On Writing Against Ennui
NaNoWriMo marks the time when we all get excited about writing that novel we’ve had the idea for…like forever. It’s also the time when we hear that nagging voice of doubt that makes us think maybe we can’t do this after all. Maybe it’s a waste of time and energy. Maybe it’s not worth it.
But it is totally worth it. In honor of that creative kick in the pants that is NaNoWriMo, I’m re-posting this article that appeared on my blog earlier this year, when I was fighting hard to crush that nagging little voice. Take today to finish wallowing in ennui. Tomorrow is a new writing day.
* * * *
Ever have those days where you don’t feel like doing that creative thing that you love? What happens when those days stretch into weeks? I’ve joked about having ennui, but they were only half-jokes.
Okay. Scratch that. They weren’t jokes at all.
I’ve given myself some sort of block. I just think about drawing, or writing, or binding a book, and I heave a cartoonish sigh and stop myself before I ever start. But this doesn’t need to be happening right now.
I have the next book in my series to write. I have two other books that need to be revised. But guess what? I don’t feel like writing. I haven’t for days. Weeks. I thought that feeling would go away. It hasn’t.
I started reading more, hoping to get inspired. I read “The Secret Place” by Tana French, “Minnow” by James McTeer. I started watching Lost again because I liked it the first time around and missed some key details, and hell, I just like those characters an awful lot. (They’re like old friends, and their struggle is worse than mine.) I’ve cleaned the house, baked banana bread, and applied to about a million new jobs. I’ve done just about everything EXCEPT write. (Excluding cover letters, that is. I’ve written a ridiculous number of cover letters).
These funks of mine are pretty cyclical. I know they’re coming, I just don’t know exactly when. So the question is, how can you prepare for this kind of thing and keep on doing what you do without this annoying interruption? There’s a voice in my head that’s yelling, “Just buck up. Pull it together and start stringing words together.”
My writing friend came for a visit today and made a list of bookish things she needs to do. She instructed me to do the same while she took a phone call. So I made the list, and it looks like this:
- write Bayou book #3
- revise thesis novel you never revised that last time
- finish potential YA novel with the bad ending
- reprint of ABC book
It’s a vague list. I know this. But here’s the thing: I really want to cross something off that list. So now I can choose one (perhaps the one that requires the least amount of work, because I’m feeling THAT lazy right now) and get started. This will create momentum, I’m sure of it, and then that momentum might carry on to the next project on the list.
When I told my friend Katie about this feeling, she said, “Omygod, did you not read my last post? I was having THE SAME THING.”
It’s true. She just wrote about this very ennui:
I would say, “I’m such a baby,” but another important thing I’m learning is compassion, which starts at home.
Compassion, she says. And she’s right. Why are we so hard on ourselves? Sometimes I think we creative people are the worst: we are absolutely brutish to ourselves, and we hold ourselves to impossible standards. We give ourselves deadlines that anyone else would balk at.
Katie came around and cut herself some slack, and when I read her post today, I realized that I’ve been extremely hard on myself too. Part of my job is being friendly and helpful to every person that walks in the door — and giving them the benefit of the doubt when they make seemingly bad decisions. But I realized I haven’t been doing that for myself. (My subconscious has been trying to tell me, what with its desire for castaways and banana bread, but I was only half listening.)
So here I am, fully listening, giving myself a break. I will give myself tonight to finish wallowing. I will open a file, start reading an old manuscript, and make plans while Katie types furiously across the room. Tomorrow I’ll have coffee and start revising that manuscript, and create some new momentum. I’ll cut myself some slack and let myself start slow, and stop worrying about the size of these books and the vast number of pages left to write. I’ll stop beating myself up because I haven’t written fast enough or good enough. I’ll take this one sentence at a time.
Lauren is author of Bayou My Love, Back to Bayou Sabine, and Bayou, Whispers from the Past. Want more writing tips? Check out her monthly column on Underground Book Reviews and her writer/book artist blog.
Image courtesy of pixabay.com.