March 3, 2014

the slump

More like quit playing games with my head.

Writing is hard. I never imagined it would be easy, but this is much harder than I imagined. Some days, writing seems virtually impossible. It's not a matter of not having the time. I carve out time daily to work on writing, re-writes or editing. It's making the time count that becomes the problem.

While I never seem to be at an end for coming up with story ideas, actually committing them to paper (or screen) sometimes seems impossible. It's something all writers face at times. Some call it writer's block, but that doesn't seem entirely accurate. For me, it's more of writing performance anxiety.
Sitting down to write, I stare at my screen willing the words to flow, but I freeze. I'm back in high school senior year. I'm standing outside the audition room for the state honor band. My hands turn cold and clammy. My chest and stomach grow tense. I can't breathe. I take a deep breath to settle my nerves, but nothing happens. The proctor calls my name. I grab my audition piece and step into the room. 

"Laura Chapman. Millard West. Omaha. Oboe." I lift the instrument and begin to play. Instead of the beautiful melodies I've practiced before and after school for the past few weeks, I miss notes. I start sounding like a duck. I never sound like a duck. I can usually run through my scales and arpeggios at top speeds, but today I have to slow below the recommended audition speed to hit my mark. Even then, I still miss the occasional note. 

I push through the audition, even though I've messed this up beyond redemption. I thank the proctor and leave the room. My mom and band director stand outside the room. No one says anything, but we all know. I blew it.

It's similar with my writing. I can force myself to go through the motions, but it's not right. Something is off. I'm taking much longer than I should, and I'm still missing the mark.

This is by no means a problem unique to me or others, I'm sure. But lately, it seems to be my biggest obstacle in completing any projects. At all hours of the day and night, dozens of questions and concerns race through my mind.
Why isn't this coming out the way I imagined?
How come I can't articulate this properly?
What good is my journalism degree and English minor if I constantly make stupid grammatical errors and typos?
What if people don't like my characters or story?
What if people don't like me?
What if people hate the writing?
What if I royally screw this up?

See what I mean? No end of ideas or thoughts. I haven't talked much about my writing journey as of late, because it's been a painfully slow and frustrating process. I could make excuses. I've been a bit under the weather. It's winter, which means winter blues. I'm tired. But those aren't actually the reasons my progress is muddy at best.

Most of the slowness comes from my fear of failure. A fear of disappointing friends, family, readers and myself. I recognize the futility of such worries. If one of my friends came to me with any of these concerns, I'd have answers prepared to motivate them.
Try a different approach - you'll find the right way to tell this story.
Take a break. Step away from this section and focus on something else.
That's what editors are for. Don't obsess. You can come back later and fix little errors.
Do you like your characters and story? Good. Forget everyone else.
Then they're idiots. Don't worry about them.
You can only do your best and work your hardest. There isn't a single book, TV show, movie or story that every person in the world universally likes.
You'll make mistakes. We all do. But you can learn from them. We're all works in progress.

It's hard to take your own advice, though, isn't it?

Some days, the fear is so debilitating, I consider deleting all of my works and progress, shutting down my blog and ignoring my already published titles. But I can't. Because my desire to tell stories wouldn't go away. And as I look back at what I've written, I'm annoyed with myself. Annoyed because I sound so damn whiny, but mostly irritated that right now I'm playing mental games, and it's pissing me off.

For myself, I probably should have opened up about this sooner. But sometimes, even though the issue is right there you don't want to acknowledge it. This is me admitting I'm having a tough time of this writing gig. I'd like to think this is the first step toward resolving it, but that's not quite true.

Like anything worth having or doing, being a writer comes with its challenges. Right now, this is mine. There's no quick fix. No switch to turn on or off. But finding my way back is something I have to do. And I will do it. It just may take me time.

How's that for a Monday post? I hope it doesn't come off as too self-important or obnoxious, but it's what I have going on. I'd be doing a disservice to telling my writing story if I made it sound like sunshine and rainbows every day. Every journey has highs and lows. I'm at a low now, but I'll get back to the high. Having this low will only make me appreciate it more.

And because I started this post with Backstreet Boys, I have to bring balance to the force by ending it with a somewhat-related, but mainly arbitrary 'NSYNC jam.

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  1. Love the videos to accompany this! ;)

  2. I think you and I are kindred spirits, Laura. I've been going through quite a slump myself and am relieved to see such a talented writer like yourself struggling with the same kind of self doubt that I struggle with. For the past few weeks I've been sitting on my MS, plagued with insecurity and doubt, wondering why I am spending so much time/effort/energy on something that may never amount to anything. I think at the end of the day, we all want to be successful, and as a self published writer, it is really hard to define what success really means. Either way, I am just dusting off the MS and getting back into it and I'm hoping for a much more successful few months than the last have been.

    Laura, all I can say is that you are mighty talented and I loved your debut novel. You are definitely a very talented author and I can see nothing but great things heading your way. I wish you nothing but the best and hopefully an end to your slump! :)

    Happy Writing!

    PS...LOVE the music videos. N'SYNC on a Monday? Hellz yeah!

  3. We all go through it. ALL of us. And any writer who claims not to go through this is a LIAR. You're right that it's important to share all aspects of your writing journey. This piece may help another writer more than you'll ever know. And more than in a "misery loves company" kind of way. As my granny used to say, "This, too, shall pass." And guess what? It always does. She was wise. ;)

  4. Laura, you are an amazing writer. How do I know this? (Apart from reading your blog and your novel.) Because you took something super dreadful (the writerly slump) and turned it into a beautiful, thoughtful, smart and insightful post. AND you included NSYNC and the BSB. Amazing. Like Brea said, I don't know any writer (myself included) who hasn't gone through this. I have no doubt you'll bounce back soon enough. *hugs*

  5. Thank you for the kind words, everyone. I'm truly lucky to know so many amazing women and writers.

  6. I know exactly what you mean. I'm trying to write something a bit different and partly based on my own experience and I'm fighting the desire to shelve it out of fear that I can't get it right.