“One must be pitiless about this matter of ‘mood.’ In a sense, the writing will create the mood…I have forced myself to begin writing when I’ve been utterly exhausted, when I’ve felt my soul as thin as a playing card, when nothing seemed worth enduring for another five minutes…and somehow the activity of writing changes everything.” (Joyce Carol Oates)
I found this quote buried on my old blog site the other day, and it hit me squarely between the eyes: It must have struck me when I originally posted it, too, but I don’t think I understood at the time how easily mood can become an issue.
I’ve been writing as long as I can remember, writing seriously since 1992, and writing full-time since the fall of 1996. There was a time when I was one of the most determined, focused and prolific authors I knew. And for a while, I believed that’s how it would always be.
Getting my butt in the chair, hands on the keyboard (BIKHOK) was simply mind over matter. I was hungry to succeed and determined show the world I could.
A few of life’s blips came along and tried to break my stride, but I wrote through a successful day job, raising two children, illnesses and even deaths in the family without losing focus. I wrote while my dad underwent cancer surgery, while my daughter had an appendectomy, and while my grandmother was in the hospital for the final time. I wrote through several moves and on vacation and every holiday.
And then one day life hit me with a vengeance, and my focus flew out the window. the mood, which I had successfully ignored for so long, suddenly became the ruling force in my life. I’ve talked about this before, and I don’t want to beat it to death, but chances are that sooner or later it’s going to happen to all of us. Something will happen that kills our ability to BIKHOK, and suddenly days and then weeks have gone by and we haven’t written a word.
Getting back on track might be relatively easy under some circumstances. It might simply be a matter of planting yourself on the chair, positioning your hands on the keyboard, and typing something. But there may be other times when getting back into the habit of writing takes something more.
For me, the first step was letting go of guilt, which was only creating pressure. I work well to a deadline (usually) but after the family tragedy that knocked me off my perch, pressure was the enemy. The more pressure I put on myself, the more stuck I felt. Words simply wouldn’t come, no matter how much I wanted or needed them to.
I needed to find the joy of writing again before I could get words on the page, and that meant writing without pressure. Writing because I wanted to, not because I had to–which is difficult when there’s a deadline looming on the horizon.
Getting back into the game required me to be kind to myself, to let myself start slowly and build up my stamina slowly. I told myself that all I had to do was write one sentence a day. Nothing more. Before I ran into the brick wall of life, I’d been writing 20 pages a day on a pretty regular basis, and here I was asking only one sentence. It sounds ridiculous, right? Yet there were still days when one sentence was too much.
Slowly, gently, I managed to work myself up to a page a day, and then two. I rediscovered why I liked to write in the first place, but only after we figured out the new normal that would become life in my family and I could tell myself that what was happening in my fictional world was at least marginally important.
There will be times in everyone’s career where the mood trap is something we can easily get around and overcome, but there will also be times when we can’t. When those times come, be kind to yourself. Allow yourself not to write for a while. Even though the voices have gone silent in your head and the itch to put words on paper has disappeared completely, believe that it’s only gone dormant. It has not died. One day, it will begin to stir again.