For years, I was able to write endlessly; blowing through one story after another and never ever hitting that great wall called “writer's block”. To be fair, some (okay, most) of my early work was crap. When re-reading through it, I can very clearly see that in my rush to finish, I did my work a great disservice. That being said, I've always been what I'd call a manic writer. I write nearly every day and will blaze through a manuscript in just a few months. I’m far too impatient to drag a work-in-progress over the course of the year. That’s not to say I won’t edit, re-edit, and re-edit again over the course of the year following completion, but my crazy writing habits are as ingrained in me as the stories I write. Get the words down at a flurried pace, and clean up the mess after.
Call it self-doubt or plain old fear, but for the first time in 30+ years of writing, I found myself stunned stupid after only a few chapters. I'd done nothing different with this WIP than any other. I'd outlined my characters and my story. Done the research I needed. I'd even gotten that mad, furious tingle in my gut that's like my own starter's gun. The vision was right there before me. I started to become emotionally invested in my characters…..
First, the frustration set in. That was followed by the questions. What the hell is wrong with me? This is a good story, right?
Full disclosure folks....I need to be working on something constantly. I'm not one of those who can sit back and peruse the internet and occupy my time with something other than writing. I cannot go month after month without something stretching my writing muscles. So I considered changing things up a bit. I'd try short stories or novellas. Maybe even get ahead of the game and write a bunch more blog posts for my website. In theory, it all sounded good. But since the reader in me will always be the boss over the writer - and I've never been one to actually read short stories or novellas - that idea hit the wall as fast as my story did.
So I did something I've never done before. I walked away. Instead of forcing the story to flow, I gave myself permission to stop. I also - even though it pains me - gave myself permission to trash the idea completely.
More full disclosure...that unfinished WIP, as well as the one I attempted to write following it, are currently gathering dust in my trusty computer. The good news...I've just completed a wonderful new manuscript since then. The wall might be gone (for now), and I can happily report that I haven't lost the will or need to finish a work in progress.
What I have learned through all of this is that neither of my unfinished projects had a well-defined story line. I had my characters and setting, some basic ideas of the path I wanted them to travel, but I was in such a hurry to bring them to life, I neglected to GIVE them life.
I will return to both stories one day. Might be now, might be five years from now, but I will eventually finish. The manic writer in me can't NOT finish.
We writers put a lot of pressure on ourselves. We do it without conscious thought, in the way we are always looking at the world differently than everyone else; with questions and ideas and a fanatical need to put those things we see/smell/hear/taste on paper. Pressure can be good. It holds us accountable. It keeps us from letting the self-doubt take over. But pressure can also backfire on you, causing you to hit that wall and leave beautiful works of art half-finished. Finding the perfect balance between pressuring one’s self and being too relaxed about it all is something I strive for every day. Some days are hard; I beat myself up with doubt, stretch myself too thin and demand more from myself than is humanly possible. We all do this sometimes. But when that pressure closes up the creative part of your brain, smothering the curious ideas, it's time to make a change.
Give yourself permission to just BE. Take time to reconnect with yourself as a person, and not always a writer. Yes, I'm a writer, but I'm also a wife, a mother, an avid reader, a camper. My writing may define what I like and to a certain degree my writing does speak for me. My writing is not only who I am, nor will it ever be.