A rut

I wrote the first draft of this post well over a year ago and, unfortunately, it’s still mostly true. I lost 40 pounds last year and now I’ve gained it all back. I’m tired. Fatigued. All the time.

I’m in a rut, a creative valley, a box-canyon of clouded vision, a swamp of confused and tired metaphors. Everything I write reads like crap and nothing makes it past the backspace key. It’s been like this for months. Months and months and months at idle.

I’ve tried editing previous stuff and have rewritten page upon page. The problem is that when everything reads like crap, everything reads like crap. So as bad as the old stuff is, the new stuff isn’t much better. I’ve tried kick starting new projects only to see them stall and grind to a stop. I watch my inspiration—whatever meager scrap I’m clinging to at the moment–ossify and harden as I type.

It’s happening now.

It’s not just that my voice seems muted; it’s that I don’t seem to have anything interesting to say. I don’t why I’m in this funk and I don’t really know how to get out of it. I’ve tried the exercises, write and write and don’t stop and I’ve produced some stuff, but… ehhh.

I tried to supplement with other creative action. I made sour cherry and ginger syrups for mojitos. I subjected dinner guests to plate after plate after plate of fruit topped with savory sauces. I did ceviche trios, pork two ways, tacos carnitas with salsa explosion, caramelized scallops on green curry risotto cakes with grilled pineapple and a chorizo cilantro broth… and it was all been yummy and healthy and satisfying but it didn’t translate to the page.

Lately, even culinary inspiration is eluding me.

Writing about politics and economics exhausts me. And besides, there’s not much to say that I haven’t already said. I’ve thought about it, believe me , I’ve thought about it. But the truth is I don’t care enough about it right now to waste the energy. The administration is inept, spiteful and amateurish and the opposition party sucks. Long-term indicators are astonishingly, mind-bendingly awful and outside a handful of econ departments nobody seems to care. Want to know what I think? It’s all here.

But still… stories languish in limbo, plot twists seem more and more hackneyed and trite and dialog stutters and tumbles as if I’d stapled stilts to the characters’ legs.

Part of the problem, I think, is that I write for myself. I don’t have deadline pressure and nobody will complain if I spend three weeks revising two hundred words, only to revert at the end to the original. There are no readers knocking on my door or sending me angry emails. No one is second-guessing my priorities and wondering why I choose to spend my time sitting on the couch with my family watching yet another food-based reality show instead of at the keyboard getting Laiathal out of prison, helping Renée get someone’s attention, or figuring what the hell Colin’s fucking purpose is in the first place. Mike is swimming in his own depression while Susan is in Japan and I haven’t done anything to help either of them. I’ve got to kill Chip and I don’t know how to do it–maybe I’ll just kill  Hiroki instead, but I don’t know. Alex’s ending changed twice and in each version it just feels like I’m punishing her, whether she gets her guy or not. Harold has cheez whiz in his hair and probably some bodies in the basement, but who knows? John can’t get out of his goddamn bedroom to move the story along.

Maybe if my characters could complain, I’d figure out some way to push them along.

But they can’t, of course. So they languish, unwritten and incomplete. And I can’t find a way to make myself care about them.

And of course, there’s no happy conclusion to this post. I don’t have a resolution to my problem or a magic answer for anyone else suffering from a creative depression. But I know that it sucks and I want to get out of it. I just don’t know how.

Any ideas?

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12 thoughts on “A rut

  1. stop editing. get out of the cage of your old words.

    Maybe lighten up and dont be so hard on yourself and dont take the writing so seriously. Just vomit words out–good or bad–just stop judging them. Somewhere in the mess will be a seed of something interesting/exciting/new.

    You may be able to see it now or maybe not, so dont delete ANYTHING. It is all work product and it is all valuable.

    maybe you just need to take a concious and timed break from it and be a consumer for a while. podcasts, music, books, movies, photography, art etc.

