Whew, August is almost over! Can I get an Amen? I’m already excited for fall and Halloween and may or may not have started collecting pinecones out of my yard. Also, 40k on the zombie story, what what! And I got a new dog!
But today I’d like to talk about one of the worst times in my life, writing-wise, and how I’m sort of, kind of, reluctantly glad I went through it.
I wrote all through high school. Summers were the best, because I had enough free time to finish my novels. I wrote four books in high school, one immediately after graduating, and then… nothing.
I didn’t really have an excuse. My family moved to Alabama, and I got a job at a bookstore. I was surrounded by southern culture, and had access to thousands of books (of which I read as many as I could), but wasn’t writing.
Then I met Chris. We decided pretty early on that we were probably going to be spending a lot of time together (like the rest of our lives), so in preparation for that future everything had to get upgraded. I got a grown-up job, and he even inspired me to get an agent. Then I did rewrites for a while, and went out on submissions with the early version of NAMELESS.
But was I writing? No. Revising is totally not the same thing.
NAMELESS got some lovely rejections but didn’t fit in anywhere because of genre-straddling. But during the time where we were figuring that out, I was supposed to be working on editing the second NAMELESS book. Only I wasn’t.
Honestly, I felt dead inside, creatively speaking. I was giving 110% at my day job, and every spare moment was spent with the man I was in love with. It was only when I couldn’t see him that I had ‘down time’, and I don’t have the faintest idea what I did with it. Certainly not writing.
The day I did actually sit down and open up my draft of the second book to begin editing, Chris told me we needed some time apart, and in the wake of that catastrophe I lost the creative spark again. I didn’t get it back until Chris and I got back together five months later and my agent recommended a complete rewrite of the NAMELESS trilogy.
Here’s what I think needed to happen to get me out of that creative slump:
I had to grow up as a human being. Losing the person I had planned to spent my life with made me realize that if I didn’t have him, writing had to be the main purpose in my life. And I needed to put on my big girl panties and make it happen, because otherwise I would live a life of work and watching television at night, and that was not acceptable. Also I suddenly had a mortgage payment I had to make on my own, various other bills to pay, and an unfinished college education. No one was going to take care of me if I didn’t.
I had to grow up as an artist. Rewriting that trilogy into a single book was the hardest thing I’ve done as a writer so far. I had to learn how to write a working synopsis before I’d even started on the book, and I had to learn to kill my darlings, cutting characters and plot lines left and right to make it work. Then I had to write a story for the first time with the commercial market in mind, not just my own pleasure.
I also had to learn when to let go.
Chris and I got back together and plans are back on to still be in love when we’re old and senile. But during the time we were apart I learned how to be independent and take care of myself and my own growth. I can go into my room and shut the door and get some words written now. I’m okay with saying ‘nah, you go out and meet your friend, I’ll stay home and write’ whereas before I had to be where he was all the time (If you say ‘codependent’ I won’t deny it).
And when I finally gave myself permission to be both a writer and a girlfriend, my creativity came back. After two years of deadness I started actively searching for ideas, reading again whenever I could, and finally last fall my first New Idea happened: the sleeping beauty retelling.
I love that book so much. It taught me about dedication to writing every day, how to trust the magic of plot development, and it even finally let me discover my own YA voice. And after I’d found that voice, I had to face facts: Despite all my hard work, NAMELESS was still not YA in voice.
So I had to put it aside.
NAMELESS was my first baby, the one that I posted on FictionPress, the one that led to me getting involved in LTWF. But after 7 years of working on it, I just couldn’t see the way out anymore. So I gave myself permission to give up. For a little while at least. I realized I needed a lot more distance from the project than I’d given myself in the past, so for fans of the book, please don’t worry, it’s not set aside permanently!
After the sleeping beauty book ideas came in a flood. I’m working on the zombie book primarily, but I have ideas for 5 other stories, including a sleeping beauty sequel!
So mostly what I learned during my ‘dead time’ was that ultimately I’m responsible for cultivating my own creativity, and if I don’t get out there and make it happen for myself it never will.
Have you ever felt creatively dead? And what did you do to get out of it?