Hey, guys! I think that all of us who write on the regular, whether it’s fiction, academia, or otherwise, have struggled to produce the content we want to produce. Even the most productive and inspired of writers suffer from days of low motivation and difficulty achieving the results we want — and I know that some of us can sometimes go years without figuring out how to make this whole writing thing work for us. I myself went through a period of several years where the occasional burst of a 6-7k short story was an achievement.
Then, of course, there are those times and projects where it feels like we have everything put together — all the story planned out, all the characters rich and three dimensional, all the plot points mapped and primed. But with so much planning, there never seems to be any place for actual prose to go. We know all the tiniest details about our world, but we no longer seem to have a story to tell in it, now that everything’s planned.
So in that vein, today I’ve got the first in a series of
guest posts from Emily, who has very kindly agreed to write about her struggles with writer’s block, motivation, over-thinking and over-planning, and the things she’s done to go from a writing stand-still to regularly producing more than 60k words of prose per month. Emily is a serious inspiration to me in this regard. Her commitment to her own improvement, and pride in her work, is incredibly motivating to see. I hope you’ll enjoy what she has to say as much as I do! — Laura
(Edit September 15, 2015: Hi, this is Emily — I am going to be on the blog permanently now, so these are no longer guest posts — they’re just regular posts!)
I recently discovered I could write.
This may come as a surprise to my oldest friends, because I’ve been writing prose since I was approximately twelve years old. As a kid, I liked to role play, self-inserting my characters into things like Star Trek, Sailor Moon, Redwall, and various other, unnameable primary sources. I wrote stories with friends. I landscaped fictional territories, wrote genealogy for dozens of extensive fictional families, invented religions and social structures. To all appearances I was Bob the Worldbuilder.
But I never actually wrote. Not really. I’d start huge projects with tons of characters, engaging politics, lush scenery. I had ideas, even outlines. I knew what happened to who and where and how. Yet I have very little real prose to show for it, even twenty years later.
Recently, however, that’s changed. In the past three months I’ve written more than 200 thousand words of prose — prose I like, prose for the stories I want to be telling. Every day, that word count only grows larger.
A lot of things happened for me to make this come about. For one, my partner (both in life and in creative endeavors!) had recently started a long writing project of her own. We’d brainstorm together about shared projects, but with her own story to work on she had a lot of writing to do alone, on top of her schoolwork. I didn’t feel the lack of creative contact with her — we’ve always had our own fun things we plot and write together — but with her time usually devoted to on her project and her education, I was given time to think about what I really wanted to achieve as a writer in my own right.
What did I want to write for myself? It was a question I’d never really, honestly asked myself.
All my attempts to write for fandoms (fanfiction) tended to peter out and end after a few chapters. I had ideas for short stories, easy fanfiction about characters I loved, but even those never really panned out for me. I had many a Google Docs file filled with half-prose that skipped around from scene to scene, glossing over important and “uninteresting” bits and ultimately going nowhere — just like every Google Docs file I’d open to write in for the last seven years. I’d read Stephen King’s “On Writing” more than once, and though it helped me to see and think about storytelling in new and more accessible ways, I just could not manage to get those stories on paper.
Everything would just sputter out after about ten or twenty thousand words, if it ever got that far. Fanfiction, original fiction, stuff I’d been excited about in my head or that I’d talked about to my friends just stalled out on the highway like a post-apocalyptic traffic jam.
Whatever I did succeed in writing for an audience always felt like it needed an excessive amount of editing before it could even see the light of day. I’d write down just the bare bones of some idea, and then feel too scared to throw away the words I’d squeezed from stone, even if I wasn’t happy with them. This happened constantly.
That isn’t to say I haven’t gotten better since I started dabbling fiction at twelve. I’m thirty-two now. I definitely have had more life experiences. I’ve read inspiring books, watched TV shows, played video games, read comics, you name it. I’ve been exposed to all kinds of stories I would never have seen otherwise. I’ve always written well with other people, and I love bouncing ideas off a writing partner. Creating something with a friend or partner is a really incredible thing.
But I finally realized: collaboration was my crutch. I scratched my creative itch by creating with other people, rather than creating with myself. That in and of itself isn’t a bad thing, but I wanted to write.
I had my own ideas. I wanted to share my ideas, all by my lonesome. Not for recognition, or to prove anything to anybody — I just wanted to get those ideas out.
My partner finished the project she’d been working in April, 2015. We had a celebratory dinner and talked about our joint projects, and how we wanted to go forward with them. They were never really on hold for L — she always seemed to have plenty of room on her plate for everything. But I realized that I didn’t.
At the time, L was experiencing her own revelations about her writing, and how to make it work for her. That’s her own story to tell, and she’s got a lot to say on writing and finding out what works for you herself. But this is about me, and my realizations at that dinner meant that my time was up. All excuses had to go out the window. I had to change something for myself.
L and I have collaborated together for at least ten years, even before she became my girlfriend. She’s been patient and encouraging, and she has never, ever tried to push me into doing something she wanted. She’s always encouraged me to work on my own ideas. And she knows I want to write with her, and she’s always been great about gently nudging me on both our joint projects and my own, giving me pep talks and cheerleading all the way.
But it wasn’t support I needed. I had her, and other, wonderful writer-y friends that all were in the same boat. Support wasn’t something I lacked. The problem, unfortunately, was with me. And I knew something had to change.I just didn’t know how to change it, at first.
But I’ve learned. I’ve gotten better. I’ve done a total reversal. Now I can’t seem to stop writing.
This series of blog posts will primarily be about how I got back on the bike, so to speak. Once you learn how to do it, you don’t unlearn: you always know, at your core, the balance you need to stay on. You can fumble around a little, forget how to use your handbrakes at times, but eventually you’ll always remember how to keep going.
Let’s extend that metaphor further: you can’t just get back on the bike and head to a triathlon. You have to get back to basics. I kept trying to head to the racetrack when I was re-starting my creative work, and I’d wipe out before the first mile every single time, then blame myself for not wanting it badly enough. I had to learn to ride for pleasure, first. I had to learn to be patient with myself. Marathon training — and then the race itself — could come after that.
I’m going to be featuring a few books and websites that have helped me along, as well as blog posts and other things I’ve found useful or inspirational. I will tell you what didn’t work for me, but might for you. My main goal here is to use my experience to help people get back to where they want to be writing-wise, whether it’s for fun or profit. I hope you’ll come along on the ride with me!