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roadmagician

Beginning writing again

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Some context: I've been writing since I was five years old. I finally finished a rough draft right to the end last year. 

However, this year I've found it really difficult to write. I feel discouraged with my writing and my self as a writer. When I was in a bad place, I destroyed all my old manuscripts, save one. (Better the WIPs than me, I suppose.) This month marks the longest I've ever not written or at least thought about writing. Usually I'd have something bubbling away in the back of my mind, but now... nothing. It feels like I've lost the ability to imagine. I can't remember how to write. I don't know what I love to do anymore or what I want to read or how to have fun.

Now that I'm starting on antidepressants (about damn time), I was wondering if anyone else had been in a similar space and got out of it? Any tips for easing back into writing again? The thought of tackling a whole novel again is daunting. I need to find some way to recover my love of writing.

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I wish I had better advice for you but honestly I'm in a really similar spot. I usually have several plot lines of self-indulgent stories I tell myself but its like my imagination is far away, its hard to picture my characters and setting. And I haven't touched any of my crafts in WEEKS. My creativity well is really, really dry. I've been watching my mental health, I don't THINK I'm depressed, but I'm certainly not 100% the way I was this time last year, where I had my highest word count ever. I'm trying a different, non-hormonal medication starting next week, so I'll see if that shakes me up.

As for tips? I can suggest writing prompts, low pressure mindset of 'I'll answer this prompt and throw it out later if I want to', just to practice and get the fingers moving. Free form, flow of thought answers, 500 words a day, just to get the mind going. And reading, go back and read your favourite book. Try to think of why you like it, and maybe try writing some things similar. Just like... cool scenes. Anything, just to keep writing.

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Oh yeah, for years. I felt scraped dry and thin, rattling around all hollow.

What got me out of it?

The first thing I did--and that you unfortunately might have to do--is suck. Badly. I went through a period where I wondered if I'd lost my ability completely, because everything I was banging out was truly terrible. Not, "I'm an artist and hypercritical of my stuff by default, even when it's pretty good" terrible, no, it was "I wrote better than this at age nine" terrible. Even looking back with fresh eyes on what I did during that period, I still think I sucked. I stank so bad they could smell me in Taiwan.

Please also keep in mind I stopped writing for literal years, and it sounds like you've only lost a few months, so you might be more in practice than me and have a lot easier time. But part of what tripped me up was exactly what you're describing, no motivation, no ideas, high levels of depression, and a terminal case of something that was less writer's block than it was writer's blah. I was forcing words on the page, hammering and chipping them out of a brain that didn't want to cooperate, and that's what kept causing the stink.

But I hammered at it, a little something every day--and by "little" I mean some days three sentences was all I could manage--skipping only the days where I hated myself and my writing so bad that doing so might have done more damage than good. And I wrote about what-the-frick-ever, without caring about churning out an actual finished story. In fact, that was important--I was reteaching my brain to play, and that it was safe and okay to do so. I sometimes suspect I was also doing a little brain rewiring, though I have nothing to base that on.

So, if it happens to you, forgive yourself. Hammer through, because your brain recalls. It's all in there, how much you enjoy it, all the talent and creativity and desire, it's just currently on a bad alternator. The more you chip away at it, the more you're repairing that alternator, and there comes a day where you turn the key and your creative car starts smooth as silk.

The other thing I did was read. I actually reread old favorites. I picked up Anne McCaffrey and flew the skies of Pern. I reread about the fading talent of pensing in Green Sky, the plight of the Erdlings banished underground, and glided around in a shuba. I wandered around with vampires that had been transformed to immortality by the venom of angels on an alternate earth, and engaged in a war between shifters, humans, and the emotionless psychics who wanted to enslave them on another. Anything that reminded me of why I picked up a pen in the first place was what I indulged in. And anything that sparked an idea--you know, the: I'd like to write a character like that; I want to write about that situation and put my own spin on it; I could totally write that better than this author; why did they drop this subplot, I want to go finish it; that ending was stupid, I can rewrite this and end it properly--I'd sit down and do. No holds barred.

This can also work with TV, video games, and other media. I got an entire horror story out of Sophia the First, a saccharine-sweet princess show aimed at five year olds. 🤣

You could also try writing other things just to get the brain juices flowing, like forum posts, blog posts, formulating long answers in comments sections (just don't check for replies or you'll lose your mind), stuff like that.

