Living — Confessions of a Writing Junkie

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So, as I may have mentioned in an earlier post, I’m kind of between projects.  I’ve finished all my novel revisions for the moment.  I’ve started the mental dreaming part of the next one or two, depending on how it all shapes out in my brain, but other than things like synopsis writing and this very post, I’m not doing much in the way of physical writing.  And here’s a little, ugly truth we all keep silent about — writing is a drug.

Not just the act of creation, but the actual act of writing (or typing) words on a page.  Whatever chemical reactions occur in our bodies during this process, we get addicted to it.  The euphoria we feel after a good day’s writing leaves us glowing with blind joy.  The relief from completing a difficult day’s writing pleases us in a different but equally splendid way.  The downward spiral of failing to complete our writing can torture us like poking a wound over and over.  And when we find ourselves in the place I am at the moment, that netherworld of “between projects,” where there are no words to write just yet, even if there are ideas, well, that’s the land where withdraw dwells.

At first, of course, after spending many months on the last project, it’s a relief to take a break.  But my “break” has lasted too long.  I’ve gone through such manic mood swings from not writing in the last week, I feel a bit crazy.  My fingers literally itch to be clacking away at the keyboard.  I surf the web, lying to myself that I’m actually doing research when I somehow end up playing mah-jongg or zuma.  In a foolish attempt to appease myself with a quick fix, I’ll just start writing a story with no plan in mind, no ideas, no characters, just start putting words down and let it take me where it may roam.  But like any form of quickie, this usually leaves me empty, unsatisfied, and wishing I’d never done it in the first place.  Worse, because I’m writing this quickie like a pantser’s pantser, what I create is so far from usable that oftentimes I don’t even bother saving the darn thing.  I’m back to where I started and have gained nothing.

I know what I need to do.  I have the ideas.  I just need to sit down and think.  Think hard.  I need to work out the details of each character, of the world, of the plot, of everything.  I need to get the soul of the story in place so I can start real research and get to the physical act of writing sooner than later.

Like all drugs, when I finally get what I’m after, when I can move to the stage of painting my ideas onto the page with words, then all will be forgiven.  I’ll be happy with being a writer again and not rue the day I thought to myself, I bet I can write a novel. I will love my word processor once more.  I’ll forgive my Muse (whatever she looks like) for abandoning me, though I know she never did.  All will be well and I’ll breath deeper and sleep sounder.  And as the new WIP pushes on, I’ll go through the ups and downs of creation, but ultimately, I’ll get higher and higher until the climax of writing the final words of the story, knowing I’ve completed the task, and I’ll smile.

Just before I fall between projects once more.

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15 comments to Living — Confessions of a Writing Junkie

  • Absolutely right, Stuart. When work or family or whatever stops me from writing, I too get fractious and irritable, constantly thinking about what I might have been able to do with the time I “wasted” doing other things. It can be annoying (for everyone) though I know it recognizes an essential truth about who I am and what I want. Well, as Larkin would say, good to get that learnt.

    Less sympathetic towards those “between projects” people, since that sounds a lot like paradise right now… :)

  • Monique

    I just finished my first novel. It’s in the feedback/editing stage, which is… not as fun as composing. Still no telling yet if the thing is crap or can eventually be beaten into sellable form, so tons of uncertainty on that front. But the real kicker is that for the past year I’ve had something concrete to work on every time I sat down, and now I don’t. No point in working on a sequel if I don’t know the first is viable, don’t want to start a new project because it feels too much like abandoning the characters. Not sure how I even got the first one done; much less sure how to go about starting a new thing. Also, I’ve gotten used to looking at reasonably-finished work and am not excited about seeing first-draft slop on the screen again.

    What I know for sure is that the only thing worse than first-draft slop is not writing. It’s been a couple of months and I’m getting twitchy without the voices in my head to keep me company. It’s a huge relief to know other writers have the same issue.

  • Stuart, I totally understand. I used to promise myself a long rest between projects. That would last … maybe a week. (A few times only a day.) Now, however, I have another addiction — paddling, and I can paddle for two weeks without stopping when I am between books. Not that living that way is any healthier than the writing addiction projects. I just switch one junkie lifestyle for another, and the paddling one leaves me bruised and beaten. So maybe, it’s actually worse. Hmmm.

