November 18, 2011

A writer's state between books

I am in a state of minor despair, the state of restlessness and anxiety that seems to occur between book projects. It's not unlike the depression a runner feels after finishing a major goal race. It's hardly a disaster or hardship in the larger scheme of things but it's a period that can feel like a black hole nonetheless. 

"Even if you ran a good race, you may feel depressed for a few weeks. Just as in postpartum depression, your 'baby' has reached the finish line and your long sought-after goal, around which your life revolved for months, has been achieved, leaving you feeling empty," write Bob Glover and Shelly-lynn Florence Glover in The Competitive Runner's Handbook (second revised edition).

Completing a book is a major project that requires focus and, I admit, a healthy dose of obsession. As I wrote in On gravity, I take my running very seriously. Yet it pales in comparison to the level of importance I assign to my efforts as a writer. I am without a doubt a running writer, rather than a writing runner. 

Having just finished my first novel, From my Mother, the result of participating in the 2010 National Novel Writing Month a year ago, I believe this is the time I should be refuelling the creative well yet I have a hard time finding the patience to do so. As a writer, I should write. Always. I feel I don't have the luxury of time to take a break. 

Yet November 1 arrived and, as planned, I began on NaNoWriMo, which is at Day 18. That novel's first draft should be at 30,000 words. Mine is not. The NaNoWriMo clock is ticking and my word count certainly isn't. 

I have typed up well over 17,000 words in two abysmal starts to pathetic manuscripts on a topic I should know inside and out; the Sub-3 Marathon. It is about a runner who wants to run 42 kilometres and 195 metres in a second under three hours. The clock must stop at 2:59:59, or sooner. Why? Because. Just because she thinks she can. 

The longer it takes, the more important it becomes; the importance lies in trying, in knowing that you are doing everything you can, rather than in achieving. It is what I live and breathe every day. You would think I have plenty to say, write, on the topic. That's what I figured too but it seems that I don't; call it writer's block if you will. 

I believe in writer's Block as much as I believe in the runner's Wall; if you hit it, or if it hits you, you have done something wrong. It only exists if you let it. Not only is it preventable, there is a cure as well. 

But at the moment I do feel blocked; nothing is coming out, no matter how hard I try. And I am trying hard—trust me. I feel that perhaps that is the core of the problem, that I am willing too hard, too much, too soon. My gut tells me I need to stop stressing and take a rest. Read, instead of willing myself to write which at the moment merely results in staring hopelessly at the screen, and impatiently rifling to an ever-increasing stack of books and notebooks on my desk.

(I am reading Elizabeth George's Write Away: One Novelist's Approach to Fiction and the Writing Life and Nick Heil's Dark Summit: the True Story of Everest's Most Controversial Season, both excellent books.)

I have combed most of my unfinished pieces of writing on my hard drive repeatedly, willing them to give me a sense of direction or at least a few more words to add to my NaNoWriMo word count. I've written and published two books in the past 12 months. Perhaps I need to give in to the seemingly obvious need to refill the creative well.

But most of all, I need to keep writing, one piece at a time, as I have been doing every single day including most of this post, written in that state of frustration and despair three days ago. We can be hard on ourselves, choosing to focus on the lack of progress instead of the small steps we keep taking. I am reading and I am writing, just not the first draft of the novel I had in mind. And that's OK for now.

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