The Seven Year Sitch
If I could put a time stamp on my inactivity as a writer, I’d draw loose red circles on the years 2009-2016. I hardly got any writing done – a few abandoned short stories; WIPS that stayed in my Writing Docs folder; a smattering of fanfics; and zero scripts for TV segments, short magazine articles, Livejournal entries. I even stopped writing in my actual, paper journal. Every time I’d put pen to paper or attempt to revive my LJ, I’d get that sinking “meh” feeling and abandon ship. The only words I managed to get down and feel remotely satisfied about were found on my Twitter feed. I couldn’t do more than that for an embarrassingly long time.
What had caused that seven year writer’s block, my seven year sitch? How had I allowed myself not to write for that long?
All the small things. All the big things. Career burnout. Inner talk that nobody cared what I wrote about. I’d always been able to believe that my words would find its intended audience, but the voice that shot that down had managed to get louder every year I didn’t write. I experienced sporadic spurts of fanfic output in 2014 but would eventually slip back into feeling the “meh”-ness of it all. I loved writing and reading fan fiction, but it wasn’t doing it for me in ways I didn’t know how to fix.
In between the self doubt and lack of inspiration, real life happened. The not being able to write was a symptom of my being unhappy, and it all came to a head in 2015 when I quit my job, interviewed for a new one, got an offer and had that same offer rescinded when I offhandedly mentioned that 1.) I was not a college graduate, and 2.) I had a history of having an adjustment disorder, which I “failed to mention” during the medical exam.
I was suddenly without a job, but my next step was so clear I cried. Turns out I did have a WIP that needed finishing up, and the Universe was giving me this time to get off my ass and finish it. The WIP was sitting there for fifteen years.
The work-in-progress was my undergraduate college thesis. I never got around to writing the paper component of my student film so I never got my B.A. in Film and Audio Visual Communication.
I gave myself a year to finish, and I did. Going back to university at 37 was the hard restart my career -exhausted brain needed. I hadn’t realized how truly soul-sucking my previous job had been and what sticking with it had cost me – my ability to create strictly for the pure joy of having created something. All my energies up until that point had been focused on things like “branded intrusions” and “client-tailored content”. It wasn’t worth it.
Being a student again and being around young people old enough to legit be my kids reset my way of thinking. I learned how to see and do things with a Beginner’s Mind. It was tough and not without its humiliations (“I’m too old for this, goddammit!”), but at the end of it all, it was one of the most enriching experiences of my life. I was absorbing everything like a sponge, and it felt great. I was getting new ideas (So. Many. New. Ideas.) I was trying new things again, fifteen years of experience in TV out the window in two semesters. I didn’t have the space for feeling “meh” when it was last chance/ride-or-die without a degree time.
I wrote my thesis. I finished. I got my degree. I got a new, easier job that I was overqualified for and paid way less than my old job. Now what?
I turned to creative touchstones: artists whose careers I’ve followed, movies that always felt fresh when I watched them, books I’ve turned to for comfort and wisdom. I stumbled upon some interviews of Rivers Cuomo of the band Weezer, whom I considered my spiritual husband from 1997-2004 and wanted to catch up. Rivers was no stranger to creative struggle, and I wanted to find out how he dealt with dried-up wells and a dearth of ideas.
He was on an episode of a podcast called “10% Happier”, talking about meditating and how it helped him in his craft and work. What he had to say resonated with me. I read the book “10% Happier”, downloaded the app of the same name and deliberately gave meditation a try on May 1, 2017. And just like what Rivers says in the interview, I’ve been doing it ever since. I would not have been able to write steadily again had I not started meditating.
A few months later, I saw a call-out on the #romanceclass Facebook page for original M/M, F/F, NB stories for a new anthology the group was planning. I had to do it. I had been writing M/M pairings in all the fic I produced on-and-off, so this seemed like something I could tackle and would enjoy doing.
I had the most fun writing my story, “Shipping Included” because it combined my love for M/M pairings and K-pop. It was short, fluffy and so very satisfying when I finished writing it.
Shortly after submitting “Shipping Included” for the anthology editors’ consideration, I joined the #romanceclassYA workshop. I had recently managed to complete a short story with a word count of 8,000, true. However, the #romanceclassYA workshop’s goal was to finish a novella with a minimum word count of 30,000 and a maximum of 40,000.
Was I ready for this? My fics only went as high as 20,000WC.
Mustering the same ride-or-die mentality I had while completing my thesis the previous year, I cranked out what was to be the first draft of “Flipping The Script”. The workshop whupped my butt – “Hunger Games” rounds meant that should I fail to submit the required assignment at the specified deadline, I would be unable to continue on to the rest of the workshop. I couldn’t let that happen because I needed this in my life – workshop mentors Agay Llanera, Ines Bautista-Yao, and of course, Mina V. Esguerra were authors whose work I admired. I willed the odds to be in my favor and took all the workshop modules to heart.
I submitted my completed first draft for “Flipping The Script” in November. That same month I found out “Shipping Included” was selected to be part of the anthology, “Start Here“.
I wish I could say that after completing both stories that I never stopped writing since and am now ready with a couple more new manuscripts for publication, but nah. And that’s okay. I realized that while my writer’s momentum was a powerful force with a 1-2 punch, I am far from being a lean, mean writing machine. It’s good to have goals and a positive attitude, though. It could still happen. I’m very good at taking baby steps.
Have you ever experienced a long writer’s block? How’d you get the juice back?
Photo credit (notebook, unedited): Kelly Sikkema from Unsplash