So, today I sent in the completed manuscript for the first book in the ‘Yoga Cafe’ small town mystery/romance series to the editor at St Martins Press. Right on deadline.
Just. Trust me, this time two weeks ago, I didn’t think either me or the manuscript would be in fit shape for anything. After eighteen months of non-stop production, encompassing four full-length novels, two writing guides and seven novellas, I was done. Just done. Suddenly, writing a coherent sentence was behind me. I had hit burn-out big time.
And it couldn’t have come at a worse possible time.
I was just weeks away from the deadline to submit, and two chapters from finishing (which left me precious little time to do any actual editing). Now this wasn’t the sort of writers block where the ideas just aren’t coming; after all I had plotted this book down to every last red herring and knew exactly what needed to happen in those final climactic chapters.
I just couldn’t write. Every word was painful, my dialogue felt wooden, my phrasing uninspired, and I suddenly loathed my previously beloved heroine with a vengeance. I hated the manuscript, and myself, and everything to do with writing. I was, I decided, a complete fraud, and had just been kidding everyone for the last year and a half. I had hit the wall, and couldn’t see a chink of light anywhere.
So how did I get through it? Well, first of all, I took a couple of days off. Even though this was putting me even further behind, I knew I had to get away from the laptop. So instead, I decorated the dining room. The physical movement and focus on something entirely different seemed to help; the exact words I needed unfolded before me as I wielded my paint brush and roller, dropping into my mind as though they had been there all along and I just hadn’t noticed them. Even so, when I sat down at my desk to get them down on paper, I felt faintly nauseous. So before I started work, I Googled the subject of writers block and fatigue and was surprised to see just how many outstanding authors have hit that very same wall.
‘Writing is something ..that happens, or it may not happen…you don’t even know if you’re going to be able to’ Charles Bukowski.
‘I’m sitting in the office trying to squeeze a story from my head. It’s that type of morning where you feel like melting the typewriter into a bar of steel and clubbing yourself to death with it.’ Richard Matheston.
‘You have those days where you sit down and every word is crap.’ Neil Gaiman
‘What I try to do is write. It might be the most awful and boring stuff. But I try…then the Muse says ‘Okay, I’ll come’.’ Maya Angelou
‘Get away from your desk. Be patient.’ Hilary Mantel.
That cheered me up. And then I realised I was being pretty damn ungrateful. ‘Poor me, how awful to have a short deadline to meet for my fourth full-length novel, published by a major publisher as part of a five-figure, two book deal!’. Errrrr…..I had to remind myself how many writers would love to be in my position, how blessed I was to even have this particular problem. Finally, I reminded myself that I’m a good writer. No literary genius certainly, but a good writer. I reread some of my favourite bits from earlier work, and my (nice) book reviews.
Then I wrote and edited my final chapters. Now, I’m taking a month off. Then I’ve got a novel to write.
So in brief, here’s my five tips for getting through this type of writers block or fatigue.
- ) Take a day or two off. Really, just leave it alone.
- ) Do something physical, something grounding. Decorate, garden, cook….something that’s creative, but in an entirely different way.
- ) Take inspiration from your favourite authors. They’ve probably been there too. They’re still standing.
- ) Be grateful. Whether it’s your first ever short story or your tenth published novel, take a minute to be grateful for what you are, and the talent you have, and the fact that you even have the luxury to be worrying about this. Your situation could be far worse.
- ) Remind yourself of your achievements and happy moments to date. They don’t have to be literary.