There's a reason they call it a cursor
December 31, 2009 8:12 AM   Subscribe

On a related theme to this question, how can I recover my writing mojo after nearly a decade's hiatus?

Like divabat and Metroid Baby, for the first 20 years of my life I was The Writer -- composing verse epics at the age of 9, writing a full-length fantasy novel at the age of 14, etc., etc. This seemed like my inalienable destiny, such that I never gave much thought to what I would do when I grew up because the answer seemed so obvious.

I avoided majoring in creative writing at college, studying literature and philosophy instead, but I was serious enough about writing to put a huge amount of extracurricular effort into it -- I wrote for at least 2 hours daily, read as much as I could find of current writing and manuals of poetics and style, joined a couple of writers' groups, regularly sent out submissions to journals etc. Those years, though turbulent and unhappy in other ways, were probably the most fulfillfing of my adult life so far, in that I got to give my life over to what I loved.

So why did I stop? First, lack of sustaining feedback. Critical validation and/or publication were never that important to me; what I sought was company: interlocutors, co-collaborators, fellow conspirators. Participating in writers' groups at college and afterwards was moderately constructive, but the impression they gave me of the writing world was of a vast featureless plain honeycombed with the solitary burrows of individual writers, who would occasionally pop their heads above ground to workshop a piece before delving back under. This seemed oppressively lonely and futile.

Second, and much more significantly, a terror of self-disclosure that increased, due to various events and factors I won't go into here, until it became pathological. Unlike Metroid Baby, I have never fainted in public, but I do have the spins just writing this. On the rare occasions when I sit down to write, the closer I come to what I actually want to say, the dizzier I get, until I feel so sick I have to abandon the attempt and lie down.

I never fell out of love with writing. I am still passionately, unrequitedly besotted with it, and not writing makes me miserable and thwarted. So how do I get back into it? Wholly solitary and self-guided approaches, such as The Artist's Way and proprioceptive writing, have been of limited usefulness. So have conventional routes such as adult ed. creative writing courses and traditional writers' groups, because I am so not ready to Share With The Class. I have read and own most of the recommended works on creative difficulty, from ass-kicking pep talks like The War of Art to the encouraging, grandmotherly If You Want to Write. I have taken to heart the Metafilter mantra of "therapy, therapy, therapy" and am getting on that. The thought of writing still makes me sick, and the thought of not writing still makes me miserable. How can I get back to the joy of putting pen to paper?
posted by stuck on an island to Writing & Language (12 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Do you have a blog? Because this

“interlocutors, co-collaborators, fellow conspirators.”

is basically what a Blog does. You can publish everything anonymously, but I don’t know how to overcome the physical fear of writing like you seem to have. Good luck
posted by Think_Long at 8:24 AM on December 31, 2009

You just do it, that's how. You recognize the anxiety you feel, acknowledge it, and start writing anyway.

Look, the anxiety never goes away. The real task is to ask yourself if self-flagellating is better than writing. I can tell you from experience that the longer you insist on overthinking this, the worse it will get.

Start with five minutes. Give yourself a five minute break. Try for five more.
posted by sugarfish at 8:25 AM on December 31, 2009

If you are experiencing anxiety writing on the computer, try switching to paper and pen for a while.

It's easier for me to write in a journal than it is to write in a text file. If my writing is on a computer, I worry someone might find it.
posted by mmmbacon at 8:47 AM on December 31, 2009

It sounds like you're putting a lot of pressure on yourself, and for me that's the number one way NOT to get results. Getting back into it: I'd commit to a super-doable number of words per day (100? 10?) and stick to it no matter what. Even if the words are "I have no idea what I'm doing today, this feels like such a waste of time..." There is something in the act of sitting your butt down in the chair and doing the grunt work that feeds success, at least for me. I'd also spend some time writing down (!) what you get out of writing in the first place. Refer to the list when times get tough.

As for community and co-collaborators, what about an online forum? A place like AbsoluteWrite is full of writers looking to swap notes, socialize, and act as beta readers/mentors to one another. It may take some delving to find your niche, but in this day and age there's no reason for a writer to be trapped in some room and isolated from all society.
posted by mynameisluka at 9:25 AM on December 31, 2009

Sustaining feedback: By "sustaining" do you mean "uncritically supportive" or "dependable"? The first is useless, and the second doesn't come from other writers but from editors. Write, and send to editors and agents. As soon as the manuscript is in the mail, start writing again. Don't wait for the responses.

Terror of self-disclosure: Are you saying there's something you want to write about, but are terrified of actually saying it? Or is it that you're afraid of revealing something to others? If it's the latter, well... that's kinda the point of being a writer, to reveal yourself through words. If it's the former, what exactly is there to be afraid of? Either way, confronting fears is often best. Fight through it; it will look very different from the other side, and you should be able to deal with it better after that.

When it comes to writing, the answer to every problem is to keep writing more. It's nice that it's so simple. Keep reminding yourself of that. And write, damnit.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 9:25 AM on December 31, 2009

I had a similar issue, after finishing a novel in 2002 I felt burnt out and had no ideas. About a year ago I took a very old idea and tried to write it out in serial form, but I quickly lost interest. The only way I feel inspired is to focus on some characters and play them out in my mind during a long walk. Afterwards I have a compulsion to write out what happened in my head.

