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The Confessions Of A Writer

What happens when even the determination to write no matter what has vanished?
| Nov 1, 2016 | 20 comments |

Can I be real for a minute?

I feel as if I’ve lost my way as a writer, particularly when it comes to fiction.

Before continuing, let me say one thing. If you, as a writer, have struggled with doubts, fears, questions, know you’re not alone. I wrote this for myself, but also for you.

To Be a Writer, or Not to Be a Writer

Image via Pixabay.

Image via Pixabay.

NaNoWriMo (aka National Novel Writing Month) starts today. Shouldn’t I be excited? Shouldn’t I be chomping at the bit with glee, ready to hurl myself headlong into a new story? After all, I’m a writer.

Or am I?

I’m not saying one’s participation (or lack thereof) in NaNo is a measure of one’s writer-ness. The principle is what matters. People doing it are writing, getting words on paper (or screen).

Of course, I write plenty of things—college papers, blog posts, a monthly newsletter—so that counts as being a writer. But that’s not what I’m talking about.

We’re told we should want to write. It should be a passion, a burning desire that when thwarted leaves us feeling empty. Incomplete. Writers not writing are like fish out of water. It doesn’t fit.

As I scroll through Facebook getting notification after notification about my friends who are doing NaNo, I wonder, What’s happened to my writing? Where’s the passion, the need-to-do-this drive?

I participated in NaNo two years ago, as an excuse and motivation to start a new fantasy novel. Since finishing that novel, I’ve written a handful of flash fiction stories and a novella.

That’s it.

Forget about Writer’s Block. This feels more like Writer’s Incapacitation. It’s not a rut, it’s a full-on ravine, complete with dark crevices and grim echoes.

Writers and Fear

Image via Pixabay.

Image via Pixabay.

If you’re a writer, chances are you’ve struggled with similar problems. Maybe not to the same degree. But we’re a fragile bunch, prone to much fear, anxiety, and self-doubt.

  • My book isn’t good enough.
  • I don’t have talent.
  • I’ll never become a bestseller.
  • Compelling scenes are impossible.
  • My characters are flat.
  • My plots are bland.
  • Ideas are hard.

On and on it goes, to infinity and beyond.

We have friends to encourage us. That helps.

We attend conferences, read books, scour writing websites, listen to podcasts, all in the name of bettering our craft, improving our skill. Such efforts bolster our confidence in our abilities. We want to fulfill that dream of getting published, of having a book people read and enjoy.

I used to be that person. Lately, I fear it has become a passing interest. “I don’t have time,” I say. “I just need to finish college. Then I’ll get back to it.”

Yet I wonder. Will I?

Will that spark return, or has the long-smoldering passion finally cooled to nothing but ashes?

There’s certainly something to be said for pushing through. Inspiration isn’t required in order to plop yourself in front of your computer, set fingers to keyboard, and start tapping away. Even if that’s the last thing on earth we want to do.

After a while, as we know, the joy returns. Energy and passion spark our creativity once again. Words flow, ideas explode into our brains, and we’re in a groove.

Problem is, what happens when even the determination to write no matter what, has vanished? I ask myself if I can, even should, climb out of the ravine I find myself in. Is it worthwhile to fight through? Even when the attempts at writing, mainly through blogging, seem to reach a pitifully few number of readers?

“Week after week, year after year, you’ve slogged away,” the doubt whispers. “And what do you have to show for it? Who reads your work? Who cares?”

Some people believe a writer should be happy even if she writes for no one but herself. If no set of eyes but her own glimpse the stories she’s created, the writing process itself should be sufficient reward.

That’s not me. I write because I enjoy it, sure. More than that, though, because I enjoy sharing stories with others.

I think every writer secretly—or not so secretly—covets an audience. People who care enough to take time to read their stories or blog posts.

Image via Jess_the-VA at Pixabay.

Image via Jess_the_VA at Pixabay.

And when we don’t have that, when we continue to toil up the mountain with no end in sight and precious few readers interested in what we’re doing, the temptation sets in.

To give up. To question why we’re even doing this.

It’s easy to compare ourselves with the successful writers.

  • Why does so-and-so have a multi-book deal? My stories are just as interesting.
  • That blogger has a following the size of Federation Empire. And here I am over in my corner, blasting out post after post that hardly anyone pays attention to.

Maybe you’re like me—wondering, uncertain where your path will lead.

And if you’re one of the fortunate humans in existence outside the doubting writer category, SHARE YOUR SECRETS AND REVEAL THE MYSTERIOUS OF THE UNIVERSE AND I WILL SEND YOU CHOCOLATE AND COFFEE FOREVER. (I’m joking—mostly.)

I’d love to hear what writing struggles you’ve had, and more importantly, how you’ve overcome them. Leave a comment and let’s talk.

Zachary Totah writes speculative fiction stories. This allows him to roam through his imagination, where he has illegal amounts of fun creating worlds and characters to populate them. When not working on stories or wading through schoolwork, he enjoys playing sports, hanging out with his family and friends, watching movies, and reading. He lives in Colorado and doesn't drink coffee. He loves connecting with other readers and writers. Find him on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google Plus, Goodreads, and at his website.

