When The Fire Dies

If you’re a writer, there are times in your life — career reverses, physical illness, financial insecurity,  horrible things happening to those you love — when you’ll feel like the fire within you has died and has left nothing but cold in your heart and a taste of ashes in your mouth.

You’re not alone.  Professional or amateur, fiction or non-fiction, good or bad, rest assured all of us have crossed similar barren and lifeless landscapes.  And gone on.  At least most of us go on.

I’ve talked here before about how it’s really hard to keep from writing. In fact, I’ve given up on writing dozens of times and once it last two weeks – but I drove my family nuts, because I cleaned everything. And I mean, everything. When you find yourself toothbrush-scrubbing the detergent bottle, it’s too far.

But there have been times when the fire died, when there was nothing.

Not quite now – though last year was bad. Now I’m starting to come back. Slowly, and I often get impatient, but I’m coming back.

The time I remember as impossible was when my first career tanked and we were skirting the fine edge of being broker than broke.

It lasted over a year, and every word, every story, every book, were all from the brain which is a fine instrument, but not all when it comes to writing.

I didn’t want to sit there spinning words. As it happened, though, I was broke and I had to keep writing. I actually did a lot of writing for hire because it was my easiest way to make the money I needed.  Not the writing for hire — the writing.  (Though the writing for hire was good at that time, I’d probably turn it down now.  I’d rather do something for Baen or even Goldport.)

It still is.

So, what do you do when you feel you’ve hit a wall and that the desire to write is gone?

Write.

No, trust me on this. Just write.

Eventually the fire comes back. The embers you thought were doused for good retained a spark, and that spark catches again, and you find yourself riding the cyclone with breath suspended and enjoying every minute of it.

But what if you’re so tired, so ill, so out of it that you are sure everything you write is dreck?

Just write.

Some of my stories from that year, when it seemed like I was lifting a heavy weight with each word or like I was passing words out through a small slit in a brick wall, one by one, in slips of paper the size of a fortune in a fortune cookie, are the best writing I’ve done.

It didn’t seem like it at the time. I was sure I was writing boiled cabbage. I was shocked when the fans loved it. But now looking back they were right. I was wrong. Some was better writing than I’d ever done.

I know it’s hard when you don’t have the immediate pressure of needing money (and sometimes when you do, because there’s too much at play) but trust me, and even if you feel you’re done, and you’ll never write again, keep writing.

I don’t know what happens if you stop, but I suspect you remain a little maimed. I know people who stopped and they seem sad, lost.

But if you keep doing it, even if in the evening, in a few minutes, even with strength you don’t have, the desire and the joy come back.  Eventually.

You’re going to have to trust the lessons of twenty years of ups and downs. It comes back. And what you’re doing is not dreck.

And I have to trust it too.

When the stress passes, when the fear is subdued, when you find yourself in a better place, your writing comes back too.

And you wouldn’t trade that moment for all the world. Not even considering what you had to go through to get there.

Write. Just write. No one is requiring genius or perfection.

Just that you write. And trust the flame to rekindle.

 

10 comments

  1. “Just write.” I’m increasingly realizing the wisdom of this. “I was sure I was writing boiled cabbage” is a great phrase, by the way.

  2. Ran into the depression thing in February, after coming back from Superstars Writing Conference. Even though my indie career was going very well, I came back depressed that it wasn’t doing better, like New York Times Bestseller better. It was easy to slide into a funk without even realizing it. I came back with plans for seven books this year, and not writing all of February didn’t help. It just seemed that I would put off writing one more day at a time., until a lot of days had gone by and March was here. It was insidious in its subtlety, catching me off guard. And yes, the only cure for it was to knuckle down and start writing again. I make money when I put out new books, so I need to keep putting out new books, bottom line.

    1. If you caught the Wolverton flu, it also came with a dose of depression. the D*mn thing laid me low february and March which is why I’m scared and having issues concentrating now.

  3. It’s very odd how somethings come through in the writing, and others don’t. Those pull-the-words-out-of-the-sucking-black-hole-of-blankness-one-by-one-with-pliers scenes read fine, days or weeks later. Pissed off at the husband? Anxious over the children? Umm, nope. _Might_ work for a short, but the whole tone is off from my usual writing, so it just won’t fit in the middle of a novel.

      1. I can’t do mopey prose. Just doesn’t happen. At that point I dig out my ‘Odes to Dead Trees’ notebook and channel it there.

  4. Just goes to show that sometimes your instincts are out to get you and the rational mind needs to step in and run shop. I needed to read this today. Time to churn out the boiled cabbage.

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