On other things I have used at other times in my life to get creative juices flowing:

The Creative Whack Pack
The Artist's Way Workbook (you may or may not need to get the associated book, I didn't)
Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain (left/right thinking has been debunked and this is for drawing, but some of the exercises are cool nonetheless)
Writing the Breakout Novel (and associated Workbook, well worth getting both)

Everything but possibly the Whack Pack can be found at a local library.

And hands down the best lessons in writing, creating, and shifting my thinking I ever took was Holly Lisle's How to Think Sideways class. It looks like she's giving away some lessons free, so you can try before you buy to see if you like her style of teaching (and hey, free stuff!). I never regretted the money I spent on the classes and I'm not typically a joiner. Caveat--the classes I took cost a hella lot more now than they used to. I mean, astronomically, so only do it if you were leaning towards something like this anyway. If not, check out some of her stand alone books; they cost like ten bucks and are just as good.

Heh. This wasn't offered last time, but she does have a new book/course called Writing When Your Life Has Just Exploded: A Step-by-Step Class in Getting Your Writing Back on Track After Disaster. To put that in context, in her first lesson she shared with us how she discovered her husband had been molesting her children, left him and filed to divorce his ass, only to have this very rich man try to rip her life to pieces by telling everyone they knew she divorced him just so she could get her hands on his money. And a lot of people believed it. So she knows about writing through some shit. It costs 14 bucks, and I think I'm gonna give it a go myself. I can let you know what it's like if you want.

That's about all I can think of.

Good luck; it will get better. Just give it some time, and don't pressure yourself too hard. ☺️

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Oh, I forgot (sorry for the double post).

Shake up your brain. And this will sound silly, but I mean it.

Wear socks on your hands. Walk backwards, or navigate your home with your eyes closed. Eat with your off hand. Brush your teeth with it. Try writing with it. Shake up your routines and start doing things in a different order every day. Go shopping on a different day. Stand on your head (or drape yourself upside down on a couch) and study the world around you. Take a different way home and don't hurry. Wear a piece of tape on the end of your nose.

Anything that can shake you out of old patterns of thinking will help.

Also remember things you liked doing as a kid that you never do now--jumping rope, watching the moon, playing in a bubble bath, going roller skating or on long walks, whatever. Then go do them. That one is weird, it's like rediscovering a person you lost.

But if nothing else, I highly recommend doing tasks with your off hand--that actually had been proven to help creativity and even depression. No joke.

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When I had to give up writing for a few months, I eased myself back into it afterwards. I write short stories, vignettes, character sketches. They're less daunting than novels just by being so much shorter. Less planning and thinking has to go into them. I can't say it will be the same for you, but I find that I feel less obliged to share short stories than novels, so you don't have to worry about getting straight back into the flow. You can take your time easing up to writing novels again.

If you really want to work on your novel, just doing the outline or just writing the scenes you're really excited about can help. They're less pressure and use different skills than writing the whole thing. They may feel disjointed or not work properly when you actually get around to writing the novel entirely, but that's what rewriting's for.

That's all the advice I really have, but congrats on getting help for yourself. I know it can be difficult. I hope the meds work out for you.

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I've been there, several times (and I'm in a similar situation even right now). I guess like with almost everything when it comes to writing, it boils down to finding out what works for you.

For quite a long time, I felt so empty inside that I couldn't think of anything worth writing down, my creativity was completely gone and even thinking about writing goals made me more depressed because it made me feel like a failure. Looking back, I was severely depressed during that time, and not writing was the right thing to do back then - setting even mininal writing goals would have just been additional pressure at the time, and deciding to pause writing for a while was what felt right.

I've also had phases of depression that weren't quite as severe, and writing actually helped during those times - a goal was what I needed at that time to keep me going. I never worked towards wordcount goals except for NaNoWriMo, I'd rather set myself a goal like "work on my WIPs for at least 30 minutes a day" - which could be anything from brainstorming, to plotting, worldbuilding, writing or editing.

I've read a blog post (that I can't find anymore, by an author I don't remember...) that dealt with writing and depression. The author said that what worked for her was setting a minimal wordcount goal of 200 words per day - and that goal wasn't just about writing, it was more about fighting depression, because those 200 words every day were proof to herself that she was stronger than depression, and that depression could make writing harder, but depression couldn't take writing completely away from her. She compared it to 200 middle fingers that she'd hold up towards her depression every day by writing those 200 words. 😄

In addition, I have a page in my writer's journal where I wrote down why I write and what it is that I love about writing and creating stories. When I lack motivation, reading that page sometimes helps to remind me of what I love about writing, and to spark some motivation to get me going.