What started me off with the serial, was talking online to a lot of other amateur writers doing this. Talking to people who still were in love with writing really helped me remember what I used to love about it. I just kept saying "I want to write about this" till I actually DID want to write. And the internet has scads of resources like this - I still get "spam" once a week from my 2002 writing workshop group.
posted by herbaliser at 9:26 AM on December 31, 2009

Response by poster: GhostintheMachine: by "sustaining" feedback I don't mean uncritical support from pals or even a gold star from some editor or agent. I'm not particularly concerned about whether my writing is clever or marketable. What I'd like to do is to make the process of writing itself more rewarding and fertile and less solitary and intimidating. To use an analogy from my outdoor life, what keeps me running is not the prospect of winning a race someday or even the consciousness of being particularly fast; it's the awareness of working hard towards my personal best and, most importantly, the sheer joy of the act of running itself, moment to moment.
posted by stuck on an island at 10:19 AM on December 31, 2009

Well, you could try an online writing workshop. NYU School of Continuing and Professional Studies has a few (here's one, bottom of the page) and I'm sure many other universities do as well. Remaining relatively anonymous to the other participants might help you get past your hesitations about sharing work.

But really, when you say you are "getting on" the therapy thing, what does that mean? Are you in therapy? Because you are stuck in a mode of thought that is getting you nowhere, and your anxiety is such that it's literally making you sick. Breaking out of those thought patterns is what therapy is all about.
posted by Mender at 10:43 AM on December 31, 2009

Along with the butt-in-chair all writers need, it sounds to me like you currently need fellowship more than you need feedback. I can see where finding it would be challenging -- the workshop model is a heavy influence on writing communities. Add that to the usual compatibility concerns when looking for a like-minded group, and the search is even more difficult.

However, there is a lot more writer-fellowship online now than there was a decade ago. Forums like the one mynameisluka suggested might work for you because there's plenty of opportunity for writers to socialize, and minimal direct pressure to exchange work. If you'd just like to read others' work and comment on it without necessarily posting your own right away, Fictionaut might be a good fit. There are plenty of other writing communities, all with different parameters. Check out the "links" section of most online literary magazines, and you'll uncover more of them.

If you'd prefer an in-person approach, why not start your own group? Post flyers and say specifically that you're looking to start a writing support group, rather than a workshop. I suspect there are more than a few writers in your geographic location who might be interested in that approach.

(I know you said you've read all the books, but in case you missed The Courage to Write, it may be worth your time. Peter Elbow's books about freewriting, as well.)
posted by gnomeloaf at 11:49 AM on December 31, 2009

the impression they gave me of the writing world was of a vast featureless plain honeycombed with the solitary burrows of individual writers, who would occasionally pop their heads above ground to workshop a piece before delving back under.

That's spot-on. It's exactly like that. If you don't like that, writing is not for you.

The whole thing about "falling in love with writing" but not actually liking writing or any of the stuff that comes along with the job of writing is a little confusing to me. Writing is a job. It's my favorite job I've ever had, but it's a job. If I didn't like doing it, I wouldn't do it.

I thought I was going to be a professional musician until I was 17, and then I realized that although I liked playing music, I didn't like the way that the job of music was structured, and I was too much of a perfectionist to participate in the hobby of music. You might feel the same about writing, in which case why feel miserable about not doing it? There are lots of other awesome things that you're not doing that you don't feel miserable about.

People who have success in writing do so because they like writing, not because they like Being A Writer.

If you want to do something creative that's more collaborative, with more back-and-forth between you and other humans, maybe writing role-playing games or participating in improv theater might be more fulfilling for you?
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:05 PM on December 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

My writing pretty much went dead after my last writer's group collapsed (2002ish?) -- I was beginning to think that the image of myself as The Writer was stupid and childish.

NaNoWriMo has gotten me back into the writing spirit. In my case, I needed the freedom (a) to be awful and (b) to break away from a project I haven't been able to finish, plus a deadline. I know it's now a long ways off, but I definitely recommend it.

Also, I did go to one of the write-ins in my area, and it was a lovely experience: just a half a dozen people sitting around a big table in a coffeeshop, writing away. Occasionally someone came up for air and there'd be a little chitchat, but nothing serious or critical, just camaraderie.

Now I have a novel (OMG! finally!) that I actually like well enough to edit into shape, and I also have the confidence that I can write, and I still like to write.

(I'll add that blogging kept me in the habit of stringing words together during the long stretching of not-writing. If you're not now, you might as well try it as a low-pressure outlet.)
posted by epersonae at 3:25 PM on December 31, 2009

Go outside to write. Grab a pen, a notebook (the kind with paper) and go sit in a park or a field and just start writing. It's a good way to reset. Hell, that's how Lovecraft wrote most of his stories.
posted by Kattullus at 8:49 AM on January 1, 2010

« Older Damn You, James Cameron, I Just Want To Watch The...   |   An American Idiot In Paris. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.