Friday, September 11, 2009

Finger Choppings, Book Sales and Writing Sabbaticals

So, there hasn't been a post in awhile. Why, you ask? (I knew you'd ask that) Well, the first thing is that I chopped the heck out of my finger on a broken ceramic tile (Thank you, City of Windsor construction team!). Cut a nerve for free! I love bonuses. So, a painful and numbed fingertip equals less typing. And also, on the brighter side, my sale has been going great! Customers! They're this amazing breed of people who come in and give me money. I should have met these folks a long time ago. Whew, life would have been easier. So, no time to type on account of the need for money collection. :)

But this week in absentia got me thinking about time away from writing, whether physical or mental. Have you spent time away from writing? What was the experience and what was it like? And I think the big WB fits in here. Writer's Block, though I don't entirely believe in it. Or, rather, I'm not sure I entirely believe in writer's block as a thing in and of itself.

I think, in a sense, we've romanticized Writer's Block. We've made of it an enemy, a writerly Arch Nemesis, the big bad wolf who's coming to huff and puff at our door. I think this is a little simplistic, however, and find it a little dangerous to concede to such an idea. Perhaps you have a fear of failure, or a fear of success... labelling it as Writer's Block is misleading. There's no entity there. Maybe you're just lazy and don't want to face the necessity of work. Perhaps you don't have the energy for any number of reasons. Writer's Block, I think, is a shield, a mask, a boogey man to hide our challenges behind, to conceal the difficulties we face.

A little story: My father passed away in 2003, just before I was married. Grief mixing with the inevitability of starting a new life... I was moving, had just finished school, was just starting a new career while dealing with the onset of a chronic disease... life was a whirl, a maelstrom of demands and tensions. Some of these demands were wonderful and positive, yet others were less so. And amidst this I didn't write much of anything. A year? A year and a half?

To complicate things further, I'd just gotten an agent for a novel I'd written. What little creative energy I had went into final edits for that book, a project I'd poured a whole lot of myself into. And when my agent died just at the submission point... well, things came to a halt.

I was burnt out with that novel. I put it on a shelf (it's still there, awaiting a rewrite). Perhaps I was burnt out with writing in general... but I'm not so sure. Writer's Block? Again, I don't think so. I think it's a matter of human energy. One only has so much. I wasn't so much blocked as temporarily empty. And yet I wasn't bothered by this. I thought about writing, sometimes, and still had the occasional idea. But the vital energy wasn't there, and I accepted that. I knew it would come back. That energy was part of who I was... but I had depleted it, and it needed a little time to refill.

Grief was a big part of it, I think. Mental energy was being spent on memory, on an adjustment of the self in regards to its interaction with the world around it. I had to assess this new world, this new life I had come into. I had to make some sense of it before my eyes turned outward again. I needed to assess that foundation of self from which all fiction must spring, however well buried those foundation stones must be.

And, slowly, as I found new patterns in my new life, I found that energy replenishing itself, found that interior drive returning. I was still a little burnt out with that old novel. I had started a new career once again, and this was both tiring and invigorating. So I returned to writing full time, starting some new projects for a new stage in my life, and over the next few years I wrote two novels (or three, in a sense, if you look at them as they are now) which are now coming to fruition, as well as a number of stories.

And yet looking back I don't see that dry spell as a bad time, but rather as a necessary one. I think writer's block is sometimes what we make of it. If you make it a Boogey Man don't be surprised if it haunts your mental closet every night. I think, at least for me, there are more apt metaphors. Sometimes when I remember that period I think of the fields that lie around my house. Fallow fields are an old farming trick. If you plant rich crops every year, sometimes this abundance of life will leach the nutrients right out of the soil, and soon nothing will grow there, or nothing, at least, that you'd want to consume. Scraggly and withered is not good. So farmers would leave one of their fields fallow each year, unplanted, and each year they would rotate it to a new field. So every few years each field would have a fallow year, a year in which to replenish itself, to absorb the wind and rain and light, to feast on insects and plants and flowers. This is not done for the present, for quick gain, but rather for the future, as a way of ensuring rich and bountiful crops.

We are not so different, I think. Fallow periods feed productive ones. Vibrant stories come from rich imaginative soil. And sometimes that soil needs time to replenish itself.

So what are your experiences with fallow periods? Was it the big W and big B Writer's Block? Or something more specific? And are you better or worse for that period?