I hope you feel better soon, and find a way to deal with it that feels good for you - I'm sure your inspiration will come back as soon as you feel better!

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I was in a similar situation, though not quite to the extent that you're in. I was still creating - I wrote role play posts, I created role play characters, I came up with role playing plots for the Star Wars forum role play I ran. I did stuff for school that required being creative. I took photos. But...my novel writing was suffering. I was putting so much time into writing those characters and posts and such for role playing (which, play-by-post role play and novel writing may both be writing, but in my head it's very different...especially since in this case I was writing in the Star Wars universe, so it was essentially fan fiction, which meant going to a different part of my creative brain since it wasn't my own world I was playing in) that even though I was still writing and still trying to write my own stories and participating in NaNo, I just wasn't feeling it any more. For a while I felt like I had forgotten how to write. Like I went so long without really working on a novel length story that it just fell out of my brain.

So when my Star Wars role play finally closed, I decided to "retire" from role playing. I missed writing, I missed having a community of writers to chat with about writing, to brainstorm with, to make friends with, and get feedback from. So I decided that I wanted to create that community for myself, because even though there's tons of writing Facebook and forums out there that are focused on writing/fantasy writing, I was finding it harder to immerse myself into their communities and be part of them because they were so big and it was kind of overwhelming to try and be included in things and not feel left out or like that weird newbie who wasn't already part of the cliques that seemed to have formed. I'd created tons of writing groups in the past, and they all closed for various reasons (mostly due to people going MIA/losing interest but also due to me just not putting a ton of effort into trying to keep them going, for different reasons), and this time it was going to be different. I wanted to really put the effort in this time. So I ended up creating Worldsmyths. Having the community has really helped. I've finished the drafts to two novels because of it.

The tl;dr version of all that is that for me, just having a community to vent to and brainstorm with and discuss things with has really helped. The writing challenges, in particular, I think, have helped. So maybe start off with that - write some short stories, either just for yourself or for the site or both - and use that as a way to ease yourself back into things, even if they're just character exploration stories and nothing that you're really going to do anything with. Maybe that would help you get to the point of being ready to write a novel.

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Posted (edited)

I'm still plugging away at my main WIP. Right now I'm a little over halfway through Ch. 19, out of a planned 30 or so.

However, I admit that I've lost a lot of my steam over the whole endeavor, and I haven't had much luck in rekindling my inspiration. I know the saying that writing is more perspiration than inspiration, but I'm one of those people who does their best when they have genuine passion driving them. I could never force myself into productivity. I would blame most of my current burnout on a loss in confidence, especially since the first draft is turning into a real mess with only the vaguest sense of direction.

There's also the "alternate history" nature of my story, which means it's set in our world despite a few key historical divergences (well, that and a few mythological elements thrown into the world, such as gods and dragon-like monsters). The challenge I've always had with writing any historical fiction is that it's very much playing in somebody else's sandbox with toys that are not your own. You have to stay as true to the historical reality as possible, and very often there's so much you need to know before you can start writing. There are so many stones you can't afford to leave unturned, even ones you didn't know were there to begin with.

You might think that, in alternate history, you could get away with more creative license than traditional historical fiction. That's true as far as the major timeline divergences are concerned, but even those require you to consider all these real historical factors that would affect the "alternate outcome". That leaves you with yet more of those damned stones to turn.

It all requires an overwhelming level of work. So much that I don't think I am up to the task anymore. Some authors can do historical fiction or alternate history very well, but I'm nowhere near their level. Maybe I bit more than I could chew with this entire project.

Or maybe I need some more encouragement.

UPDATE: Nah, going to keep on going anyway. I have way too many of these recurrent down moments that end up subsiding after a few hours.

Edited by Tyrannohotep

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Glad to read that you decided to keep going! Anyway, a little encouragement can never hurt, so I'm going to post what I was about to post anyway 🙂

While I get the frustration of playing in someone else's sandbox and having to do so much research to get all the facts right, I think you might be running into perfectionism issues nevertheless - there's absolutely no need to get everything right in the first draft, and it's totally fine to add a note to yourself, skip a description you can't write down without further research, and fill it in while you're editing. Keep going!

