Welcome back to another edition of “I Can’t Fucking Believe People Still Trust Us Enough To Send Us Thoughtful Personal Questions!” This week we’re continuing to ride our wave of good fortune, thanks to a question that I relate to harder than any other question we’ve ever received (OK, except for maybe that one about hating things irrationally). So what did we receive that struck such a chord?
A question about reconnecting to your passions, in spite of stagnation, life shit, or other distractions.
[Reminder: You can ask us all about your passions, distractions, and life shit by dropping us a note at [email protected]. We might actually have relevant experience to share — and if not, we’ll fake it!]
OK Pajiba Advice/Tori,
I’ve got one that seems to fit nicely into your wheelhouse…maybe?
I am 42.
I have a desk job that pays a lot of my bills.
I have a young son and a husband who doesn’t do much to make himself useful (but that’s another letter.)
I have a degree in creative writing for theater!
I used to write a weekly column for my college paper!
I’ve had 1 short play produced!
I worked in Chicago theater for, like, 10 years on the production side of things, not the writing side of things!
I had a blog, that maybe 10 people - all of whom I knew/were related to me - ever read!
And then I got married and had a kid and everything just…stopped.
I feel like this mediocre existence of working and parenting and maintaining a home just ate all of my energy and any creative spark I had going on.
I don’t have anything I really want to say anymore.
And even if I did, I don’t think I’d know how to say it.
So, is that it? Am I not a writer anymore? How do I get back to all that I loved about being creative?
I don’t even have the energy to come up with a witty sign off.
I’m probably doomed.
Dear Probably Doomed,
You’re not doomed at all! But getting to where it sounds like you want to be is going to take some work. So let’s take your question apart and tackle it in pieces.
“Am I not a writer anymore?”
Being any kind of artist is an interesting proposition. It’s something you do, sure. But it’s also a state of mind, a way of thinking and of viewing the world. It’s an identity. So the question I think you need to ask yourself is what is YOUR definition of a writer. What will it take for you to feel like one? Do you want to get paid to write? Do you want to make a living from it? Do you want to get published, or win an award, or see your work in store or in a magazine or on a stage again? Or do you just want to write something — anything! — if it meant you put words on paper? Would you be happy just to write for an audience of one: yourself?
Things that are part of the creative process that no one tells you:— Chuck Wendig (@ChuckWendig) May 22, 2018
- Just being out in the world
- Sitting in a dark attic eating cake
- Whispering wishes into a cat's mouth
- Visiting the Seven Goats of the Bone Tree to beseech their bleated glory
Sometimes life gets in the way, but that doesn’t make that piece of you that is a writer any less important or “real” — it just means it’s on the back burner temporarily. Emphasis on “temporarily.” Now, if someone was walking around going “I’m a novelist!” despite never having written even a short story — or a sentence! — and having no intention to really start, then that’s probably some bullshit. Then again, all they have to do to prove me wrong is, you know, actually write a novel. Retroactively they’ll have lived up to their label. Luckily for you, you have written. Quite a lot! And even if it’s not something you’re actively doing now, that doesn’t mean you don’t have the ability to do it again. Time is your friend. So yes, I would say you’re a writer — but maybe you’re not the kind of writer you want to be right now. So…
How do I get back to all that I loved about being creative?
That feeling of being tapped out creatively, and not having anything to say — that shit’s legit. I’ve been there. I’ve spent years wallowing around that headspace. I worked demanding jobs to pay bills, had long commutes, couldn’t seem to find the energy or time to do anything for myself. Worse, I let myself get distracted rather than face my own feeling of inadequacy. And if I did sit down in front of my computer, fingers poised over my keyboard, the blank page staring at me became my mirror. I had nothing to fill that space. I was the real blank page, and the pressure I placed on myself for not being the writer I wanted to be became a weight I couldn’t escape.
But as you know, skills take practice. And the only way to write is, frankly, to write. Which is a frustrating answer, but still — the more you do it, the easier it will get. So set your end goal firmly in your mind, whether it’s awards and recognition or a blog entry, but don’t let the enormity of that goal intimidate you. Instead, find the manageable bite-size baby steps that will get you there. Or maybe they’ll take you someplace you never even imagined, but is an even better fit!
