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Climbing Out of Writer's Hell

When everything is on fire, and a bunch of those fires you set yourself, what do you do?

I have no idea what you do, I can only tell you what I do.

Non-Writerly things make you a better writer. You’ll get told that time and again, and it won’t make sense at all until you’ve written something big, something gut-wrenching and horrid to complete and you collapse at the end. Or you face a defeat, a rejection, an impasse so great you are sure that you will never write another word. In a puddle, you slink away from the writerly life that has driven you to a new level of despair. What do you do now?

You walk away. Really. Walk the hell away from the keyboard, notepad or whatever you write on. The muses are a fickle lot. They will need to be coaxed back in a gentle trickster way that only you, the master, can possibly pull off, but it takes time. It will likely kill you to relinquish your schedule, your pens, and your morning coffee plotting sessions, but to win you have to do it. No amount of staring at a blank screen with the hollow feeling of regret and disappointment will make you a better writer today. That will be tomorrow—or the day after. Tomorrow, as many learned scholars have stated correctly, is another day.

About one percent of you have walked away now, at least in your head. The other ninety-nine will have to find another path. For you who are still with me, you that have reached the bottom and have discovered your soul has been shredded to an inch of writerly life—I was where you are a couple of days ago. Look at the bottom. Study it. Know you will be there again. This is not about endings, it’s about getting ready for another ride on the writer-rollercoaster. You can get off for a day or two, but it’s the ride of a lifetime. You’ll be back because you can’t stay away.

When you get to the bottom, and all hope is lost, the ride is over for today. You are not alone. There’s another boat-load of writers sitting forlornly at the bottom of some self-created slope of insanity. You can reach out and beg for help, but I think the best plan is going on alone. It will take fortitude, but heck, you are a writer. If you have gotten this far down, you needed that to get here—so use it.

Accept your current situation. You failed. It’s okay. Are you ready to go on? No?

Great. That’s why we are here. You may have other ways of healing your war-torn creative, but the process is the same. This is what I did.

First step: Walk away from the keyboard.

Ready? Go!

I, fortunately, did that three days ago, so now I’m back on the keyboard I can tell you what I did.

My ascent from the word-grave will look nothing like your phoenix-rising, but it is what it is. You own your destiny and your healing time has the same rules as the rest of your life. It’s all yours. I can only recount my experience.

First I read. I find it exceedingly hard to be in the heads of my characters and hear their voices urging me to write everything down and then turn them off and listen to the voices of other writer’s characters. This exemplifies why you need a full stop break from time to time. You need to hear something other than your own voice—really hear it, not listen in tandem.

The glitterati of writers will sing the praises of why reading is essential. They are correct. You cannot hope to refine the crap you throw up on the page during NaNoWriMo if you haven’t seen what can be done with it. Writing first drafts is like taking a toddler’s Cheerio-mashed finger-painted wall and creating a masterpiece. It takes work and time. Work you know how to do, but you forget that it’s a process; a lengthy process marking the entrance of frustration followed by misery.

Reading kicks your memory cells into action. You should read all the time when you are writing, and I do, but during those crammed-in words months, there is no way I can steal that much time, and that helps send me to the bottom faster.

The crash you may be able to reset in an afternoon, or an evening. Other times it takes longer. This round I ended up taking a couple of days to pull my act together. I was long past the point of needing the other-focus time, but you never know that until you crash—well at least, I never see it coming.

Round One

Spurred on by the excellent opening podcast from So You Want To Write A Romance that I’d listened to a couple of weeks ago, I had compiled a list of must-read romances. The first Romances here are suggestions from the podcast.

Here’s what I read:

The Hating Game: A Novel by Sally Thorne

I had downloaded the Kindle sample of The Hating Game a while back, and while I could see a glimmer of appeal, it hadn’t grabbed me enough to hit, buy. Faced with another positive review from the podcast and endless hours ahead I closed my eyes and tapped, buy. Wham. That’s how the book hit me too. The next chapter sucked me in, and I was about halfway through and starting to tell friends about it. I made it to 75% and bought a copy for a friend. I hadn’t screamed through a book in a day—in far too long.

I finished The Hating Game and wrote a quick Goodreads review. It wasn’t the story that got to me, it was the writing. Sally Thorne has a magical way of describing physical touch. Not sex in detail. She does a little of that too, but it’s the touch that really grabbed me. It’s on the must read-list for that.