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Pam Halter

Everything you’ve said is pretty much true for most of us, I think. And some people have grand and glorious secrets for how they punch through the slog. But I don’t. I give up writing at least once a week and I always go back to it. I have no idea why except for it’s who I am. I do take breaks, like now – it’s November and that means I have to make time for Christmas sewing/crafting/cooking/baking/canning. But whatever story I have in my brain keeps going as I work. When that becomes unbearable or scathingly brilliant, I’ll make notes so I don’t forget. 🙂

Part of my struggle is energy. Nonwriters have no idea how much energy it takes to write a novel, especially starting a new one. The research, timeline, character development, and notes I do before writing can make the story seem overwhelming.

Then my daughter will have a seizure – like she did just now.

Back to being overwhelmed with research – that’s where I am at the moment. I had an idea for a short story based on the Oz stories, but with a twist. I started researching, wrote the beginning, did more research, wrote a bit more, did more research and more research and more research and found all sorts of fascinating things about the original books and the Land of Oz itself! I didn’t have enough time to really develop the characters. I didn’t know the ending. And the deadline is today, Nov. 1st. I realized last week I couldn’t do it. And I’m okay with that. I won’t give up – I’ll save it. Keep working on it. Besides a short story, I’m thinking it would make a great middle grade novel.

Maybe part of the process is to allow yourself to stop being a writer for a moment. God made us to be writers, to love storytelling. He’ll pull us back.

Paul Lee

You can only do the best you can with what you have before you in the only moment that you posses. The only moment that you posses is always this moment, right now. What you have before you includes your emotional condition, and probably countless other factors.

Long term, I don’t think you have to make a binary decision to give it up forever or to fight to bitter end. There are almost always more than two choices. You can put your writing in back pocket, deliberately keeping in your thoughts and contemplating how you can improve it, until some day the time is right to start it again. Or you can decide to do it as a hobby for your writing friends, if you’re fortunate enough to have them.

My stuff all always fails too. I gave up being a writer a long time ago. I’ve been trying to organize local meetup groups for digital media things in my area because I’m trying to work on some projects for some people, and I thought I could encourage others working on their own project while looking for support for myself — but people don’t have time. And on the Internet, nobody cares.

Sherwood Smith
Sherwood Smith

We are all different, but here’s a generality that I have observed over my fifty-plus years of writing: there is an ebb and flow to writing. When the ebb tide happens, I believe it is a signal to stop, and integrate again with God’s world. Listen to others, take on a project that engages you with the world around you and requires you to be your best self. Listen to the people around you, the wind, the birds. Read and enjoy the works of those around us, and those who have gone before–because we cannot help it, our fiction is a very long conversation with other writers. Reread favorites–mine is C.S. Lewis. He always has something new to say that I didn’t notice before, and old passages that I remember furnish comfort. JRR Tolkien is another; I reread his letters. Pray, breathe. And live.

Audie Thacker

–We’re told we should want to write. It should be a passion, a burning desire that when thwarted leaves us feeling empty. Incomplete. Writers not writing are like fish out of water. It doesn’t fit.

Unreasonable expectations like this are everywhere and drag people down in almost everything. If you’re a Christian, you should be jumping-up-and-down excited to be in church every time the doors are open, and never mind any reason you aren’t feeling that way. If you’re a parent, you should be thrilled to be a parent to your little bundle of joy, even when that bundle of joy has just had a meltdown in the middle of Walmart over some sudden and inexplicable desire for a cheap toy or maybe even a bag of cat food. And woe unto thee if thou feelest not as we doth say thou shalt feel!

The whole inspirational or motivational mindset implied in such ideas has grown thin for me. If I can’t work up enough enthusiasm to meet someone else’s arbitrary standards for enthusiasm, well, tough.

My reasons for writing are, at least in the ideal sense, the same for other things I do–it is one way I can follow the biblical command to love and serve my neighbors. And even in that, my attempts and results are still imperfect, I fall far short of the ideal.

But God is gracious and forgiving of our sins and failings in all our attempts to serve others, even in writing.

“God doesn’t need our good works, but our neighbor does”, is something I’ve seen attributed to Luther. For a writer, it is freeing to realize that God doesn’t need our written words, He’s already given us His own book, but the people who may read our words may need those words.

Lisa Smith

I do think one has to set aside your feelings. If I only wrote when I felt like it or when inspiration struck I wouldn’t write much at all. It helps to set goals, for me, at least. And i am a slow writer compared to most, it seems, so I set my goals accordingly. I do find that to block out time every day to write (even just half and hour, fifteen minutes, etc) is helpful, even though there are times when a week will go by without writing because of other life expectations. It is amazing to me how often a writing session that starts with no inspiration or joy will end with the words flying off my fingertips. But that being said, sometimes I start and have to fight for every word. It also helps to have multiple projects on the go – say a novel and a short story, or a blog and a novel, or whatever. That way if you get stuck on one you can move to the other. It helps with feeling like you are making progress at “something”. I do agree with the desire to have others read your words, though. I have written a lot of words that have never been published. Not for lack of trying but not finding the right market. It’s hard to be a writer in isolation, for sure. I haven’t got the magic wand for that one. Everyone says to find a critique group, but how? I invariably end up in one that just doesn’t work. Anyhow those are my thoughts.