L. T. Host said...

Ink!!! You're back!!! We've missed you :)

Sorry about the finger...are you sure it was a ceramic tile and not a crocodile?

I wrote about writer's block on my blog today too. But mine was more of a humor piece, even though I asked the same question at the end. One thing I didn't say in my post though was that I think when I, personally, have writer's block, it's because there's a flaw in my story. When I know where it's going and have everything figured out, it's pretty easy to write. But if there's a plot point I haven't connected to the rest of the story yet, or if I don't know where I'm writing to, it's very easy to be blocked.

WV: "hothed". Whaddreyou tryin' to say, huh? HUH?!

Ink said...

Damn sneaky crocodiles...

L.T., I think that sort of writer's block stuff is what I'm interested in. I think it's good that you can break it down into specifics, because I think a lot of people, say, have plot problems and get stuck and then think "I have Writer's Block! I can't write!" And it becomes this big thing, a psychological hurdle that breeds self-doubt. But really it might just be a plotting problem. That's a specific technical challenge, and once identified it can be remedied, or at least you can make attempts to correct the specific problem.

I think a lot of what people call "writer's block" is really a bunch of smaller, separate things. Each one different, each one a different challenge with a different solution. And "writer's block" makes the problem seem larger than it is.

But we're writers... we like to embrace those villains. :)

Mira said...

Well, I have writer's block.


So I know it exists. Bit I found your take interesting, because I never thought about breaking it down into small pieces and examining them. That's a really good idea!

I thought this article was very touching. I'm sorry that you went through such a hard period in your life. I also hope that you submit that novel again - it sounds extremely promising.

Congrats on the sales! Yea customers!

The Rejectionist said...

We have a semi-regular (ok, daily) crisis about our Lack of Productivity and Advancing Age and the Passage of Time etc., etc., and are always comforted by an interview we read a long time ago with Jose Saramago, where the interviewer asked him why he didn't publish anything for twenty years, and he replied, "Because I had nothing worthwhile to say."

Ink said...


I think it's really important to look at the problem in specifics, in the details. "I can't write" is a much bigger hobgoblin than "I have a plot problem" or "I fear starting" or "I'm tired at the end of the day and don't have much energy for writing". Those three are, I think, all common, and all often put down to writer's block, to that idea that "I can't write". That's a big wall to hurdle. But the latter ones... not so bad. A bit of shrubbery, nothing much... you get some shears and start pruning.

Duck! Man, I'm really whipping those pennies around these days... two cents goes farther than you think.

Ink said...


Lol. Yeah, I think it's a balance between not forcing it, between allowing the right stories to come in the right time (I find each story requires a certain mental momentum to reach the page) and the mind's ability to make excuses and shield itself from opportunity. Things are always easier to handle in specifics. Except, you know, when "I feel bad" becomes "You have terminal cancer." All for generalities, then!

Plus, Saramago wrote Blindness, so he must know something, right? And he wrote a book about Portugal which I read when I was in Portugal! Very cool. Though it was no Blindness. In fact, some sort of viral holocaust might have done the pacing some good.

The Rejectionist said...

Well, yes. He did rather make up for those twenty years by publishing 600 novels in the last decade. But Blindness and The Gospel According to Jesus Christ are pretty off-the-chain brilliant.

Ink said...

Have you read Seeing yet? I haven't, and I was wondering if it was worth picking up. For some reason the sequel thing made me leary...

The Rejectionist said...

Oh sorry! Just saw above comment. Tried to read Seeing; like most everything else he wrote after Blindness, it's not very stellar. The Cave is okay, as is All the Names, but they won't change your life or anything.

Ink said...


Yeah, I was blown away by Blindness, and then I read The History of the Siege of Lisbon... and was less blown away. Which is why I feared Seeing and how it might wreck my impression of Blindness.

Donna Hole said...

I am not, repeat: NOT, suffering from writers block. I simply choose not to deal with my novel at this time.

Pesky thing; sitting there in the computer like it has nowhere to go and nothing better to do.

I just about hate it right now.

I need an agent so I can move on to something else. But that entails writing a query. Well, I have a query, I just don't like it because its all about this novel I've come to hate.

I've left it alone for a couple months though, and its starting to look interesting again.

It helps to visit places like this, and see other writers having some of the same issues.

Good topic Bryan. I still have a bit of my credit card reserved to use your name as a character. Just as soon as I get back to productive writing that is.