Once Burned: A Night Prince Novel by Jeaniene Frost

Once Burned had been on my to-read list for a while. Diving in, I could immediately see the allure of the world, the set-up, and the pace. It took me another day, and I finished it too. I did not find Vlad to be the delectable romantic lead I’d been teased with, but the book set my mind working, and I came up with some interesting ideas for other works in progress.

I like to vary my reading choices. I don’t usually read the same genre back to back. So with Contemporary and Paranormal Romance down, I read samples of some Historical Romance:

Mr. Impossible (Carsington Family Series Book 2) by Loretta Chase

I get it. But I want to read the first book first. I’ve read Chase before just not this series. I downloaded Miss Impossible to read later.

Wilde in Love: The Wildes of Lindow Castle by Eloisa James

I’ve read James before, and this one is going to work for me, but not today. Bookmarked as to-read.

Devil's Bride (Cynster Book 1) by Stephanie Laurens

Yup, I’m in. But I need a break from romance. I’ll come back to this one too.

These were other samples I had downloaded previously.

Another Contemporary Romance:

Roommating (Preston's Mill Book 1) by Noelle Adams, Samantha Chase

The writing is good, but the premise is so forced I can’t make myself go on.

And A Middle Grade Fantasy:

The Wingsnatchers: Carmer and Grit, Book One by Sarah Jean Horwitz

I think I yawned a little, but I’m not out yet. I’ll go back and take another shot.

And then a Gothic Historical:

The Silent Companions: A Novel by Laura Purcell

I’m not sure about it from the sample, but the character is stuck in my head, so I may have to go back to it. I did not like the opening, but that ‘how did they get there’, lingers on.

I settled on:

The City of Brass: A Novel (The Daevabad Trilogy) by S. A Chakraborty

I’m about one-third through now, and I can see what the buzz is about, the world building is tremendous. I’m not so sure about the characterizations, as I’m still waiting for the two POVs to meet. I expect then the tide will shift once they do. In the meantime, the Dara character is amusing me.

Round Two

Those of us who have on-demand video streaming are so lucky. Imagine a world, where you had to watch whatever crap was scheduled. I love the visual form of theater, film, and television. It feeds my creative bucket with ideas and snippets of voice and character ideas.

I started with

Let’s get this off the plate right away; I’m a Hunnam fan which gives a fair chance to anything he’s cast in that it will end up on my watch list. That said, I am also painfully aware of how his Jax Teller character tends to seep into whatever role he’s playing which doesn’t work well with period pieces. Here though, I’m presently surprised. I still can see Teller in Hunnam’s gestures at times, but there is considerable restraint which harkens back to the days well before Sons of Anarchy to more of a Nicholas Nickleby with chops.

I have to say the plot, though expected tragedy prevails, gripped me. The Fawcett story is rolled out to maintain the viewer’s curiosity. I was ready to buy into the alternate view ending. Now days after, I’m still pondering the details of the adventure. Well done.

And then I ended up bingeing the first season of:

Wow, I loved this show. You have to be willing to check your historical detail brain at the door and go with it. While some things seem spot on, there’s such modernity in the banter and a few eyebrow-raising moments that you really need to stop thinking about.

The casting is phenomenal and the banter, while occasionally over the top and forced, is top grade. There really isn’t a character I don’t love for whatever foibles they have. I didn’t quite buy the final twist for the season, but I’m lining up ready for season two regardless. The characters linger on in my head.

And finished up with Picnic at Hanging Rock - Season 1

But bailed after episode 3 and read the Wikipedia to decide if I really wanted to invest more time. I love Natalie Dormer. The costuming on her is gorgeous, but I’m not finding the story has enough mystery to keep me going. I don’t care about any of the missing girls, and the MC’s secret past makes me curious but not enough so to sit through hours of slow reveals. I think if all three girls had a chance of being rescued I might have stuck with it. The best character other than Dormer is the French teacher played by Lola Bessis.

Then I slept a whole seven hours.

The next day I faced the computer with a brand new to-do list and a vibrant confidence that came with the spark of inspiration. I’d figured out what to do with a stalled WIP, solved a problem with a re-write, resigned myself to writing a new opening to another WIP and was ready to tackle the dreaded revision on my closest to being finished book.

Time invested in yourself is time well spent. I don’t know who said that, but they were right. The old adage of, Time is money? Well, that directly relates here. You spend time where it needs to be paid and you are careful with it, dishing it out in teaspoons. But those days at the bottom? It’s bucket time.


The Hating Game cover copyright 2016 William Morrow Paperbacks

Lost City of Z cover copyright 2017 Amazon Studios/Bleeker Street

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel logo copyright 2017 Dorothy Parker Drank Here Productions/Picrow/Amazon Studios


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