Kathy Eavenson
Kathy Eavenson

Speaking as a born READER (and retired librarian), I can sympathize with your problem. I’ve occasionally had a fleeting thought about wishing I could write a novel. BUT… I don’t have the fire in my spirit, the creative ideas, or the perseverance to carry through such work. But as READER may I encourage you to be more patient with yourself, follow the good advice of the others such as Sherwood Smith, and trust that the Lord will lead you to goals which will be exciting and fulfilling.

Teddi Deppner

Zac, as the other commenters have testified, these questions and wonders are common to many humans who write.

I want to address one specific part of what you asked: If you set writing aside “for now”, will you ever come back to it?

My history with writing includes the kinds of doubts you’ve expressed, but it also includes a time when I realized that writing had become an obsession for me. It consumed my every waking moment, it colored and filtered every human interaction that I had, there was never a time when I wasn’t thinking about how life related to stories, or to a particular story I was working on.

It had become an addiction, an idol.

Now, this is the polar opposite of what you describe. You talk about falling away from writing, and are wondering whether to cut ties completely, whereas I was obsessed.

In my case, I left writing behind specifically to rid myself of what I felt was idolatry, something that replaced God in my daily, moment-to-moment focus. I cut it off completely. I shut down my websites, leaving only a cryptic scripture quote on them to remind me why I stopped. I turned my attention to other things and let it go.

After a couple of years of writing abstinence, God began to show me how writing was something He put inside me, and how I could approach it in a way that glorified Him.

The more that I sought God’s heart on the matter, the more I studied the Scriptures, the more confident that I felt about writing being a healthy part of my life, and also one that God gifted me to use for His purposes. With that confidence returned all the joy, the love, the passion for writing that I had before — only without the unhealthy obsession.

It sounds to me like you’re afraid to lose something you love, even though you don’t love it anymore the way you used to. Drawing from my own experience, I would encourage you to pray and give your writing (past, present and future) into God’s hands, and trust Him with it. When the desire stirs in you again, and you feel drawn to it again, then pick up the pen (or keyboard). But don’t be afraid that if you turn your attention elsewhere, it will disappear.

If it’s really something that you’re wired to do, that you’re meant to do, it may ebb and flow, but it will not disappear forever. And if it’s simply that you’re emotionally numb to writing at the moment because of the pressure or disappointment of publishing and seeking after “success” (an audience who cares about your work), then as you heal from that and as you find a healthy way to look at those aspects of writing, you’ll be able to take up the pen again and it will be even better than ever!

Cecilia Fetters
Cecilia Fetters

I feel this way about my writing pretty often. I’m in high school, and I don’t get as much work done on my writing as I’d like. I’m the one that got all my friends doing NaNo, and this year, I’ve elected not to do it, and everyone is shocked. Sometimes, these doubts creep in… Especially as a teen author who wants to be traditionally published. The biggest one lately has been “who would commit to a series written by a teenager?” It’s very discouraging, but when this happens, I force myself to sit down and get lost in my story to remind myself that it needs to be told. Confession: sometimes, I’ll send a piece to my mom, just because I know she’ll show it off, and that gives me a MAJOR confidence boost.

R. J. Anderson

Great post, and very relatable to authors at any stage of their career… including me. In fact I’m in the midst of a year-long sabbatical after publishing nine novels in eight years, and finding to my distress that the joy and desire to write had completely burned out of me. Last year at this time I worried that I might never have another idea for a novel, let alone the capacity to write one… and six months ago at this time I was seriously praying about the possibility of giving up writing altogether and moving on to something different and new.

But since then, the Lord has not only given me the rest from the clamour and push of the writing business that I so badly needed and given me peace and confidence to wait on Him, He’s also been bringing sparks of encouragement and affirmation for my writing that I’d never sought for or even imagined. And now I have an idea for a new novel that I’m genuinely excited about (albeit in a terrifying way, because it might be the most ambitious project I’ve ever tackled!) and I’ve spent the last month or so doing bits of research and brainstorming for it. My tentative goal is to start writing early in the New Year.

So even if the idea of writing doesn’t appeal to you right now, and you don’t seem to have any ideas that compel you, it may just be a “fallow time” in your creative cycle, a time to rest and reflect and engage with the writers who’ve inspired you (as Sherwood so wisely suggested) while you prepare for whatever comes next. And that’s okay. In fact, it’s good. Think of it as a creative sabbath, and trust God to spur you and encourage you when it’s time to move on.

If it’s largely just doubt and discouragement about your ability to find an audience, though, may I suggest checking out Positive Writer? Some great resources and opportunities there, and a lot of encouragement.

Karisa Noble
Karisa Noble

This is such a beautiful and heart-wrending post, full of honesty. The rawness of this is refreshing and really speaks to a lot of different passions and dreams and loves that get cold. It’s reminiscent of even some of my own. And it begs the questions….. How can we refocus on those? How can we rekindle those first loves? Thanks for sharing this.