Struggling with Burnout? Word Poop Happens
Whoa. Sorry about that. Thanks for cleaning me up.
We are now over halfway through 2011, and the New Year’s Resolutions are long forgotten, dulled by the screams of children racing through your house on a sugar high. Perhaps this was the year you vowed to take that novel more seriously, and you set out with bold promises of daily word count.
The first week of January, you were off like a shot. The creativity was flowing, and you couldn’t remember a time you felt so alive. You might have even wondered why you put this off so long? Fingers flying across the keyboard, you laughed in the face of all your naysayers.
Now? Seven months in?
Calgon! Take me away!
Maybe you are heading into July, and, what was so exciting and fun in January, now feels more like slogging through a rice paddy wearing ankle weights and snow shoes. I feel your pain. So when you hit that mental wall, what can you do to push past and find that same kind of energy? Here are some tips to help.
1. Recognize that stalling is normal.
When we start off with a new sparkly idea, it is like a first date that goes really well. We spend every spare second dreaming of our next time together, and every moment apart is torture. But, like the dating world, the one month point with our new project marks a transition in our relationship. This is the point we often ask, Can I commit for the long haul? ‘Til “published” do we part? By 6, 7 months? There needs to be a committment.
Be encouraged. Just because we don’t get giddy every time we think of our work in progress in no way means that something is wrong. It just means we have an opportunity to dig in and go deeper. This is no longer a fling, a wild fleeting affair. It’s a commitment. That’s a good thing.
2. Revisit the plan.
There is a saying we used all the time when I was in sales. Fail to plan and plan to fail. Many writers (I’ve been guilty) just take off writing without any prior preparation. It is usually about the 30,000 word mark that this initial failure to plot starts becoming clear. We stare at our screen and realize our story is so complicated the reader is going to need a GPS and a team of sherpas to navigate our plot.
What went wrong?
Maybe we should have spent a tad more time plotting. We have a choice. Keep writing, or stop and make a plan. Often, if we will just go back to the original idea and construct even a basic outline, we can easily see where we got off track. Think of it like taking a wrong turn on a road trip. We can keep driving and hope to stumble across a familiar interstate, but the better idea might be to drag out that AAA map we ignored in the beginning because we wanted to be “spontaneous.”
Frequently, when we hit a mental wall in our writing, it is because our subconscious is shouting, “You took a wrong turn!” If we will listen and retrace our steps, we will be cooking down the Inspiration Interstate in no time.
3. Revisit our goals.
At the beginning of every new year, a condition called RDD sweeps the globe, and writers are particularly vulnerable. What is RDD? Reality Deficit Disorder. I don’t know if it’s the champagne or peer pressure that makes us believe we can lose thirty pounds, build our own California Closet out of spare Popsicle sticks,
and win the Pulitzer by summer.
Let’s be honest. New Year’s Day makes us crazy. Spring Break only reinforces the original crazy idea and summer is the first time we can really grab hold of some sanity.
In January, we seem to lose all grasp on reality and forget that we do have a life. We have spouses, children, pets, day jobs and needy houseplants that all need our attention, too. These things don’t just go away because we decided to write a book, which you have probably been reminded of in the past seven months.
Oh yeah, I guess I do need to sleep.
If you are burned out, then it might be a good time to revisit your original goals and grant some grace for temporary insanity. Clearly the original goal was a tad unrealistic if it’s now summer and you are only halfway finished and are now afraid of your computer. Obviously you needed longer than 8 weeks to write
your opus magnus.
Just because we move a personal deadline does not mean we have failed. Sometimes our creativity will lock up simply because it is caught like a deer in the headlights. Give your muse some breathing room, and she might just spark back to life.
Summertime is a great time to set new goals. If you are live in TX it is currently hotter than the hammered-down hinges of Hell and you are pretty much forced to stay indoors to keep from spontaneously combusting anyway. Make use of that indoor time.
4. Focus on love.
One great way to rest and recharge our creativity is to read. Remind yourself why you love to write. Get away from your own work and out of your own head for awhile. Go to the pool and read the kind of stuff that inspired you to want to write that novel in the first place. This is a good way to recoup, but still be “working.” Often, by “plugging in” to the creativity of others, we can recharge and be ready to write in no time.
5. Write No Matter What—Word Poop is Part of Life
One of my favorite quotes is by Stephen King. The amateurs sit and wait for inspiration. The rest of us just get up and go to work.
If the goal is to do this writing thing for a job, we just have to get up and do it anyway. If you aren’t currently writing full-time, this is the time to train. It doesn’t get any easier; the demands just get steeper and the
deadlines actually mean something. There are consequences.
I have chapters due to my agent. He needs 15,000 words. In the past 6 weeks, my grandmother has been in the hospital three times and nearly died twice of a bacterial infection (she is fine now), I had surgery on my right hand, and I have an 18 month old who actively pursues Death every waking moment. All great excuses to not write, and it’s likely no one would have held it against me. But I wrote anyway. I want to be a big author one day and life is not going to stop to give me time to write. I figured it was great training for the next legs of my career.
Almost every day I sat at the computer I wrote pure unadulterated CRAP. I made writing goals of 3000 words and I wrote 3000 words of garbage. Not only did I write garbage, but every word was like pulling literary teeth. Why? I was tired, sore, strung out, and sometimes full of pain medicine. But I knew a little
The best writing is often behind a wall of garbage. We have to prime the pump. And, yes a lot of gross words coated in leaves, mud and squirrel dropping might come glopping out, but there will come a point where beautiful pristine spring-fresh awesomeness will start to flow and you will need a mighty large bucket to catch it all. It took 5 weeks of writing redundant junk to get to this past week. My writing has been better this week than ever. My subconscious has come up with stuff I never could have thought of deliberately. But my subconscious needed me at the keyboard clearing out the word excrement. I had to clear out my mind and then clean up my Book Baby.
Too many writers go to their “Book Baby” see it’s covered in word poop and they just figure they will come back when the baby smells like roses and angel kisses. Nope. It will still be covered in word poop and if you leave it long enough, your “Baby” will be painting the walls of your hard drive—
Okay, I’ll stop.
Just go change its diaper and get to work. It’s a Book Baby and word poop happens. It goes with all babies.
In the end, know that writing a book is more like a marathon. We have to train, prepare, and then pace ourselves, or we will end up curled in the fetal position on the side of the road waiting on the rescue van. It’s normal to make mistakes and have setbacks and feel less than thrilled about our decision to become a writer. What is important is to remember that all of the doldrums and depression is temporary, but the thrill of publication is forever.
What are some ways you use to bust past the writing doldrums? What do you think causes your creativity to “lock up?” What tactics do you use to get unstuck? How do you handle Word Poop?
I love hearing from you! And to prove it and show my love, for this last bit of month of June, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.
I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of June I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!
Note: I am keeping all the names for a final GRAND, GRAND PRIZE of 30 Pages (To be announced) OR a blog diagnostic. I look at your blog and give feedback to improve it. For now, I will draw weekly for 5 page edit, monthly for 15 page edit.
Due to 4th of July Holiday, winners will be announced on Wednesday.
I am teaching a Blogging to Build Your Brand Workshop at Write It Forward. Sign up HERE. If you want to blog and you need my dedicated help to helping you find your own unique brand and develop a plan for blogging, then the $40 Blogging to Build a Brand will fit that need. In this class I will run you through exercises to help find and create a brand as unique as you and then tailor it to connect with your future fans.
In the meantime, I hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . Both books are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in th biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left over to write more great books! I am here to change your approach, not your personality.