At this precise moment, I have about half a dozen novels in various states of completion nestled on Google Drive among God knows how many short stories and flash fiction pieces in need of endings. This is, in part, due to the fact that I have an attention span roughly equivalent to a magpie who just discovered espresso. I see something new and shiny and I think to myself, “Hey, I’ll just take a quick break from what I’m doing right now to explore that…” and then two years later I go, “goddammit where was I.”
This is only part of the problem, though. The reason why I sometimes take off from one project and flit to another can often be traced back to the oldest and gravest problem in the history of letters:
There are a lot of people out there—in point of fact, a lot of people I really respect—who assert that there is no such thing. And maybe it’s because I’m young and inexperienced or whatever, but it’s difficult to dismiss writer’s block as a literary sasquatch when you sit and stare at a computer screen, siphoning words from your brain in the same stuttering, uncertain way a drunken phlebotomist would draw blood from savaged veins, until you realize that the words simply will not come anymore.
And then you stare at the blinking, accusatory cursor in your word processor, feeling the block like it’s a palpable thing, membranous and horribly impenetrable. Then you think back on all the other projects you have, and you realize that you’ve had the exact same experience with each of them, at least once. You can outline and plot to your heart’s content before you pick up the pen or set fingers to keys, but sometimes it all just… Stops.
Part of the time, I think it’s burnout. I wrote a thousand words a day all through March and April this year. I cranked up sixty thousand words on the novel that had my full, undivided attention throughout those months.
Then, at the end of April, I dropped it. My day job is a demanding beast, and I had slowly begun to realize over the course of April that I could not keep up that pace and maintain any semblance of humanity. If I had tried, shit would’ve gone full ZA BEASTO and the result would not have been pretty.
I also think that exhaustion, both physical and emotional, can shut down creative faculties. You finish a long day at the office, or you’ve had a knock-down drag-out with your significant other, and you’re not going to be in a place where you can be creative. Because creativity, as John Cleese has pointed out, is based entirely upon the idea of play. You can’t play when you’re worn down or angry or depressed. At least, I know I can’t.
There are some folks who can soldier on past those feelings. And I guess they’re more dedicated than I am, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s not a contest until you start trying to sell something, at which point dedication largely becomes irrelevant and it’s mostly a matter of Who Has the Better Thing.
Then, at the end of it all, there is the grueling, gnarly truth of it: writing is hard as balls. It’s pulling your own teeth with nothing but rusty pliers and a bottle of Jack. It’s digging your way out of Alcatraz with a spork. It’s stacking comic books until you can touch the Moon. Some folks are more capable than others at dealing with the sheer difficulty of chipping a story out of marble, word by word, sentence by sentence. They can just put their heads down and bull through the writer’s block.
I can’t, unfortunately. But I think I’ve figured out a way that I can at least be productive until the block departs and lets me be. I’m going to set about editing the novel that I finished in December. Some of you may remember me talking about lessons learned from that experience. I figure that slightly over eight months, not quite nine, is a goodly length of time to allow a draft to ferment in the wine cellar of my brain, and editing utilizes different parts of my writerly mind than first drafts do.
Of course, there will be scads of rewriting, but even that will be—somehow—distinct from creating things whole cloth. And I think that shifting gears into that will let me come back to these other drafts just a bit fresher than before.
At which point I can continue stacking comic books. TO THE MOON.