I Was Wrong About Writer’s Block
File Under: Eating My Words; see also Humble Pie
Around this day in 2016 I said Writer’s Block is Bullshit. Bold words, yes, and I believed them at the time.
I don’t believe them anymore.
Early in 2016 I had never experienced true writer’s block or burnout. I was still a sweet summer child, speaking with the enthusiasm and self-confidence (arrogance? maybe) of someone who had published a few things and had planned many more.
In my last blog post, I wrote about my Period of Stuckness, which was Not Fun. I also mentioned that one of the things that got me unstuck was Rebecca Syme’s book The Author Stuck List. It’s a good book. I listened to it on audio, then I bought a paperback copy so I could flip through it.
Writer’s Block Isn’t, In Fact, Bullshit
Before reading that, I read Syme’s book Dear Writer, Are You In Burnout? and realized that what I experienced from around 2018 until late 2022 was completely burnout. Part of it was from spending a lot of energy extraverting at my day job, which was sucking a lot of life out of me. Part of it was just the general fuckery that was 2020 and its successors. There are people who can write to escape, but I’m not one of those people.
Don’t get me wrong, I love writing. I love getting lost in a scene. I love taking something from inside my head and bringing it to life. But escaping myself is never a part of that process.
Every time I write, I pour something of myself into what I’m writing. It might be channeling how angry I get when someone hurts one of my friends. It might be channeling the yearning I’ve felt to be part of something more than myself, to make a difference in the world. It might be drawing up memories of hiking in forests, deserts, or wetlands, or remembering my times on the Friend’s Good Will, to create a powerful setting for my scene.
But it’s not an escape.
If I need to escape, I do one of two things: I read, or I play video games. In video games, in the books other people write, I’m not myself anymore. That’s my escape.
I still feel like I’m making excuses, honestly.
I took an online discussion course on burnout back in the fall of 2021 that centered around a group reading of Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle by Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski. I knew I was in burnout in life overall. But I’d never separated and applied it to only my writing life until I read the Dear Writer book and listened to The Quitcast from Becca Syme.
I had days in 2021 when I couldn’t get out of bed. You can’t write much if you don’t have the energy to get out of bed.
You can’t write much if you’re swamped with guilt about not being able to get out of bed and write.
You can’t write much if your own creative well is empty.
I wrote a little about that in 2022, when I started seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. But as excited as I was to start making better choices and getting things written again, I needed to refill my own well.
I spent a lot of time playing video games, and a lot of time hiking and bird-watching, as I came out of my burnout. I read a lot, and surprisingly for me, a lot of it was nonfiction.
Writer’s Block and Burnout Aren’t Always the Same
I do think writer’s block and burnout are two discrete things that, when combined, can multiply a writer’s hardships. In my case, I was deeply burned out and hadn’t refilled my well when I got the idea for Shroudling and started working on it. I got about 20,000 words in and then encountered a couple of things I couldn’t quite make work properly. That’s when I added writer’s block to the mess.
Fortunately, I was driving home from my new (introverted, complete with an office to hide in) job a couple of months ago, and a random thought hit me–I knew what I needed to change to make Shroudling work again!
And then I encountered The Author Stuck List, which gave me more ideas of how to get unstuck in the story.
And THEN this past weekend I figured out the last missing piece to make everything fit together. I can’t tell you what it is, because spoilers, but I swear to you, I viscerally felt something click into place when I worked that out.
Being On Fire Doesn’t Have to Mean Burning Out
All that to say, I’ve written nearly 20,000 words so far in June, and I feel like I’m on fire again–but in a good way. The way that shines a light for other people, not the way that burns me out. I write for a couple of days and then I’m allowed to take a day off to play Mass Effect: Andromeda. Then I write for a couple more days and then I go hiking. Then I have a major writing session and then spend Father’s Day binge-watching Rings of Power with my dad.
And tonight? I’m going to go home, critique pages for my writers’ group, and then write.
And I can’t wait.