I tend to break writing up into two buckets: the act of writing, and the substance. Some people have something to say, and they just need to figure out how to say it. Other people find writing to be easy, but struggle to find something they want to write about. However, the two are intertwined, and focusing on one side may naturally help you with the other.
Here are some practical suggestions, courtesy of the combined experiences of the Overlords, to help you reignite that creative spark:
— Find ways to write in your everyday life, even if it isn’t exactly what you want to be writing. Does your company have a newsletter you could contribute to? Could you start one for them? Do you know anyone with an online store you could write product descriptions for? Can you restart your blog, or post on Medium, or write a one-sentence story ever day and Tweet it?
— If you want to take it a step further, consider searching for a job that has a writing component. I worked as a publicist, and the only part of the job I actually enjoyed was drafting the press releases. If you’re having a hard time finding time to write outside of working hours, finding an excuse to do it WHILE working is the next best thing! At the end of the day, even if you’re not writing what you want to, you’re still producing content — and that’s half the challenge.
— Don’t be afraid to use your children as an excuse to be a storyteller! I know someone who tells her child an original bedtime story every night — the kid gives her a kind of animal, and she creates a tale based around it. Maybe you can try something similar, and then write them down? Or vice versa — write stories to surprise your son!
— I’ve signed up for local writing workshops in the past, just to get me out of the house and around other writers. Even if they only meet once a week, that is a dedicated one or two hour window where you are doing nothing but getting in touch with your creative side, finding inspiration and getting some practice in. Some are free meetups, some might be run through a college or by a local writer, but I’m sure if you do some digging you can find opportunities in your community. Or make your own! Just go to a coffeeshop with a notebook and nothing else — just make sure you have a regular schedule. Then talk to your husband about your need to take time to explore your interests, and get him to step up and make himself useful so you are free to spend an evening away from home once a week. Maybe he has interests he also wants to explore, so this could be a chance for the two of you to support each other as you continue to grow as people, and not just as spouses or parents.
— There are a lot of resources for finding writing prompts, if you’re struggling to find something to say. The Re:Fiction website has sections dedicated to prompts and to exercises. Genevieve also pointed out this book of writing prompts you could try. Or you can try stream of consciousness exercises, and just set a 10-minute timer for yourself to start with. Writing fan fiction is another way you could dip your toe back into storytelling while having some of the building blocks already in place for you.
— Accountability buddies! Do you have any friends who write, or want to write, or would be willing to read your writing if you sent it to them? Sure, you don’t have to write for anyone other than yourself, but it sure is useful to set deadlines for yourself and have someone breathing down your neck about it.
The main thing to remember is that writing takes all forms. So maybe it’s enough just to write something, whatever it is, as long as it means you’ve created. Doing that, regularly, is a place to start. Then you can try different kinds of writing as you find your voice and figure out what it is you actually want to write. I found that I made the most progress when I let go of my ideas of the kind of writer I wanted to be, and settled for “one who actually writes something every damn day.” And to do that, I found those writing workshops. Then I picked up a side gig as a copy writer. Then I picked up another one. Then I found this place, and tried writing reviews and listicles and all sorts of things. Now that’s a far cry from the poetry and personal essays and short stories and shit I wrote in college, but it’s also a hell of a lot better than the heaping pile of fuck-all I wrote after graduation. I’m in my mid-thirties now, and I am finally getting comfortable with saying that I’m a writer. I also know that there is work I still want to do, and I’m not exactly the “writer” I want to be just yet. But if I keep working at it, and finding new opportunities to push myself in different directions? I believe I’ll get there eventually. And you will too.
But if that doesn’t work for you, here’s Dustin’s two cents on the matter:
Tell her she’s done. That there is no hope. That it’s too late, and that she will never be a writer.
In my experience, there has never been a greater motivator than being told that I couldn’t do something.
It’ll piss her off, but in 5 years, the dedication page in her bestseller will read, “Fuck you Pajiba.”
It’s cute how he thinks people need a reason to say “Fuck You Pajiba” isn’t it?