  • AJ — It may sound like paradise to you now, but once you’re there, you’ll be wishing for the other again. It’s that grass always being greener elsewhere thing. :)

    Monique — As life would have it, I wrote this post a few days ago, and since then, many of the ideas popping around in my head have come together enough that I’m starting the planning stage and I’m feeling happy (like a good writing junkie). Point here is this — one of the ideas is for a sequel to my last book. My advice to you is to write out a synopsis or outline or some tangible form of the basic idea for the sequel. That way, should an agent, editor, or publisher take interest in your first book, you can let them read the synopsis and possibly sell the second book before writing it. Not only that, but you’ll get those pesky critters out of your head and can focus on writing something new.

    Faith — I suppose. But, of course, there’s far worse things we could be addicted to.

  • Hadn’t thought of it in these terms, but yes, a drug is about right. Certainly an addiction. I used to take long breaks in between books, and would know that it was time to write again when I became so grumpy that Nancy wanted nothing to do with me. I take shorter breaks now — just long enough to recharge a bit. Thing is, I have so many projects I WANT to work on that breaks aren’t nearly as attractive as they used to be.

  • “I’m back to where I started and have gained nothing.”

    Nah – we gain something from everything we write, usable or not.

  • After a while I get cranky when I don’t write. It’s like going too long with out food (or other vital nurishments). The funny/tragic thing is that the longer I go without, the crankier I get, yet simultaneously the harder it is to get back in the saddle again. The laws of physics apply to me as a writer: writers in motion tend to stay in motion; writers at rest tend to stay at rest.

  • David — Very true. I actually have a few things lined up but it doesn’t really start until January 😉 , so I’m trying to keep my writing sanity until then.

    Wolf — See that — it’s the withdraw talking. You are 100% correct. We do learn from all that we write.

    Ed — Starting up again is tough. The first few days are slow, just getting the wheels rolling again until you pick up enough momentum to really pour on the gas.

  • Ed said, The funny/tragic thing is that the longer I go without, the crankier I get, yet simultaneously the harder it is to get back in the saddle again.

    Amen! And the first sentence is always the hardest. Once I finally get that one out, the words start flowing like water. But that first one is crazy.

  • Unicorn

    The worst part of floating between projects is when you begin worrying that maybe there won’t be any more ideas. There always is another idea, lucky for me, but I always worry.
    Luckily, like Faith, I also have another obsession. And it also leaves me bruised sometimes. Finish a novel, get bored, jump onto an untrained horse and fall off three times in rapid succession… All in a day’s work. :) Hope your ideas pull themselves together soon, and thanks for the post.
    Unicorn

  • Razziecat

    Oh an addiction, yes it is! I had a very long break (years) from writing, and when I got back into it, I started one evening and didn’t stop until about 6:00 the next morning. And it felt unbelievably good! My problem now is having so many things in the works that I can’t seem to finish any particular one. That can be just as troublesome as not having anything to work on.

  • Tom G

    I never thought of it in drug addiction terms before, but you are so right. Writing withdrawal is killer.

    Guess what?! I got a fever, and the only prescription…is more cowbell…I mean, more WRITING!!”

  • Misty — That first sentence . . . oh, yeah . . . that’s where that whole fear of a blank page come from.

    Unicorn — I think all writers have that fear at one point or another. I’ve written enough now, though, that I firmly believe the ideas will keep coming even if I wanted them to stop. As long as my brain is functioning, it’ll keep plaguing me with ideas begging to be written.

    Razzie — Years?!? I can’t imagine. I had to stop writing for half-a-year because of a job that took so much out of me, and it was a horrible feeling. Hope that never happens again — for either of us.

    Tom — Cowbell. :)

  • Yes! This is so very true, Stuart! I’ve taken breaks for extremely long periods of time and regretted it, because the withdrawl is horrible, but even with short breaks I have trouble being very sociable with friends. I was at a birthday party tonight that ended early, and my first thought was, “Well, good. I’ve got other things I’d rather be doing.” I get resentful when I don’t get “me” time, and “me” time is usually writing. Simple as that. (Hah, and now I can point to this when people accuse me of being antisocial.)

  • Young_Writer

    Exactly, it’s impossible to stop without getting mood swings. That’s why I hate the break between completing the first draft and editting. I promise myself a month. Doesn’t happen. Even on the break, I write in my head, daydream.