Lately I’ve been suffering from awful writer’s block / burnout / slump / custard / whatever you like to call it. But although I have nearly given up many times in the last few months I have never quite given up.
I’d like to tell you my secret because it might help you too.
BUT FIRST AN ASIDE (watch it, it’s a long one) for those people who don’t believe writer’s block exists.
I’ve seen your tweets, I’ve read your posts. When I read them, I felt a bit cross. I’d have been crosser, but writer’s block is so draining my annoyance banks are depleted. And anyway, I’m happy for you block-naysayers, because not believing in it implies you’ve never suffered from it. And I wouldn’t wish it on any writer.
But for the record, it’s like this:
Imagine one day you show up to write and nothing comes for hours and hours. You force yourself to write some stuff but it goes nowhere. You’re all unfocused. You hate the few sentences you’ve vomited out. You take a break, try a bit of outlining. A bit of free-writing. Go back to work. Nothing. A cliché or two. Meh. Never mind, just a bad day. You’ve been working hard lately on promo for your last book. Take the next day off. An early night. No worries, mate.
But then it happens again
and the weeks pass
and you keep showing up
and again and you still end up with nothing.
So, you get a bit sad and frustrated and everything goes weird in your life. And the weirder it gets the less you can write. And you start wondering if you’ve written everything you’re ever going to write. But that can’t be true, so you still show up. Oh, but not too much. Don’t worry, you know all about self-care. You take sensible breaks. You still do the research and try ALL THE THINGS including not sweating it and writing something else and NOT TRYING ALL THE THINGS. On the face of it you’re doing everything right. But still nothing.
Oh, and please don’t tell me my ‘writer’s block’ is not actually ‘writer’s block’ because you prefer the term ‘writer’s molasses’. Because to me, that’s splitting hairs. I am a writer. I’ve written books before and I know I’m doing everything I can and yet I’m still not writing. Even though I want to. Weird, no? And okay, sure, there’s a bit of low mood in there, a bit of anxiety, fear and exhaustion and being busy with other things and doubting my own judgement – and yes, it’s all wrapped together in a ghastly Gordian Knot of comparisonitis and stuckness. But that’s what writer’s block IS, surely? A writer who can’t write, despite showing up and trying to do the work.
And if you still don’t believe in it, you’re a lucky little pixie, but don’t tell me it doesn’t exist because I may bite your wings off.
ASIDE OVER. Back to the post:
Because despite everything, I haven’t given up and here’s why:
In 2015 I made an Unbreakable Ten-Year Vow (now known officially as the Lee Welch UTY Vow™ because acronyms make me laugh with their ineffable naffness) to do my absolute best to write books and get them published for ten years. That takes me to 2025. Then I will take stock. If I still want to do it, I’ll continue. Maybe I’ll make another ten-year vow. If I’m fed up and want to breed alpacas, I’ll do that instead. But only in 2025.
That UTY Vow™ has taken some of the stress away because I never have to relitigate the ‘should I or shouldn’t I’ thing. I simply will. For ten years. The decision has been made. I don’t have to re-examine it. I have to do whatever it takes. If I have to set up a website, I will do it. If I have to create social media accounts, I will do it. If I have to re-write a story from a different point of view because that’s what the story needs, I will do it (it’ll half kill me, but I’ll do it). If I need to research, I will do it. If I have to deal with writer’s block, I will do it. I promised my best. That vow has enabled me to trust myself. I won’t break it. It’s a long time, right? Ten years. But it’s also finite.
I don’t know about you but those motivational ‘never, ever, EVAH give up writing’ or ‘the only failure is quitting’ type posts/tweets send a cold shiver down my spine. I know they’re meant to be encouraging, but I find them faintly threatening. I get visions of some poor miserable sod with their fingers glued to a keyboard, slogging on and on and on – wanting to pack it all in and learn to ski instead – but consumed by the idea that they mustn’t because quitting is UNACCEPTABLE. I instantly want to rebel and rush out and buy that snowsuit. I’ll give up if I like. But ten years seems like a nice chunk of time to me.
By the way – ten years when we’re talking novels isn’t really very long. People dedicate their whole lives to learning to write. But I wasn’t starting from scratch in 2015 – I’d already done years of writing practice on and off, studied creative writing for a couple of years at a university, written my first crappy novel and had a couple of short stories published on writer’s websites – but the UTY Vow™ signalled my starting to take it seriously.
So, if you’re a writer who’s just starting out, or you’re thinking about finally giving writing a serious place in your life, I highly recommend making a UTY Vow™ to yourself. It’s remarkably comforting to know during the long dark nights of the soul (and there will be some) that however bad it gets you won’t quit (for now). You will move on through. Then you will reassess with the clarity of hindsight.
Go on – make a UTY Vow™ to yourself today. Come back in 2029 and tell me I was right.
Oh, and in case you’re getting silly ideas, my using the ™ symbol is a JOKE. I’m know I’m not the first person in the world to make a vow. I point this out merely because some people really do try to ™ stupid things, like common words.
And if you’re suffering from writer’s block, don’t listen to those lucky, lucky people who’ve never had it and therefore don’t believe in it. Just think of them as pixies frolicking in the gardens of Hard Work That Pays Off – and forgive them. Because I know you’re not lazy. I know you’re not doing it on purpose. I know you’re putting in the hours and getting nowhere. I know fear and exhaustion and boredom and self-doubt are all wrapped around it and you’re so confused you don’t trust yourself any more. I know you’d be writing if you could. It’s okay. I see you. Try making a UTY Vow™. It won’t trap you. It will give you strength when times are tough. And I wish you all the bravery and all the best.