When authors can't write (and what you need to know about that)
You have your manuscript. You love it. Your mum loves it. Your partner thinks it is adorable. You do the right thing. You hire an editor and a publisher. They create an amazing book. And the world becomes light, for a moment. You are an author! Until ... reality hits.
You can't write. The books are piled up in the spare room and your social media just isn't working. You stop writing. And you fall in the big hole of fear, tumbling so hard that your creativity is bumped unconscious.
Hang on though, my friend. I have some news for you. You can write. You wrote a book! So why this massive wall of self-doubt? Is there an elephant in the room we ought to be acknowledging here?
There sure is. It is fear! Doubt sits beneath fear, but fear is the driver.
But know this. Doubt and fear can hit at any point in the creative process. While it would be lovely for it to stay shoved down the rabbit hole while we merrily scribble our way to stardom, it simply doesn't work that way. There is a creative process and sad, but true, every now and then, we lose the will to write or create.
And, that's okay!
If you understand the mechanics behind the creative process, you can develop strategies in advance to haul you upwards. And sometimes, that includes not writing!
Be prepared for the troughs and surge through the high points. Learn about your craft. Take a lesson. Attend a workshop or sign up for a retreat. Even when your mind is grey, you can choose to shuffle forwards.
Some of the things you can do, seemingly unrelated, can subtly shift your awareness, giving your creative soul time to rest and recharge. Don't worry, it will prompt you when it is charged again.
Here are a few ideas of how to contend with fear, the elephant in the room:
Face the fear. Look the elephant in the eye and give it a name. Write it down. Tear it up. But acknowledge it. Fear doesn't like being ignored.
Face the fatigue. Creativity requires nurturing. You can't run at a million miles forever.
Sign up for a workshop. There are loads in your area on Eventbrite or other community event websites. You will probably be able to find one that is happening in the next few days.
Make a conscious decision to rest. No matter what the kids want or how long your list is, draw a big window and sit in it. Wallow in it. Do whatever you need to do in it. But decide to be in it.
Create. Anything. Draw, sew, go for a run, design a new fitness program, start a new fictitious company that starts with, "If I could do anything, I would ..." Creativity is the best antidote I know for the fear/doubt/blocks we face along the way.
Create a marketing strategy for your book. You will be surprised at how many ideas you come up with. Ask a friend or partner to brainstorm with you. If you haven't started your book, this is essential to do anyway, so get cracking on it! Give your book writing a bit of a rest.
Write a letter to yourself from your + five-years-on self. What did you do to turn this around? What happened when you let go and began the sweet process of creating again? Add in as much detail as you can - what you were doing, wearing, how it felt. Slowly but surely, you will feel yourself being pulled toward it; there is no other option but for this to happen.
When we feel like we are a fraud or fear takes hold, or we wonder why on earth we are bothering, that is when we know we're getting closer to our goals. Reassess where you wanted to be in the first place. If you didn't set a plan in place and just let the book tumble out of you, it's okay. You did it arse-about, but it is never too late. Look at JK Rowling. Her book went to a dozen publishers, and even when they got their paws on it for a mere 100,000 or so dollars, it was rewritten by an editor!
Keep your eye on the bigger picture. If you've ever spoken to me about publishing, you will know that it is a difficult game to be in. This is why I encourage planning - marketing, writing, printing, the whole kit and kaboodle - before you begin. Figure out a way to get your book into others' hands without relying on book shops. I do love book shops and support them voraciously, but as an author, there is little in return for the majority, apart from the recognition that your work is good enough to sit there. With distributor fees of up to 70% of the retail price, or 90% if they are publishing your book as well, there is little coming back to you in return for your slog.
So, make sure that the slog is not slog, but that the creating comes from passion. Passion is the well for creativity. It is where we dip our toes and the feelings that it brings crinkles the corner of our eyes and we push on, and on, and on. We push through the fear, over the wall of doubt, and our eye on the essence of what we are doing. Creating for joy.
When you can't write, or think you have created something that is just too damned hard to deal with anymore, breathe. It's okay. If you nurture for a bit, face your elephant, give him a pat, and then, get on with it. You are a writer. You are a writer. And because you are writing because your work is a gift to the world, using the gifts you were given, everything is going to be exactly as it should.
You just need to turn up. The rest will be taken care of. Your job is to do the work, and this is only a momentary lull delivered to help you regain the energy to create again.
(Oh, and give that elephant a bit of a stare-down. It's an elephant. That's all!)
[Clare runs regular workshops, retreats and also consults for the publishing process. She accepts up to 10 manuscripts per year, based on the fit with her business model.]
Zuny, the elephant in the room during my retreats and workshops.