I have some happy personal news, which is so simplistic it probably doesn’t count as news at all. It’s this: writing has been going well.
Last month I put out my single annual blog entry, where I total up my writing stats... and in 2019, I wrote considerably more than I had in the last few years. What I only touch on there, though, is that especially at the end of the year, I was really enjoying writing. As I wrote to you all about a couple of months ago, my decision to trash a mostly-finished third version of my project and start again with v4 was actually a creative rush. I wrote 25,000 words in December. And the roll I was on continued pretty strong, because I wrote nearly 25,000 words in January, too, and I’m pretty much exactly where I aimed to be in my draft — the halfway point.
But I’m not sharing that just to celebrate, though I firmly believe that any time you enjoy what you’re writing it’s worth celebrating. I’m sharing it because last year I wrote to you all a few times about recovering from a combination of depression and burnout, and fixing what at that point felt like a pretty strained relationship with writing.
So hey: all that work paid off! I’ve had two great months of writing! Recovery achieved, hooray!
Well… kind of.
Because here’s the catch: I had a hard time bringing myself to write the intro above, where I said writing is going well, because there’s a constant worry in the back of my mind: what if it stops going well?
To be fair, I’ve always been mildly superstitious about writing — one of the only things I’m superstitious about, actually. Specifically, I’ve always been really resistant to the idea of talking about what I’m writing about, or what I expect to happen with it, just in case it never goes anywhere. I don’t want to set expectations, in case I don’t meet them. Saying that it feels like writing is going well feels like jinxing myself, somehow ensuring that things are now going to go badly.
But the difference between how I worry about it now, compared to how I used to feel about it, is that my worries now are founded in what’s actually happened to me, and the ways — minor though they may be — that writing still doesn’t feel like it did before the bottom fell out.
The difference isn’t even with drafting, it’s with everything that usually happens inside my head, or outside of my more serious projects. For as long as I can remember — honestly, my whole life as far as I can tell — writing was my hobby as well as a professional goal. Let me put it like this: as a kid, I was the one who dictated extensive games of pretend at recess, making up stories for me and my friends, adventures that cleverly incorporated playground equipment. (When you grow up loving fantasy, a swingset is a great stand-in for riding your horse into battle.) I definitely kept up playing pretend long after my classmates grew out of it, basically sticking with it all the way through sixth grade — the last year we had recess.
So what did I do in seventh grade? I tried to write a novel for the first time. Because writing felt exactly the same as playing pretend.
That has always been the case for me. It isn’t just what I get down on paper; when I first noticed something was pretty wrong with my creative process last year, what I noticed specifically was that it felt like my fun internal storytelling voice had gone silent. That had never happened before. There had never been a time in my life when I wasn’t writing-as-playing, often grinning to myself as I imagined a big climactic emotional moment in a story that I not only hadn’t written yet, but frankly never expected to write. Because actually writing is only one part of it; daydreaming is also a huge part of it, and in some ways even more fun. Words are messy, after all, and drafts never turn out quite like I imagined before I got started. Daydreams are only what I imagine, without any of the hard parts.
Which isn’t to say that I don’t daydream now. Heck, daydreaming was a huge reason why I decided to re-re-restart my WIP; I had a couple of scenes bouncing around in my head that I knew were better than anything I’d written…which meant it was worth it to find a way to make those scenes happen. So yeah, I do daydream, still.
But not as much. Not as freely.
I don’t play-write, either. (Not writing plays, just… writing as play. This is something the wonderful Rachael Herron has talked about a little recently, which helped me articulate what I’m not doing.) I used to spend a ton of time writing outside of my Serious Business Writing: hundreds of pages of fanfic, quick scenes from ideas I never expected to go anywhere, basically anything else that was bouncing around in my brain. I did it with no expectations of it meaning anything or going anywhere, it was just that sitting down and noodling around with a scene was fun.
I don’t really do that anymore.
I’ve tried! On the rare occasions I do find myself daydreaming, I’ve very consciously pushed myself to sit down and play with them, only to have nothing come out. Words used to flow from my imagination to my fingertips without pausing anywhere else, and now, well… I have the daydream. I open my computer. And … nothing.
I don’t know what’s going on with that. Maybe some of it is professional focus; I have a much harder time fiddling with ideas I know are going nowhere, now, because I’ve spent the last six years training myself to develop and evaluate ideas specifically to go somewhere. But at the same time, the ideas were always there and playing around with them was how the best of them eventually turned into, you know, manuscripts. And as for fanfic, well, I haven’t written any in ages, because I haven’t been in a fandom in ages. But that feels like a chicken-and-egg question too — have I not written fic because I haven’t been in a fandom, or have I not been in a fandom because my brain is no longer grabbing on to media and dropping stories into my brain?
With my first novel, I used to bribe myself — if I wrote 1,000 words of my draft, I could spend the rest of the day play-writing. Now I’m at a point where I’m pretty good about getting out 2,000 words of my draft at a time, but I can’t freaking convince myself to play.
I dunno. I feel like maybe I’m crawling slowly back toward that place, but it’s frustrating. I know what I want my mind to do, how I want it to feel, and it just … doesn’t. I don’t think I can force it. I don’t know what habits or routines would encourage it. I just have to wait, and hope — and that’s why I’m afraid. What if it doesn’t come back?
The thing is, I know I’ll be fine. Writing is going well. I’m happier with what I’m working on than I’ve been in a long time. I know enough about my anxious tendencies to recognize that this is really just so much anxiety, and that spending so much brain space on it doesn’t accomplish much. I’d be better off if I could just let go of this stupid niggling worry. But here I am, still convinced that something is wrong, and that any forward progress I make is just temporary and that I’ll backslide at some mysterious, nebulous point in the future. And maybe I will! But worrying about it won’t prevent it.
So that’s why I’m sharing all of this: because, like I said at the beginning, things are going well. And no matter what my anxiety tries to tell me, acknowledging that fact won’t cause me to fall off a cliff. And maybe once I’ve proved that to myself, I can let go of some other anxieties, too. Here’s hoping.