Monday, November 22, 2010

What Do You Do When the Love is Gone?

You loved it. It consumed your thoughts, got you up in the morning before the sun rose and kept you up at night. You'd sit down to your favorite t.v. show and realize with both embarrassment and excitement that you preferred your own characters, maybe even your own story, to the beautiful people and emotional travails that used to keep you riveted.

But that was last month.

This month you can barely get the document/notebook open before your attention slides off to this forum or that blog, before you finds yourself scanning for atmospheric music or fighting/geographically-specific landscape/dramatic chipmunk videos.

So, what do you do when the love is gone? When you've lost the spark that drew you back to your story at every conscious moment and a few surreal, unconscious ones.

1. Think About Time. Like, in a cosmic sense. You have a limited number of years on this planet. Do you want to spend them watching sitcom reruns or wearing a barstool smooth? Do you want to pour all your sweat and soul into your employer's bottom line? Do you want your years to drift by in a haze of Playdough in your hair and toes stubbed on floors full of children's toys? Do you want to achieve the highest post count on your favorite online forum? Is that how you want to mark the passage of precious time? Or do you want a handful of hours a week to be dedicated to creating something? Something that is all yours. Something that, in spite of being seemingly limited to flat paper and plain, black ink, can live and breathe inside of the mind?

2. Think About Hard Work. After the age of about four, very little in life is easy. You have to work to feed yourself. You have to work to keep your home sanitary. You have to work to keep relationships healthy. You have to work your ass off to keep house plants alive/put up drywall/or make a really good paella.

Sometimes writing isn't easy. Sometimes you have to write through distraction or sickness. Sometimes you have to write scenes that are intensely emotional or technically difficult. Sometimes the muse doesn't leave the perfect line of dialogue or plot twist under your pillow and you have to tear the thing out. Extracting a tooth with pliers and no painkiller would be more pleasant. But you'll feel a damn sight better when it's out.

3. Think About The Scene. I used to hike with my dad and at some point, usually about 1/2 way in, I started hating it. Dad can hike for 13 hours with a Cliff bar and 12 oz bottle of water. He won't even finish the water. I'm pretty sure he's part machine. I am not part machine. I am short-legged, easily distracted, and adamantly opposed to sweat.

When I got tired, he had me focus on the next hill. Or that copper-stained boulder in the middle of the ridge, not the pile of them at the end. The moral of this ramble? Don't stand up in the middle of chapter four and look for the end of the book. It's obscured by clouds. Do look for the start of chapter five. It's just around the bend, and there's a refreshing creek there.

4. Cut Yourself Some Slack. Nobody wakes up a great writer and, even if they do, that doesn't make them a great storyteller. Practice might not make perfect, but it will make you a whole lot better. So you've written three novels and nobody wants to represent them. So what? Stick them in a shoe box under the bed. Start on number four. Use the lessons you learned writing the first three.

(ASIDE: I'm assuming that you had other people read the first three novels, and that those people weren't related to you. Or, if they were, that they know what makes a good story and can clearly articulate things. I'm assuming that you spent time polishing those stories. I'm assuming, in other words, that you did the work beyond merely hitting a word count. If you're finishing NaNo novels, spell-checking them and querying them, then maybe you need to take some time off from writing and learn a bit about how to write for publication, if that's your goal. END ASIDE)

So, to sum up:
Decide that writing is something you want to do. For some, there is no decision; it's a fundamental need. Either way, make the time.

Admit that it's not always going to be flowers and double-rainbows, that you will not astound yourself with your own closet genius every day.

Set achievable goals, and recognize that sometimes even small progress is a big success. And, when the going gets tough, feel free to take a break. Writing is hard, but it shouldn't be miserable. Having to take "me" time from the characters you've invented seems odd, but sometimes you even need separation from the fictional people. Don't tell non-writers this. They will not understand, and might to try to commit you. Maybe just tell them your wrists or eyes are tired, or something.


  1. Thanks! As I was reading #1 I could swear I heard the strains of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" coming through the window...very inspirational (to me, anyway) because it's so easy to fritter away our lives.

  2. Thank you all for stopping by and commenting. Glad you enjoyed it!

    Kevin, I was so utterly and completely not thinking of The Battle of the Republic when I wrote that, but I'm happy to inspire!