these visions of what I want my novel to be like, but it never comes out that way. I’m sure that’s because I’m stuck on trying to be perfect. And like writing, getting over the desire to be perfect is a process too.

    • Exactly! And a more difficult process than the actual writing sometimes. Now that I’m mid-way through my fifth novel, I’ve learned a lot about my own personal ebb and flow when it comes to my writing process. I’m so aware of it now that I can plan my deadlines according to when I know I’ll be on the verge of burn out or when I know I’ll have a hard time getting things done. There comes a time during every first draft, about 3/4 of the way through where I hit a wall and this is a good time to spend a week working on revisions for something else. I know when I have major re-writes to do that it can take me 2-3 days just to get in the right state of mind so I give myself about two weeks total. And when I’m staring down that final copy-edit I know that if I don’t get the entire thing done in two days, I’ll have terrible anxiety about things I may have missed and I’ll be forced to start all over. When I started to realize that I was experiencing these blocks around the same point with every manuscript, I also had the amazing revelation that it wasn’t me. Or, more specifically, that it wasn’t because I sucked. There’s so much that goes in to writing both mentally and emotionally and experiencing blocks is totally natural. What’s important is that we learn to be patient with/and show compassion to ourselves. Because if we constantly berate ourselves for not getting enough work done, after a while we’ll just stop showing up completely. Because who really wants to work for a tyrant who constantly belittles you?

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