And since "running into a block at chapter 19 of ~30" heavily reminded me of it, I'm going to post a Neil Gaiman NaNo peptalk from 2007:

Quote

Dear NaNoWriMo Author,

By now you’re probably ready to give up. You’re past that first fine furious rapture when every character and idea is new and entertaining. You’re not yet at the momentous downhill slide to the end, when words and images tumble out of your head sometimes faster than you can get them down on paper. You’re in the middle, a little past the half-way point. The glamour has faded, the magic has gone, your back hurts from all the typing, your family, friends and random email acquaintances have gone from being encouraging or at least accepting to now complaining that they never see you any more—and that even when they do you’re preoccupied and no fun. You don’t know why you started your novel, you no longer remember why you imagined that anyone would want to read it, and you’re pretty sure that even if you finish it it won’t have been worth the time or energy and every time you stop long enough to compare it to the thing that you had in your head when you began—a glittering, brilliant, wonderful novel, in which every word spits fire and burns, a book as good or better than the best book you ever read—it falls so painfully short that you’re pretty sure that it would be a mercy simply to delete the whole thing.

Welcome to the club.

That’s how novels get written.

You write. That’s the hard bit that nobody sees. You write on the good days and you write on the lousy days. Like a shark, you have to keep moving forward or you die. Writing may or may not be your salvation; it might or might not be your destiny. But that does not matter. What matters right now are the words, one after another. Find the next word. Write it down. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

A dry-stone wall is a lovely thing when you see it bordering a field in the middle of nowhere but becomes more impressive when you realise that it was built without mortar, that the builder needed to choose each interlocking stone and fit it in. Writing is like building a wall. It’s a continual search for the word that will fit in the text, in your mind, on the page. Plot and character and metaphor and style, all these become secondary to the words. The wall-builder erects her wall one rock at a time until she reaches the far end of the field. If she doesn’t build it it won’t be there. So she looks down at her pile of rocks, picks the one that looks like it will best suit her purpose, and puts it in.

The search for the word gets no easier but nobody else is going to write your novel for you.

The last novel I wrote (it was ANANSI BOYS, in case you were wondering) when I got three-quarters of the way through I called my agent. I told her how stupid I felt writing something no-one would ever want to read, how thin the characters were, how pointless the plot. I strongly suggested that I was ready to abandon this book and write something else instead, or perhaps I could abandon the book and take up a new life as a landscape gardener, bank-robber, short-order cook or marine biologist. And instead of sympathising or agreeing with me, or blasting me forward with a wave of enthusiasm—or even arguing with me—she simply said, suspiciously cheerfully, “Oh, you’re at that part of the book, are you?”

I was shocked. “You mean I’ve done this before?”

“You don’t remember?”

“Not really.”

“Oh yes,” she said. “You do this every time you write a novel. But so do all my other clients.”

I didn’t even get to feel unique in my despair.

So I put down the phone and drove down to the coffee house in which I was writing the book, filled my pen and carried on writing.

One word after another.

That’s the only way that novels get written and, short of elves coming in the night and turning your jumbled notes into Chapter Nine, it’s the only way to do it.

So keep on keeping on. Write another word and then another.

Pretty soon you’ll be on the downward slide, and it’s not impossible that soon you’ll be at the end. Good luck…

Neil Gaiman

 

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3 hours ago, Manu said:
Quote

The last novel I wrote (it was ANANSI BOYS, in case you were wondering) when I got three-quarters of the way through I called my agent. I told her how stupid I felt writing something no-one would ever want to read, how thin the characters were, how pointless the plot. I strongly suggested that I was ready to abandon this book and write something else instead, or perhaps I could abandon the book and take up a new life as a landscape gardener, bank-robber, short-order cook or marine biologist. And instead of sympathising or agreeing with me, or blasting me forward with a wave of enthusiasm—or even arguing with me—she simply said, suspiciously cheerfully, “Oh, you’re at that part of the book, are you?”

I was shocked. “You mean I’ve done this before?”

“You don’t remember?”

“Not really.”

“Oh yes,” she said. “You do this every time you write a novel. But so do all my other clients.”

I didn’t even get to feel unique in my despair.

 

This is perhaps my favorite piece of writing advice ever. Every time I read it, it gives me such hope.

This is normal.

This too shall pass.

It's wonderful. 🙂

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