Words for Writers: The Emotionally-Blocked Writer

Last week I talked about the hurdles facing someone who has focused so intensely on editing for so long when trying to start work on a new WIP; the automatic attempt to self-censor, the habit of multitasking, and the unwillingness to sacrifice a bit of precious of spare time when you could be marketing or editing something else that is already finished and therefore has already gained approval from some sort of audience.  Writing takes a huge commitment of focus, discipline, and time.

It’s a frustrating and fascinating process for me, and I’m not afraid to admit how impotent and helpless it’s made me feel.  Once I felt like a fount of story, that I could close my eyes and put my fingers to the keys and wake up six hours later with 40 pages written. The stories are still churning behind my eyes, but when I sit down to put fingers to keys, all that ends up happening is that I stare at the sentences I’ve already written and start comparing them to every story that’s ever come before and wondering if I could ever achieve that same level of craft with this new piece.

Never mind, logically, that I know that stories like Triptych are  so darn crafted because the draft that has become the galleys is number 50-something.

So the blockage seems to be coming not from a lack of ideas or a lack of ambition, but from my inability to let the new work stand and speak for itself, and my own exhaustion.

And I am, at this moment, mentally exhausted.

I am happy to report that I have been informed that Triptych is now officially out of my hands. If I wanted to change anything in the text, well, I’m SOL.  This is a massive relief to me, because it’s one less property that I have to try to keep track of in my head. From here out, it’s up to the audience and readers to decide the book’s fate.

I am, however, also greatly invested in the marketing of the book – I will do a post later about everything that I’ve been doing in terms of advertising – because it is coming out of a smaller publisher. My publisher doesn’t have the sort of marketing budget that say Random House or HarperCollins has, so it is up to me, the author, to dedicate some of my time and resources to helping get the book seen. I’m cool with this, because I’m a creative A-type control freak with Lots Of Ideas. This has included, so far, an extensive interview with the local paper, helping to coordinate the launch party at a local sci-fi convention, writing and producing my own book trailer, contacting people to ask for reviews and making up a masterlist of awards I’m eligible for. The book trailer has been the most time and cost consuming, but I hope will be the biggest pay off. Luckily, I have a friend with a production company – check out his original transmedia comic and video series, Doctor Holocaust.

But, again as I said in a previous post, this has me so busy and my brain so buzzy that I can barely concentrate on career-work (which I should, as this is the job that pays the rent right now), let alone sit down of an evening with a glass of wine and actually work on the WIP.  I am working on this, on allowing myself the gift of I-Will-Think-Of-Nothing-But-The-New-Book evenings, and pushing myself to meet my own self-imposed deadlines and goals.  I didn’t get cable TV or the internet when I moved into my new place and I am going to keep not having cable or internet at home; they’re both distracting and expenses I don’t need. I can use the ‘net through my blackberry – for the important stuff, at least – and I have for when I feel like watching something.


This weekend, a conversation with my mother has also revealed a chink in my armor.  I realized that I am taking a very bad, very nasty disagreement and subsequent departure from a creative partner very very personally. More personally than I should be for the end of just a creative partnership.

I am having nightmares. I don’t sleep more than two or three hours a night.  I feel sick to my stomach all the time, and I dread opening my email.  I feel like I am trying to break up with an abusive ex.  And while I logically know that this person’s behavior is not my fault nor should it be my concern, and this person’s accusations are doing exactly what they’ve been aimed to do (namely, make me suffer and doubt myself) I also know that this person has no legal recourse and that my interests are protected.

Notice how I don’t say “this person was wrong and I am right”. It is a matter of interpreting conversations that frequently happened when we weren’t as sober as we ought to have been when discussing something professional, and as a result what they thought they heard and what I thought I said never seems to match up when we try to work out the history of what was promised by whom.  When the time came to work out the written details of the deal, there was such a horrendous misunderstanding and misinterpreting that we both had to walk away from the project.

That makes it worse, because it is partially my fault. My inability to make my position clear, and my opinions firm, has led to this misunderstanding in part.  I am trying to come to terms with that. I don’t think the project would have been completed sucessfully even if I had been more vocal and spoke with more clarity, but it would have helped and perhaps this wouldn’t be as vicious.

But you think I can write a darned word? Nope.  Every time I open the file, all I want to do is make my main character rant and rail against the unfairness of verbal misunderstandings and somehow all she does is spit bile about every ex-partner I’ve had to break up with, every nasty argument with friends, every time a horrid girl in school made fun of me, every time I’ve opened myself up to someone only to have my heart broken, and how all of this has kept me from investing in a romantic partner for like, five years.  In short, all I can seem to think about or write about right now is how much I am hurting because of how much I’ve been hurt.

Clearly, not the kind of stuff that I want in my manuscript. Er. Yet. (Because my MC does have some heartbreak on the horizon, she just doesn’t know it).

It’s a strange thing that my ability to write the action sequence that’s tripping me up is so enmeshed with my own emotional struggles.  That feeling bad should so affect my ability to slide into the skin of another and suffer her problems for a while. I mean, the reason I am an actor, the reason I am a writer, the reason I am a reader, is because I like to take the time to get out of my own skin and into someone else’s for a while.

And right now I just can’t.

I’ve been struggling with finding a solution to this all weekend – time alone doesn’t help because my brain just goes in circles. I read two books: “Jane Bites Back” by Michael Thomas Ford, (which was very well crafted and had a spectacular premise, but I just didn’t feel the peril for the MC. My heart didn’t thump in worry for her when she was in danger) and “The House That Jack Built” by Guy Adams (beautiful, original and crafted imagery, terrifying premise, great grasp of the Torchwood characters) – but I feel like I just consumed them instead of enjoying them. I will have to go back and read them later when I’m in it to be invested, not in it to be distracted.

Laurie Channer and I joked this morning that I need one of the Hero of the Teeming Masses’ Cancer Anger Kits.  Maybe I do.

We tell ourselves as writers that we have the ability to be professional, to write even when we don’t want to or feel like, that we put pen to paper or fingers to keys even when we are uninspired because that is what writers do. We write. But what do you do when something in your life is so all consuming that you can’t write? That you can’t do anything but think about something, and that it’s actually making your ability to meet your word counts not happen? (I am at 13 300, and wanted to be at 20 000 by today. The idea is that I will have a full manuscript by December 1st.  May not happen.  Yipe.)

At any rate, the old axiom is true and time heals all wounds. So, I suppose it’s just a matter of letting this scab over and then I can sit in front of the keyboard again when I’m able to invest in, and worry about, my MC’s problems, instead of my own.

Until then, who’s up for a girl’s night or spa date?


For more posts on the business and craft of writing, search my Words for Writers tag.

JM FreyWords for Writers: The Emotionally-Blocked Writer


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  • zerodtkjoe - October 20, 2010

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