  2. That’s basically what I’ve been doing: vomiting out words. The problem is that not much has happened other than I’ve got a bunch of bilious content. Some of it is serviceable but most of it isn’t. Some might be salvageable with editing, but I’m not worrying too much editing right now (some editing is necessary, but I too easily fall into over-editing traps).

    Mostly I think that I’m finding it hard to finish. I keep second-guessing plot points and character arcs and that grinds the process to a halt. Or, in some cases, I never had an arc to begin with….

    I realize that this all sounds a little more maudlin than I intended. It’s frustrating but it’s not whaaaaaa…. frustrating, it’s more #$%^&*$#@ frustrating.

    Partly it might also be due to the fact that I poured out about (all told) about 100,000 words last year and I’m comparing this year’s output to last’s. Last year was hyper productive, this one not so much.

  3. Oh, I’m sorry, I haven’t finished reading the last stuff you’ve given me. Will it help if I start demanding chapters? 🙂

    Kudos to you for hitting the gym. Every night I lie in bed thinking there has to be time for me to squeeze in some exercise. Never seem to get there, though.

  4. Oh god, I didn’t mean to chastise anyone with advance, pre-edited, “why can’t he decide where the goddamn accent goes in her name?” copy. Take your time, take your time. Your husband was right; I just need to get out more.

    The gym has been good. I’ve been going in the mornings mostly, around 5:45 so that I can shower there and then catch the train into the city, but sometimes I go in the evenings too. I try to make sure I go every day though, that’s a priority. The family has been very good about it. It does certainly help that the kids are now all of an age that I can leave them home alone if I need to.

  5. “Maybe if my characters could complain, I’d figure out some way to push them along.”

    So let them complain. Take a new sheet of paper or open a new file or however you work and let them piss and bitch and moan at you.

    “But they can’t, of course.”

    Of course they can, if you let them.

  6. ETA: The bit about lack of deadline pressure is an important insight. If completing a draft means setting up a series of external deadlines for yourself then why not? Writers do it all the time to keep from dithering. Whether you meet with a weekly writing group or have a trusted friend demand regular installments of copy or devise some other figurative editor-in-chief breathing down your neck isn’t particularly important so long as you put some mechanism for accountability in place for yourself. (Aside: Why do you think I went back to doing journalism my last year in grad school? Because it sure as hell wasn’t for the money, and nothing to do with learning to write well.)

  7. @ess
    I like this idea. I like it a lot. I’m going to do this. I think it’ll help me move past a couple of roadblocks. And of course, part of the fun of writing is taking your characters and doing awful things to them. : D

  8. I really really hated that last thing you wrote.
    There, did that help? ; )

    I second and third the external deadlines-make them for your “creatives” and you have to turn them into Hallie (Hi Hallie!) or other readers without excuses. Yes, they might be crap, but you’re just doing it. And take a break on the political/economic stuff until you don’t bore yourself. You’re right, if you’re not interesting to yourself, it’s going to be a chore to write it.

    Also, I hear you on the funk part, I’m in a funk for food ideas, so can I come over and eat your wonderful creations? They sound awesome, maybe I’ll get some good ideas.

  9. Yeah, but what did you hate about it?

    : D

    Deadlines are probably necessary. I’ve been avoiding placing them on my writing for fear that then I’ll never work on it. I know that sounds silly, but it’s a real fear. I suppose my natural contrariness extends even to myself.

    As for food, you’re always welcome! Let’s figure out a weekend!

  10. Patrick Stephens :
    @ess
    I like this idea. I like it a lot. I’m going to do this. I think it’ll help me move past a couple of roadblocks. And of course, part of the fun of writing is taking your characters and doing awful things to them. : D

    Prezactly. 🙂 I’m thinking, for example, of how much fun JK Rowling must have had working out how to stick it to Professor Umbridge in TOOTP. Once the final scenario was reasonably sketched out (in her head? in a notebook?) I’ll bet the actual writing was more or less free flowing. (Just a hunch.)

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