Nathan Bransford, Author

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

That uncomfortable feeling when writers don't write

If you have stopped by these parts in the past few months, you'd be forgiven if you imagined scenes of tumbleweeds with Spaghetti western music, dust blowing across a landscape slowly being reclaimed by nature (or, at least, by the occasional spambot comment attack).

For over a year I haven't been blogging or tweeting consistently, and this isn't because I've been busy writing a side project that I'm about to unveil to the world. I haven't been writing consistently either.

The reasons are many. I threw myself into an intense job with an equally intense commute. I gradually realized that after writing and publishing four books in four years while blogging nearly every day, I had reached a point of creative burnout. Mix in some lack of willpower to just force myself to do the thing, and you end up with zero words.

The dominant emotion for a writer who isn't writing is... guilt.

Why is that?

It's such a strange emotion to feel for what can sometimes feel like a self-indulgent hobby. I don't delude myself to think there are vast pockets of humanity who I'm letting down by failing to put my thoughts into pixels. The world will survive without another young adult novel and more musings about the writing process. If there's anything I should feel guilty about, it's that I fail every day to do enough to help others and bend the world toward justice.

And yet guilt I feel, even as a distant part of me knows this was the right thing for me at the time. I don't know what's waiting for me beyond the curve of the horizon, but I know I haven't written my last and am ready to attack things anew. That internal churn whose byproduct is words hasn't abated. It's just reformulating, and I'm trying to trust that it will lead me to the right place.

I'm learning to think in new ways, I'm paying attention to new things. I'm scribbling when I can, even if it's sporadic. And when the dust currently blowing wildly across the landscape starts settling, I'll see the contours of my new world and distill it into words.

Have you gone long periods without writing? What did you feel?

Footnote: I'm available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and consultations! More info here.

Art: "The Lookout" by Albert Bierstadt


Angie McCullagh said...

Yes, huge guilt. And dissatisfaction with the world in general when I'm not writing. I quit my day job last week to write again and it is terrifying and exhilarating. I'm so glad you're back to blogging!

Donna OShaughnessy said...

Yes, Guilt. I returned to school at the age off 55 so I could learn more about my chosen craft (was a nurse before that) and now while my husband works I am home writing. Unless I am doing a million other stupid things to keep me from writing because I feel guilt about not doing them. Bottom line, I'll be dead soon, won't we all? so I set a writing schedule, the rest of the world be damned, and some days I actually keep it. Like Angie, I'm very glad you are blogging again!

StressFreeMom said...

Yes, and I always feel uneasy, like something's not right. The puzzling thing is I know I will feel better once I start writing again, but sometimes I can't push myself to do it. Precious days are wasted. That's the part I can't quite seem to figure out.

Dana said...

Guilt is a good way to put it. Yes, I feel guilty when not writing, like it's a disservice to the characters, but most importantly because I know I'm the only person standing in the way of my dreams. Welcome back to blogging. But take care of yourself, everyone needs a break sometimes and that is OK!

PiscesLynx said...

Hello Nathan,

I just discovered this Blog via Tahereh on Twitter--thank goodness. This is what I've needed. I'm sure I can use your help in the future on my manuscript and more. This post is quite interesting to me today as I have gone through almost exactly the same thing. I did the whole creative burnout after years of working way harder than I should have. Then, I decided that I need a job that was not creative (Woops. Not a good idea for me.) I have discovered that when you're an Artisan, as we are, you need the daily creativity to survive in a predominately normal-lifestyle world. I highly respect people who are able to go in, day-to-day and function! I am unable to function if I am not living in the present. What allows me to live in the present is creating. Some realizations were made when I read about this topic in Eckhart Tolle's book, A New Earth.

The gift of being a creator...It feels like a gift and a curse; go along with it, or suffer! Hehe. For me, going without writing and creating feels like I'm trapped. I'm sitting back, watching myself drown. While drowning, I'm supposed to just let it happen, not rush in and rescue myself. That's my dark-fantasy take on trying to force myself into mainstream. A square-peg-round-hole situation. When this occurs it feels as if my purpose and existence are completely pointless. Thanks to trying to force myself into a non-creator job (by the way, I had a horrific commute as well...yuck), I realized something I will never forget. Perhaps I need to post-it this all over my desk and walls: Self-Employment seems overwhelming at times, especially during tax season, but I am much better-geared (gaming reference of course) to handle that beast than the other that resides in our mainstream society's standard model. I hope this all makes sense. ;o) Thanks for sharing your experience, too.

Scottg said...

I love to write, yet I can unconsciously be drawn from it by something shiny, new, or compulsive- and then the guilt of having not written sets in to naw at my creative psyche like a duck pecking endlessly at a dried corn cob. Damn, I just guilted myself into the need to go write...

abc said...

I hope the commute was on a train and not in a car. At least reading could be involved.

Matthew MacNish said...

I try not to do the guilt thing, as long as the reasons for not writing are good, legitimate reasons. If I'm not writing for other reasons, well ...

I will say this though, I'm not the kind of writer who forces it when the inspiration isn't there. I don't find that to be useful whatsoever. When I'm working on something I'm in love with, I have no problem getting done as much as I need to get done and more. When I'm not, well ... if I force it I usually just end up with useless words.

Roberto said...

