Sunday 12 April 2015

Writing when burnt out

For the last few months, I've been finding it difficult to write. It's been for a whole bunch of reasons, including a very busy period before Christmas and finally coming to the end of a few long-term issues and stresses, some of which went on for years. Once it was all done, I deflated a bit. And I've found getting my energy back difficult.

And I'm the kind of person that withdraws when they feel like that. That doesn't want anyone to pay attention to me. That just wants to burrow away and not deal with anybody or anything.

These are not ideal conditions for writing. And I strongly suspect that I'm far from alone in going through periods where I feel like this. So I thought I'd explore it a little.

Part of it is that putting your writing out there is an exposing thing to do. You're taking something that is very personal and letting people see what they think of it. This writing thing, it's a compulsion. A secretive, furtive thing, that you can't really do as a social activity. Most of it is done on your own, quietly. And like most furtive, secretive things, sharing it with an audience can feel a little exposing.

But you'll have people you can share with. When you start writing, that's a very small group. Perhaps some family. Perhaps some friends. And you're probably looking for some element of validation. "Can I actually do this?"

That's a scary thing to do. And taking the steps towards trying to get published, whether in short or long form, are scary as well. You have to take this personal thing, that you're very close to, and ask other people to judge it. Magazine editors. Website owners. Agents. Publishers. And with the awareness that they may even want to tell you what they think. They may love it. But they may hate it. And, even worse, they may tell you why. And even worse, you may agree with them.

It's tempting to keep it to yourself. But the longer you do that, the more personal it becomes. The more private it becomes. And so the more difficult it becomes to expose to the light and share with other people. It's one of the reasons I've set up writing groups, and run the one I'm currently part of for the last four years. Talking to people about your writing, and sharing it in a safe environment is a good way to get over some of those nerves. Because if you want to be a writer, it involves people reading your work.

Being published is exposure. Both in a good and a bad way. You're putting yourself out there in front of people. People who know you, people that remember you, people that like you, people that don't like you. You can't pick and choose - that's part of the point. And once it's done, once it's out there... it's out there. There's no going back.

That's good, I think. A writing career, I believe, is all about building. It's all about building your confidence, building your profile, building your audience and maybe even building your income. You get better at writing by writing.

If you don't put your work out there, it's difficult to get better. You have to expose it to the light and see what people think of it. Sometimes they'll like it. Sometimes they won't. But if it's going to be something that's real, that's going to live and breathe, it has to stop being in your head, and has to stop being something that you just endlessly polish and polish and polish. Sometimes, it's got to be tested.

At this point in time, I've had a few things published and began to see some success in terms of response. Some people really liked Deadlines and POV. More, as far as I've seen, than didn't. And that's all good. I enjoyed putting something out there that I made up in my brain-meats and put into words and see if they sank or swam. I tested it. And I'm going to keep testing stuff, not just because I have to, but because I want to.

And getting to the point where I'm comfortable with that isn't easy. I've had to take a couple of steps back and realise that I've been trying to juggle a lot in my life, and trying to do all of them means that I'm not always doing all of them well. I have to occasionally build in some time where I'm not doing anything and it's okay for me not to do anything.

I have the kind of mindset where if I'm not doing something productive, I start feeling guilty. And while that's motivating as hell in a lot of ways, it's also a way that adds a lot of pressure. And when I'm not feeling at my most confident, it's only making me feel worse. And when that happens, not writing makes me feel guilty, which makes me feel more anxious, which makes me less able to write. Not fun.

I'm keeping working on it. I'm working on my next novel, and then I'll look at polishing up the first novel I ever wrote. I'm currently unagented, so I'll be looking for an agent again at some point soon. I'm also writing some comic script and other projects. But I'm not working to a deadline here, and it's important sometimes to remember that feeling like I'm falling behind is a self-imposed deadline.

I'm only going to be able to do it if I shift gears a little. Remembering that if I need to take a little "me" time, that's not going to break me completely. I don't lose the steps I've already completed.

So, if you're feeling in a similar boat, do remember that every now and then, it's okay to just settle back and enjoy the sea. If you're constantly racing and constantly pushing yourself, sometimes you'll burn out a little bit.

You can get it back. Totally (and right now, I'm feeling more like I'm beginning to get back to it). But if you're spiraling, sometimes you need to stop, take stock and make sure you're okay, because otherwise, you're just going to run smack into a wall that stops you for much longer.

Quitting is bad. Don't quit. But stopping to breathe a bit is okay too. You don't stop a panic attack by stressing your way out of it. And you don't go through burn out without needing a little recovery time. But then you start up again and you keep going.

Writing isn't a sprint. It isn't an endurance test. You can get a certain amount of the way through sheer stubbornness, but you need to take care of yourself as well.

But whatever stage you're at in your career, you're going to go through points where you don't feel capable of exposure. Where the idea of sharing your writing would be like sharing your deepest, weirdest, innermost thoughts (or even, gulp, your browser history). There's no superhuman trick to confidence. Even the most talented go through points where they feel like they're idiots who shouldn't be allowed crayon in case they accidentally write something somewhere.

So, realistically, you're probably going to feel like this at some point. You may feel like it more often, you may feel like it less often. You may feel like it most of the time.

But it passes. Being a writer means veering wildly between embarrassing amounts of ego and crippling self-doubt. Take a bit of time. Breathe. Remember why you're doing what you're doing.

And then get back to it.

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