Sometimes we all need a break: Seeking inspiration
If you haven't been able to tell from the last few blog posts, I've been in a slump. I've been depressed and dejected and downright defeated. My passion has been taking a break. And I haven't been enjoying it, as I'm sure no one would. I tried a few different things to motivate me, but nothing seemed to work.
So I went back to the basics. And I think it's worked.
To step back and give some context: I took a vacation from my day job at the end of July, a week off to focus on editing the new novel after churning out a first draft in three months. I was ready, I wanted to get it finished. I had high expectations and was putting equally high pressure on myself to get it done. I wanted it to be just right. I was going to submit it to agents, get that elusive "traditional publishing" deal that authors dream of, and rejoice in all the glory. I worked on it for two days, overwhelmed myself, and burned out. The burnout made me feel defeated, and everything came crumbing down. I suffered, my day job suffered, my writing definitely suffered. I was feeling lost, and it wouldn't go away. I tried editing a different way, I tried looking up ways to manage rewrites, I tried taking a few days off. Nothing was helping.
Then I came up with a plan. I was going to focus on myself. I was going to revamp my life.
The plan was simple, start a morning routine that made sense. Wake up early, go for a walk, spend an hour writing, and then head to work. Minus the walk (which I added in an effort to take the advice of all the articles saying that morning exercise is good for creativity) it was the same routine I'd had when I was working on the first draft. It had worked then, it should work now.
The walking happened once before the ridiculous heatwave we had, but it's still the plan going forward. However, I did manage to find a friend who was willing to go on a bit of a nature hike around a local lake before it got too unbearably hot. That was part two of my plan, to get out into nature. I've always been someone who needs trees and water and fresh air to feel somewhat normal. I also helped that he's a photographer and I had the chance to watch him practice his art along the way. Seeing someone passionate about what they do is always helpful. (When I get the pictures that he wants to share, I'll be adding them to the page, I think.)
Then, after our hike, he needed to make a trip to the mall and wanted someone to accompany. The mall, to me, means the bookstore. Barnes and Nobel is one of the only reasons I've been to the mall recently, and the condition became that we would make a trip if I could browse the books. Easy enough.
This is where things started coming back together. I wandered the bookstore, talked with my friend about submitting and writing and books, discussed "comp titles" and how I hadn't read many new books if I did plan to submit, and in general started piecing things together in my head. At the same time, I bought some books. If I couldn't make myself write, I could make myself read.
Every author says this, and I'll echo those statements. Reading is a secret key. Sometimes I think we, as writers, spend a lot of time producing and crafting and learning and studying. As indie authors, we spend time marketing and promoting and writing blog posts. It's easy to forget the reason we're doing this in the first place. The spark that started the dream of wanting to write. Reading. I know I do, at least. So I decided I was going to read.
I picked up Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn, Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg, and Dirt Creek by Hayley Scrivenor. I finished Sharp Objects last night, up late in bed (I couldn't sleep anyway, which is part of the reason I took the day off from work today) and it was good. It wasn't my favorite book of all time, but it scratched the itch that I hadn't even known I'd had. She writes in a blunt, brutish way in some aspects, and I appreciated it. Having seen Gone Girl as a movie, I had an idea of the style, but it surprised me in a few places. I liked it. I've also started on Writing Down the Bones and am about halfway through Natalie's essays about writing and life and meditation, and I'm enjoying it as well. Books about the craft are some of my favorite, and this one is definitely near the top of the list. She treats writing in such a structured yet unstructured way, and it resonates with me. Just do it. It might be garbage, but the act of doing it is what matters.
Between the reading of these two books - I haven't started Dirt Creek yet but I'm interested when I get around to it - I've regained enough juice to start on the second draft once again. I'm no longer calling it an "edit", because it's a completely different form. It's a second draft. It's a rewrite. It's a reconfiguration of the story, truer to it's final form. And I'm enjoying it. I've breezed through a few chapters, made progress, and I'm liking the version it's becoming. I have high hopes for this one, which was my downfall when I began this process, but has now become a motivation. It's turning out well. I already think there are a few things I need to rework after the fact, bits that I wrote while I was still struggling with the process, but those are a future me problem. Right now, I'm solidly in the second draft mindset and I'll continue until I'm through.
For anyone looking for advice on how to get through creative slumps, I'll say this. Get back to the roots. Explore the things that inspired you to create in the first place. Get outside. Observe nature. Take a walk. Breathe the air. Take a break. We put deadlines on ourselves, pressures that no one else would think appropriate, and sometimes a step back to reflect is really what's needed.
At the end of the day, do what makes you happy.