I’ve been doing Nano this month and so far I’m not quite keeping up but I’m doing pretty damn good for someone with a full time job, LSAT tutoring and two men in my life to pay attention to. There’s a community of people online and ones you can meet in person, which just helps with the whole sitting down to write thing. There’s also authors on there with pep talks and giving advice.
One of the authors was talking about sitting down and writing and how she’d go into periods where she just didn’t get anything done or make time to even sit down to write, and she’d batter herself for being lazy. All that did was make her depressed, which made it even harder to write.
This spoke to me because I basically gave up on writing anything fiction while in law school.
I can’t even tell you when the giving up started. I would try to write and just not really have anything to go into or I’d try to edit old stuff and just read through it without fixing anything because that just took too much damn energy.
I couldn’t quite name what that was. So I called myself lazy.
Here’s the thing, your brain gets tired just like your body does. You work your brain harder than it has ever been worked before and it’s going to collapse at the end of the day because you just made it run ten miles. So it didn’t have the energy to hit the gym and lift weights for an hour. It watched TV instead.
That was me at the beginning of law school. Not only was I making my brain train for a marathon, I was also depressed.
It was my first time away from my family and I was half the country away from them, meaning visits only during holidays and months without seeing them in-between. I was living alone for the first time and that just freaked me out after living in close quarters with two siblings most of my life. I was being severely challenged at school while being depressed was making it hard to think, which just made me more depressed because I felt stupid.
And, the big one, I got my heart broken for the first time at the age of 23, which just slammed the door on my brain’s ability to function for months.
I finally got into the swing of school and got my brain functional again around April, got through Spring finals in one piece, got a summer job back home so I could recover in the extremely understanding arms of my family, and went back 2L year with some semblance of my old self back.
By this time, I hadn’t written anything not law related for a year. I did classes, studied, hung out with friends, partied, studied, dated, and studied some more. And my brain was finally in shape and trained to handle the workload by the time I hit the midpoint.
And I still didn’t write.
I wasn’t terribly stressed or overworked anymore, I was finally sleeping through the night and happy with my life, and I had fully acclimated to Nashville (Yes, it took over a year, which tells you how depressed I was because Nashville is awesome and I fell in love with it the first time I visited), so what was going on?
By that point, my arm muscles were out of shape. I had been running and got myself up to marathon shape, but I hadn’t lifted the weights for over a year so I had no arm muscles left and they couldn’t even lift the 20 pounders let alone the 40s I’d been up to. I had to go back down to 5s and start over and that just felt pointless. (The metaphor’s still holding up, right?)
So I just kept not writing. I had other things to do and any time I sat down to write turned out nothing, which was a waste of time, so I didn’t do it.
That was the next year and a half until I graduated law school. That summer was studying for the bar, which was like an Iron Man Triathlon or whatever those things are called, and nobody could blame me for not writing then.
The bar came and went, I started my clerkship, and then I started “getting back into my writing.” I tried to sit down and write and got a bit done here or there, but nothing substantial. It just went soooo slowly. I was frustrated! I was lifting the 5 pounders and it sucked because my arms weren’t showing even a bit of the bulk and definition I used to have.
And you know what, I had to do it. I had to work myself back up to actually moving a book forward with new scenes and flushing out the characters and the plot. That took almost a year. I’ve been saying the exceptionally lame, “I’m getting back into my writing,” for a year.
It took time to wind me up, to get me to where I could lift again. And it was mostly, after the horrible black hole of 1L, due to being out of practice. I started this blog to get me into a writing habit again, which has been a huge kick in the pants. The bigger one was Nanowrimo. Because there is the community and the sense that I MUST WRITE right now and not later because I’ll just keep getting more and more behind.
You have to work your way back up if you haven’t done it for awhile. As for why you haven’t done it for awhile, what’s going on? If you’re just not writing, it could be because the story just isn’t working for you. If you can’t write, maybe you don’t want to for a reason. Maybe it’s time to scrap that story and move onto another one.
What if you love your story and you want to get it out and it makes you cry because you can’t. Then what? Ask yourself what’s going on. What if you’re depressed? Depression affects the chemicals in your brain, I’ve read studies that postulate depression makes you less able to process things and make connections, it basically makes you stupider.
I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on mental health. If you’re depressed, see a doctor, go to therapy, if it’s really serious go on meds. Do what you have to do to get yourself back to mental health. For some people, that includes writing because it can be therapeutic! For some it doesn’t work that way. Beating yourself up for not working will not help though. Get yourself well and then start small. You don’t have to be back in fighting shape right away. Give yourself permission to be slow and stupid for awhile and just write without the pressure of being good.
Maybe you really are just too busy. You have a job and kids and soccer practice. You are Super Man or Woman. What then? Try taking 15 minutes before bed and writing something, anything, for just 15 minutes. Once you’re back in practice from these 15 minutes, it get easier to write during whatever little times you have in your day. The 30 minute lunch break, the time before bed, while you are watching The Wiggles with your kids. Start small and work your way up, just like working out.
The first step to fixing a problem is either admitting or discovering what it is. Do some soul searching and dig into yourself. And once you do, and you “get back into your writing” give yourself permission to start small, and get into a supportive writing community where writing’s the norm and everybody does it. After you build it up, got yourself somewhat into shape, get a kick in the pants and go for a sprint.
Happy Nanoing and good mental health 😉