Monday Musings: Writing on Empty

I love writing. It’s an essential part of my daily life and my life would be incomplete without it.

At the same time, it burns me out.

Starting in late September, I’ve experienced a writing high that I haven’t experienced in years. I had my mojo back. In between then and January, I completed two novel-length projects and started revisions on one.

That hasn’t been the case these last few weeks. There’s a frenetic energy that accompanies a first draft. You get caught up in a story first written, get excited by its potential, and it’s a precious thing that gives you purpose every day. The initial drafting is one of my favorite parts of the writing process.

With a revision, however, you’re forced to examine the flaws of the first draft up close and correct them. My process is rewriting whole chapters: expanding scenes, questioning dialogue and character motivation, throwing in more flashbacks, putting a little more effort in worldbuilding, and the like. It’s fun at times, soul-crushing at others.

And these last two weeks, I feel like I’m fighting an uphill battle with motivation. My work has taken a toll on my energy after an extra-long week and, with the news being the news, my emotional reserves have been uniquely depleted as well. I have a schedule I’m trying to keep to maintain momentum but I’ve fallen behind. But I’m trying to be gracious with myself. I’ve learned that burnout is the mind’s way of telling you that it needs a breather.

Rather than force the issue, I take a break. I try to relax.

It’s easier said than done though. I fear not being able to pick up the pen again. I fear losing the momentum. I haven’t written like this in years (plural with an s!). That fear is always there. Even though I know from experience that a break is the best thing I can do for my creativity. Even though I know some of my best ideas come when I’m not thinking about my story. I recently read a Joan Didion quote that an author’s greatest fear after writing their first book is that they can’t write another and that this fear remains after the second, third, or fortieth book. It was more talking about ideas but I think it’s applicable here as well.

Regardless of my mood, I still try to write. Even on days I wake up and think that writing is the absolute last thing I want to do that day.

So here is what I do. I stick to my routine. I get up to dedicate my weekend mornings to writing. I open my story and see where I left off. I tentatively start writing something, give myself 25 minutes to find a groove. If I get into a rhythm (like on Saturday), I write until 1 and manage to crank out 2000 words (a win!). If I find myself unable to concentrate and looking for distraction (like on Sunday), I put the story away and promise myself I will try a little later after giving my head a rest.

The important thing is I never try to force it anymore. It shows in the work when I’m writing on empty. It’s painful to read and a nightmare to edit.

I’m trying to emphasize being kind to yourself when you lack the motivation or stamina to do things, especially when it comes to things you love. Breaks are a necessary component of the creative process. Never be afraid to indulge in them.

Thank you. I’ll step off my soapbox now.