I’m going to talk about writing. I love writing, but this is not a love letter, because more and more lately I’ve realized that I enjoy writing less and less, and that kind of sucks. But here we are.
When I think about what it’s like to love writing, I actually think about being a teenager. Writing when I was young enough that I didn’t know what I was doing was wonderful in a way I’ve never quite been able to recreate since.
Back in middle and high school, I had a string of ancient, hand-me-down computers — a DOS box with a black and green screen; Windows 3.1 with a floppy drive; a Mac from the pre-OSX days when the logo was still a rainbow. They were old, even for the time, but the only thing I wanted from them was the word processor. My weekends were hours spent staring at the screen, despite my mom yelling at me to do literally anything else. I’d draw maps in a notebook and stay up until three in the morning churning out stories that took place in those worlds. When I was on a David Eddings kick, I’d write out epic histories and stories about knights and empires; when I was obsessing over Mercedes Lackey, it was all interpersonal dramas with magic and and tragedies.
When I wasn’t at home typing, I was at school scribbling. Every subject’s notebook eventually devolved into drafts of stories. Studyhall and lunch were both writing time. When I hit on an idea I loved — which was frequent — I pretty much disappeared from the world until that story hit a wall days or weeks later. Writing was my passion and I felt like a genius.
I wasn’t, of course. I still have some of my old high school and college writings, and they were bad. But I didn’t know that, because I was writing pretty much just for myself so quality didn’t matter, and writing all that drivel felt the same as reading my favorite books. Besides, while it took a long time, I got better.
I also go serious. After college, my 20s were spent doing that work — learning how to finish projects, and revise them. Discovering a process that works for me. Learning to outline, learning to structure, learning how to get the work done without setting off an RSI flare. It was still fun, but it was slower going, and it was much, much more serious.
The work paid off, though: I finally finished a project I thought was good enough, I queried and sold it, happy ending. But — not an ending. Because I’m still writing. It just doesn’t feel the same.
I don’t jump into projects and get a high from starting, write ten thousand words in a weekend before coming up for air. I don’t do it because I know that if I jump in without planning, I’ll get stuck and it’ll go nowhere. And if I try to output that much that quickly, my wrists will give out. Besides, figuring out characters and worldbuilding are hard and they take time. I still write quickly, once I sit down and do it, but the planning and the preparation are work too, and take time. Once I do get to the part where I’m putting words on a page, I’m impatient for it to be over because I understand revision now, and that my drafts are messy and need work to fix and I just want to be done.
But… drafting used to be the part I loved. Not that tastes can’t change and mature, but now when I’m writing, I’m thinking about the end product. I’m so lucky to have actual books out in the world, tangible objects that people can buy and hold and read (and sometimes I even get to sign). I wouldn’t trade that for anything. But now getting words on the page feels like the work I’m doing to reach an endpoint, not an act that’s joyful in and of itself. Which is not how I want writing to feel.
I used to offset that with fanfiction — even while I was under contract, I’d finish up my important words for the day and then immerse myself in someone else’s world, where I could just play and not care about anything else. But I haven’t felt fannish or inspired to noodle around with much of anything for fun in… a really long time, actually.
That is the part that worries me, and the part that feels like an actual problem. Stories are how my brain has always related to the world around me. It would spit out scenes, ideas, snippets of dialogue, pretty much constantly: brushing my teeth, during my commute, falling asleep at night, feeding the cats, whatever. If my focus wasn’t on something immediate, my brain was giving me stories. And that was always joyful and fun, too, even when actually getting words out wasn’t. Playing moved from words on paper to echoes in my mind, and that was still good because writing was just getting those echoes out.
But… that hasn’t happened much lately. And that’s the part that worries me.
Last year, I was dealing with depression, trying to crawl out of that particularly dark and nasty pit. I managed to get some writing done — a draft, short and bad, but complete, and I tried to celebrate that. Writing was the hardest it’s ever been, and despite all the pressure I put on myself to do more, I still got some of it done. Even with my brain feeling oddly quiet and lonely. I guess I’m not used to having only myself in here.
This year, I’m feeling better in so many ways. I’m out of that pit, I think. I’m not as optimistic or as care-free as I used to be, but I’m also no longer counting down the hours until I can go to bed and then dreading having to get up in the morning. I’m eagerly tackling new challenges at my day job, I’m still thrilled with my beautiful new apartment and bright yellow room. I’m eating better and sleeping mostly reasonably and don’t have any health crises looming that I know of. And I am writing. A few times a week, I sit down and open my laptop and get words onto the page.
Then after an hour, I save it, close it, and don’t think about it again until next time.
For a few months now, I’ve been trying to figure out what feels different and I think that’s it. It’s not that I’m not writing, or even that I have a hard time when I sit down to do it. I just never really feel like sitting down, because nothing is bouncing around in my head when I’m just out living the rest of my life, urging me to finish up running errands already so I can sit down and write.
Stories aren’t echoing in my brain and I don’t know why not. Not just the novel I’m writing—pretty much nothing else is, either. I’m not gleefully imagining other worlds — my own or anyone else’s. When I brush my teeth, I’m just brushing my teeth. When I watch TV, none of it lingers in my mind, turning over and over until it’s a new scene that only I get to experience.
I suspect there are a lot of causes for this change. I’m terrified that it’s a lingering bit of depression, even though I otherwise feel pretty good. Maybe it’s from the pressure that I put on myself about craft and publishing and all that, or maybe it’s just general stress from budgeting and the daily grind and whatever, or hey, maybe it’s just that the way I relate to the world is continuing to evolve as I do. And I am still writing. I even like the novel I’m working on! But it doesn’t feel the same.
The good news is that since I’ve identified what’s wrong, I’m experimenting a little and trying to coax those voices back to life. When I was depressed, pretty much any kind of narrative was too much for me, and time spent alone in my brain was unpleasant. So I avoided all of that. I stopped reading because stories were too stressful, and I also stopped watching TV and movies. Instead, I found myself listening to podcasts during every quiet moment —especially my commute to and from work— and playing video games to eat up the hours between getting home from work and going to bed.
Have I mentioned that the times my story-voices were loudest were during my commute and while I was sitting around with TV on the background and my laptop open?
To be clear, neither podcasts or video games are bad in and of themselves. I like podcasts! (I make one!) And video games are fun and exciting and actually helped me look at stories in a new way. But honestly, I think that the combination of the two, which I needed to keep my brain on track for awhile there, are now still eating up so much brain space that my mind doesn’t get to just wander off and do its own thing. I think that’s why it’s so quiet up there these days—I’m not giving my mind any chance to be noisy.
So I don’t know if it will work, but right now I’m experimenting with giving my mind more down time. I’m making it a point of turning off podcasts for at least one commute a day — I can fill the time by reading, or just thinking. I’m trying to limit my video game time, at least a bit. I’m trying to listen and seize on anything that my brain throws at me, to jot things down while I’m excited about them, even if it’s just a tiny scene that goes nowhere and does nothing, because I don’t just want my creativity back—I want the joy back.
I don’t know if it will work, but I’m hoping. And in the mean time, I’m still writing. The work is getting done slowly, and sometimes painfully. But it’s happening, and I’m trying, and maybe that’ll be enough.