Writing Therapy

These last several weeks, I’ve felt mostly horrid. It’s been a rather hectic fall semester, with new projects to complete as well as new fires to put out. My students are either going through Senior-itis or studying abroad, so all the work they would ordinarily do falls to me, too. This isn’t actually that awful – what takes my students twelve hours to do, I can do in half that time – but it does mean tasks pile on through the week. Add to that my sleeping schedule is wonky due to changing weather and light, and I’ve felt sluggish and unmotivated.

I’ve also been working on a story edit.

When I edit, I try my best to concentrate on that story. It helps me keep overall voice and continuity better than notecards or Scrivener can do. I still read while I edit, because I learn more by example from my favorite authors on what’s important in a story, how to keep plot threads moving, and when to dangle, when to pull up, and when to trim loose. But the only writing I’ve done for the last month or so has been rewrites of an already-finished draft. Rewrites are good: I changed two whole chapters, cleaned up more than a half-dozen more, and had one character do a near-180 flip on me. It’s all better for the story as a whole, but it was sucking me dry.

I discussed this with my husband, who reminded me that “[r]ewriting is still writing.” But, he is much more comfortable working from what’s already on the page. The blank page doesn’t bother me; I just start writing words off the top of my head. In fact, it’s hard for me to find blank pages in my notebook when I need one, because so many of them are filled with first lines, initial ideas, or jots of dialogue. For some people, that’s all the writing they need to keep going. For me, all of those little notes and ideas are merely warm-up, like stretching before a workout. Have you ever just stretched and not followed up with the real workout? My body reacts poorly to that. It wants to work hard and make a sweat. Why couldn’t I see what that stretching-and-not-working was doing to my writer’s brain?

On my Thursday morning commute, I decided to open up a blank document. I just couldn’t face again one of the annoying scenes in the edit I was trying to make work. I began typing off the top of the head…and, over the next two days, I typed out over 4700 words of a new free write.

I haven’t felt this good in a long time.

Friends and colleagues – real writers – supported this, with cheers like, “Writing is therapy!” and “Writing is the best medicine.” I had apparently forgotten how sapped I get when I don’t allow myself the freedom to write something new and for fun.

Editing strengthens a story. It’s an integral part of making the story the best it can be. And, I do enjoy it, especially to see the finished product. But, sometimes, I have to let myself just write, for the pure joy of the story, the characters, and the process itself.

“Breathe, another ‘Finding Mister Wright’ short-fic”
[~4750 words/16 pages; PDF]

Clicking the link above will take you to the latest chapter in my “Finding Mister Wright” slice-of-life series. It’s about love and family, fatherhood and brotherhood, and the big and little changes those things cause in us. It’s a free-write, so it’s choppy in parts and rambling in others, but I decided not to edit it despite that. Part of what brings me back to these characters time and again is how much joy and love they have for each other, and how much of the same I have for them. I doubt they’d be so therapeutic otherwise.

How is your writing journey progressing? What do you do when you find yourself in a writing or editing funk?

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9 thoughts on “Writing Therapy

  1. I talked about this very issue in my blog. I’m going through a funk as we speak. I haven’t had an urge to write or journal lately. What others have suggested is write a few words, a sentence, anything that pops into your head. I haven’t tried it, but it’s worth a shot.

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    • It’s not so much I can’t write, it’s more that I wasn’t allowing myself to try something new. Editing allows for a lot of writing, but it’s all rewrites. There’s a different logic to it, that feels very far away from just letting the imagination play.
      Those write-as-you-can suggestions are actually good ones, especially if you let your mind bounce around a bit with them. I enjoyed doing prompts and challenges for the same reason. Plus, it’s good practice for bigger projects. 🙂

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      • I agree. I have a few stories outside of my “Cell Games” series that I want to write. I felt I had to put them on hold because I promised my followers that I would post stories soon. I’m having someone read through them and critique them before I post them. But maybe I’ll send a new story her way.

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  2. Glad to see that you made some time to write! It sounds like you really needed that break.

    When I have a writing funk, I just do whatever will take me away from actual writing–going for a walk, playing video games, reading–as long as I’m not actively writing and letting ideas take a backseat in my brain. Sometimes I just let my brain go to mush for a bit to try not to think about writing. It always wanders back, and then I’m always away from my laptop or from something to let me jot down the ideas that came to me.

    It amazes me how you can make time for writing with your busy schedule. It’s also inspiring to see! Happy writing!

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    • Thanks, spooney! It did feel great to write something new again. I told another friend, “It feels like springtime!” 🙂
      I’m glad I let myself be a bit freer with this, and left the edit alone for a few days. I went back to it today, and it does feel more manageable, after that creative break.

      Hope you are having good writing mojo, too!

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  3. When the funk hits, sometimes I have to step away from the computer—for days or even weeks of no real writing. Sometimes my brain needs that break if I’ve been on a good streak. Other times, life is just to full of other responsibilities and interests, and I can’t juggle writing with them. With NaNo coming, I’m hoping to set out at least a few of my missing middle bits. Even if it’s just to outline what happens in some scenes, that will be good progress for me these days.

    And, as always, I enjoyed your Mr. Wright free write! 🙂

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    • Thanks, JM!

      It’s strange that I only seem to really hit that lowpoint when I’m editing. I can go a few days without writing something new and not feel it that much, but there’s something about that dissecting/reworking task of editing a long work that pulls at the edges of my soul. (Cue melodramatic crescendo.) I really like hearing about how other people deal with that funk, though. That always gives me hope to keep going, as it’s done here. 🙂

      Happy writing to you!

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  4. Writing, it’s good for you 🙂
    While I might be stalled out for now, I’m happy to see you back in action with a great little family piece. The rush and excitement Rob and Daniel get to ride on is fantastic, Lilly is adorable and Marshall and Caitlin are beautiful. And Liam was a great choice!

    Honestly, I tend to get most of my fresh ideas while working, which makes for both a wonderful break and a frustrating distraction, depending on the moment. As long as it sticks around in my head, I’ll usually start talking it out on the drive home, working out specific flow issues or important scenes. A lot of ties, my driving music helps me set a good mood for the scene as well, which can be fun. Even if I look like a crazy person talking to myself in traffic

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    • It always seems to be when we’re preoccupied with something else – like work – that our brains start to wander into the more imaginary crevices. Perhaps it’s a sign that we’re not yet all about making mad cash. 🙂

      Lilly is cute but a little brat. 🙂 It’s fun trying to capture a young child’s moment-to-moment thought processes, though. Stories are so often in the delivery room with mama, I wanted to look at it from the perspective of an outsider. Plus, I just *needed* to write something fun.

      Sorry to hear you’re stalling…but you have a lot on your plate! So much good stuff, too. ❤ I'm sure you'll have so many stories to share when the world calms down a little bit, and I look forward to reading them!

      Thanks for stopping by!

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