I'm not a writer. As a matter of fact, I don't even write. I don't mean "I don't write often": I mean "I don't write, at all". I just think about writing. Sometimes I have ideas, and think about how cool it'd be to write them. Then I go back to playing videogames.

But years and years (and years) ago, I thought I wanted to write; and one day I wrote to a literary agent that had an awesome and funny blog complaining that when I wrote, it was so bad I wanted to puke (not my exact words). This agent wrote back to me with a killer one liner: "Writers write, Roberto".

So, Nathan, excuse me for giving you back your own advice: "writers write, Nathan". It doesn't matter if you don't do it so often, if you leave it for some time, or if you want to claw your eyes out after reading what you've just written (this may happen only to me, though): just write, and everything will come back into place.

My hopeful 2 cents.

Gwen Tolios said...

I wouldn't say guilt, but more like disappointment? Itchiness? It's that same feeling when comparing myself to other my age - how come they've managed that and I haven't? Except, I'm comparing lazy me to productive me and shame myself. You could have finished that! But while I sit on my couch watching Netflix instead of writing for a month? It's mostly just wondering what's gonna happen the next episode.

Kevin Helmick said...

Oh yeah. I feel guilty. I feel like I'm late, behind. It nags like an unpaid bill and the interest is growing daily. It makes me crabby, irritated with myself. Especially when the third and final act is all that's left. Why don't I just finish it? 60,000 words just sitting there getting stale. What the hell.

Thanks for mentioning it.

Bryan Russell said...

I feel like there's a line that you have to tread. You have to decide what is simply excuse-making (i.e., serial procrastination) and what is real. I save the guilt for excuse-making because this is simply my conscience reminding me that the little devil on my shoulder just won a round. But I don't let myself feel guilty about what is real. Sometimes life interferes, and there are things you can't control. You have to be able to forgive yourself. Creation takes energy. This is the physics of the imagination. But sometimes you don't have enough energy left to force those atoms to bounce and collide inside your skull and spark that frisson of energy needed to make something on the page. Be it a day job, be it illness or disease, be it a death in the family, or be it parenthood, sometimes the energy simply isn't there. And this is okay. It's renewable energy, luckily. Wind, water, and sun. So forgive yourself and come back later. Give your head a few knocks and the atoms will start bouncing armours again.

Inkling said...

One of my disappointments when I left 'too expensive for writers' Seattle in 2012, was the excellent work-write balance I'd achieved. One of my part-time jobs was an agency who sent me to two public event venues—work that was almost always at night.

Yeah, sometimes those events meant working past midnight and left me scrambling to catch the last bus home. But the work had two enormous advantages:

1. They were in the evening, when I'm too tired to write anyway. Get a good night's sleep, and I was ready to write the next morning.

2. They meant a lot of mixing with people, which is great for someone who writes alone.

Writers might want to keep that in mind. Look for work that complements writing rather than interfers with it.

--Michael W. Perry, author of the just-out Embarrass Less: A Practical Guide for Doctors, Nurses, Students and Hospitals.

Meghan Ward said...

You deserved a break, Nathan! I don't know how you kept up blogging every day as long as you did. I'm having trouble blogging once a week these days. And during that time you published four books while working a full-time job! Amazing!! It's great to have you back, but don't feel guilty about giving yourself a break. It makes me think you might be human after all :)

Caitlin Lane said...

While there's no denying the importance of writing daily or at least on a regular basis, taking a break can sometimes be best. It's still hard to fight those feelings of guilt when you take that moment for yourself, but even though as writers we love to write, it's still work. And who can keep up a 7 day workweek for all of eternity?

Right now, my only commitment is to journal daily. Sometimes it's a creative scene, other times it's "Today sucked/was great, and here's why."

Jill Holdsworth said...

I went a long stretch without writing following a divorce. Felt a lot of emotions during that time (considering I was recovering from divorce lol). The great thing about that is now, 3 years later and in a much happier place, I've picked up the pen again in earnest and can now draw on all of those emotions and experiences that only serve to strengthen my writing. Sometimes writers just need to LIVE - otherwise what would we write about? :)

GuyStewart said...

No guilt; but I can get physically ill. I discovered this when I was writing my master's thesis. It was all I worked on -- while working 50 hours a week as a teacher...I got sick and had no idea WHAT it was that was happening.

So, while I've missed hearing from you, I just figured you were growing in other ways.

I know I'm only one person, but maybe I'm one of many looking forward to your next career, eh?

Since my father "retired" and pretty much fell apart; I've come to realize that we don't need to retire so much as begin something NEW. I wish you all the best on your something new.

Anonymous said...

I got discouraged from feedback from a writers group. They had always been supportive of my current work but when I asked for help on a piece that needed help, they pretty thoroughly just dished it. I totally lost my confidence."I" had loved that story. But there was also this thing: it DID need work.
It took me years to figure out on my own, after that experience, how to try and fix it on my own or to have the conviction to even try. And I felt like I couldn't just go on with my newer works until I did. I like to finish things.I was so happy when I fell in love with it again.
These days, I try to pace myself. I realize that editing takes a lot of work and expect it to take more time than I used to, to let it go and percolate,not just always write-write-write. I also take time out for family, holidays, home.
When my heart is in it, writing -and even editing- is something that draws me to it. But, hey, there are also no (or few) guarantees of publication in this work and so there really is no need to rush or push oneself. Spring happens.

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