How to beat those mid-novel blues
The other day, I spoke to a former student on the phone. “My Writers Write box stares at me from the shelf,” she said. “I haven’t touched it in weeks.” She has deadlines at work, a daughter writing her final Matric exams. Another friend, who writes ebullient, fun romances, emailed me this week. “I have not written a word in nine months,” she confessed despondently. “I need to see you.” A friend, who lives in London, Skyped me. He is busy with exams and hasn’t touched his fantasy novel in ages—and since his last one was rejected, well, the motivation just isn’t there. What can he do?
I’ll be honest. I don’t always know what to say when others writers admit to being stuck, demotivated, frustrated, overwhelmed. My advice sounds trite, forced—placebos for people who need Prozac. I can understand their dilemma. Every writer goes through these down patches, where we can’t write, won’t write or whatever we write turns out dry, fragmented, and uninteresting.
For me, the comfort comes from knowing that I’ve been in those dark valleys before, sat dry-mouthed in front a blank page, taken a nap when I should’ve been finishing a chapter and that it passes. Rosemont Lehmann, inA Sea-Grape Tree, writes: “Trust your unhappiness like you trust your happiness.” This is true. You will learn from both. When I read this novel, I was going through a bad summer, a lonely time. I was looking after a film producer’s house while she was away in Europe, and I took her words to heart. I sat at the pool every morning and wrote one story after another.
At night, her words would come back to me. I realised that when we let go of our shame about our unhappiness, guilt, laziness, past—we don’t stay trapped. We forgive ourselves. We move on.
Look for lifelines
The good news is that the dead period will pass. It takes some positive effort, to be sure. A trip to a second hand book store, a new notebook, a reading hour before bed: these are little Writing Prozac pills for the weary and depressed writer. Look for the lifeline—a ten-minute free writing session, asking a friend for help, going back to writing group—and hold on to it.
A while ago, I read a book that said you can come to writing at any stage of life and you don’t have to feel guilty for it. You may be starting a new business, raising a family, having an affair or travelling. When you come back to writing, you will still possess the talent you always had. The writing gods don’t punish you.
This week, a friend published her second romance novel with a major publisher. I met with a writer who has just completed the manuscript of his first novel at the age of 60. A delegate from a recent Short Cuts short story workshop emailed me his story to read. These writers broke through the ennui and were having fun as writers again. The best way to find yourself as a writer again is simple: start writing.
Trust yourself. It’s your story. No one else is going to tell it for you.
By Anthony Ehlers for Writers Write