Saturday, March 07, 2009

The Deep Wall of Sadness

Some of you will read this title and think, “Huh?”
Some of you will read it and think, “Oh, no. The CWC has had another disaster!”
Some of you—bless your hearts!—probably think this is a typo.
That the title should be “well” of sadness. After all, everyone knows wells are deep, and walls…are not.

You’re partly right.

First of all, though, not to worry—the CWC hasn’t had another disaster hit. Well, okay, let’s amend that. The CWC has become embroiled in not one, but two legal encounters of the close kind, but neither of these is likely to end in disaster. They’ll be a pain in the butt, they’ll stress her out, but they’re not likely to end in disaster, just immense piles of paper that signify nothing. (Would that I were a lawyer, and got paid by the syllable. Obviously, they do.)

But stress, evil as it is in this case, is not what’s making up the wall of which I speak.
What is making that up is a little more delicate.

Over the past several months—okay, years—I’ve been in a creative funk. I’ve worked through some of it. I’ve even done some rather nice revisions on older work. But when it’s come to creating new work…I’ve gone dead cold.
Colder than I’ve ever been in my life.
And that’s a scary feeling.
So scary that literally, it has me unable get any momentum writing fiction again.

I can do it for short periods of time.
I can write a few new scenes.
I can come up with pieces of story ideas.
I can even write synopses for new work.
But when it comes time to dig in and really write…I fail.
I start well, and then everything stops.
Either I don’t care about the people I’m writing about…
Or I don’t care about their story…
Or I do care about both the people and their story, I just don’t believe I can write it.

And I’ve been spending no little time in this blog trying to ascertain why that is.

If this were not so sad, it would be funny. I don’t even believe in writer’s block...I’ve said that a hundred times.
But there's something there that checks me when I try to get up and running. I can feel it. I try to sit down and get up some writing speed and energy, and I stop myself cold. I can’t get around this. It’s a wall.
A deep, cold, sad wall.

Something’s frozen off in me, something that used to be alive and kicking and always thinking of ideas. I used to swear I could come up with half a dozen books just from the storylines of the Celtic songs I listened to.
Now, I think of that sentiment and cringe.

I actually tried being a romance editor for awhile, and I had to stop it…because I couldn’t stand romance anymore. I couldn’t stand reading love stories. Any kind.
Because, deep inside me, there’s this plaintive voice saying,
What’s the point?
Not only is the falling-in-love part not holding my attention anymore...but the romance of writing itself has flown the coop as well.

Sounds like someone’s coming off a bad love affair, right? Or worse? Only I can’t say that. I’m living in the midst of a long-term marriage. My relationship hasn’t broken up. My kids haven’t gone to prison. Nobody’s terminally ill in the family. I’m living in a great 100-year-old house, I’m doing a job I’m good at, I’m getting some freelance nonfiction work, I’m singing with a good choir at IPFW…

But somewhere in here, I’ve lost a romantic spark. Somewhere in here, I’ve lost a great deal of magic. Maybe I’ve just had to fight too damn many battles, beat back too damn many wolves from the door, and be too damn tough for too damn long. (Sorry for the rough language, but sometimes the bluntest Anglo-Saxonisms really are the best.)

Maybe going through the trauma of being sure my marriage was dead in the water, only to confront some demons, see them wrestled to the ground, and make the long, arduous trip back through learning how to love my husband again…took all the romantic sparks clear out of my eyes. (And yeah, it’s okay for me to say this out loud. My husband knows exactly where we stood then versus where we stand now, and we're in this together.) But oddly enough, I did some of my best, most romantic writing during the precise period of time when I was going through some of the worst personal emotional minefields you can imagine. I had to write…it was my way to stay sane.

So what has happened to my liking for, and ability to write, love stories—or for that matter, any kind of stories—now?
Did it die while I took care of my mother, scrambled to pay off her debts, borrowed just to get her buried?
Did it die when I kept struggling to hold ends together, only to have them keep slipping on me?
Did it die when I pulled up stakes and came to one of the last places on earth I ever thought I’d be?
Did it die when the biggest dream I’ve ever had—seeing my son play major league baseball—faded to black?
Or did it die because so much of what I’ve associated with writing fiction was tied up with RWA…and RWA and I have parted company on far from the best of terms?

I can’t honestly tell you why. I only know that every time I try to write, something chilling drops over my fingers and over my brain and I freeze. I wrote from hope before (the real thing, before it became a cheap political buzzword), sometimes nothing but hope. But now? The enthusiasm and fire that propelled my Muse seems to have packed up and left.

Something weary, something cynical, creeps into my writing now, and the people I want to write as warm and “nice” come out as wary, jaded smart-alecks. Part of me doesn’t even want to write “nice”…because something in me despises that in those characters. So I don’t write them that way, and I don’t tell their stories.

And that’s heartbreaking. Because I could do it once. I did it very well, several times in the past, in past manuscripts and in a pubbed book. I wrote sweet, funny, and genuinely nice people, and I cared about them, and I still do care about the ones who are like that in my old stories.
But I can’t seem to write them again. Or if I start to…I stop.
I hit a wall, almost immediately.
And I get very, very discouraged at the thought that I don’t know where to go from here.

My husband has a touch of a disorder they call dysthymia. For those of you who don’t know what this is, it’s a persistent sadness that permeates a person’s entire being. It’s closely related to depression (which he also has), but it’s slightly different in that a person can live with dysthymia for years and be functional; he just doesn’t get any joy out of anything. He would no sooner wake up thinking, “What can I do for fun today?” than the devil would wake up thinking, “Which virtue can I practice first?” Consequently, people with dysthymia live in a kind of perpetual fog. They’ll go along with plans other people make, but it’s beyond their scope to do much on their own that isn’t work, sleep, or other forms of routine.

Unfortunately, I see this disorder now taking over my writing. Sapping it of energy. Robbing it of a reason to be. Making me lose patience with boy-meets-girl, or even boy-saves-girl-in-jeopardy (or the other way around!). I don’t want this deep wall of sadness to be the way my fiction writing career ends…but right now, I’m in that gray cloud without a clue how to get out of it. Nothing seems to work, at least not on a long-enough term basis to make me think the worst is actually over and that the light at the end of the tunnel is not the proverbial freight train.

So is this where it stops? Or is there a way out?
I know what the way isn’t. It isn’t to write “one word at a time.” Because I’ve done that. One word, one page, a bunch of pages…and then it stalls out. And it’s happened too many times for me to think I can try the same thing again and expect a different result.




Deb said...

Whoa. Don't hardly know what to say about this. Is it even possible you've been working at nonfic for so long that fiction seems, well, trivial? Not worth the emotional fee you would pay in writing it? Or trying to do so?

I've hit dry spots also. I have a WIP at 30k right now, that doesn't want to budge. But I know the story and I want to tell it, so our experiences aren't exactly parallel.

Can you catch dysthymia?

I will be, and have been, praying.

Donna Alice said...

Yes, I'll be praying too as I know so well what you are feeling. Am not sure I haven't been feeling some of the same emotions - does any of it matter?

I'm getting paid so well to write non-fiction and I'm good at it--that sometimes I wonder if fiction is where I should be at all. Yet, with all my heart I long to write good fiction.

Your post has almost been an answer to pray for me - or a little nudge from God--you used both words from the title of my WIP --in the right context and so I guess in Apirl it's time to start that first draft again - after losing 60K in a hard drive crash.

You know--what I was thinking as I read this post is what a great story this would make!! You've got all the elements of it and who says it has to be a romance. Couldn't it be about learning to trust that something will eventually happen in your writing life??

Don't feel overly cheerful myself today. Looked at a friend's blog last night--not only did she win a 3 book contract at a conference, she just had another 3 book series accepted by another publisher!! How long has she been wriitng--it's less than the fingers on one hand. My writing "career" spans double digits.

I wonder sometimes what makes me keep going back to the typewriter. . .

Anonymous said...

Great post!
Thanks for sharing.

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