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Can Writing Become Detrimental?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

As y’all know, I finished Turnabout’s Fair Play on May 15. And since then, I’ve had absolutely no motivation to write. The main reason is because I’ve pretty much tapped the creative well dry writing seven novels over the span of about twenty-four months. So I’ve needed to take a break—to read, to take on some additional editing work to try to rebuilt my financial life to a normal level, and to not feel the pressure to produce a certain number of words in a certain amount of time.

But I also haven’t wanted to let that creative pump get rusted and become unusable. So I’ve been spending hours and hours on my favorite stock-photo site finding stock photos of models to replace the actors and actresses I’d originally used as templates for one of my two contemporary romance proposals. I’ve done very well—finding replacements for all of them, and with one, finding a slightly different character backstory based on the image I found.

And while I woke up this morning with the complete backstory for another of the characters and spent a couple of hours writing that out, it still didn’t motivate me to start doing any actual writing.

Right now, I have the opportunity to take my time writing a novel and then have the time to do what I used to love best—focus on revision and polishing. But the thought of making myself write makes me cringe.

I don’t know how many times I’ve posted this quote from Madeleine L’Engle:

We must work every day, whether we feel like it or not, otherwise when it comes time to get out of the way and listen to the work, we will not be able to heed it.

~Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water

But right now, I’m dealing with the question of motivation from another angle:

Does there come a time in a writer’s life when forcing yourself to write can become detrimental to your mental health?

10 Comments
  1. Tuesday, June 7, 2011 3:02 am

    I know that many authors, including Madeline L’Engle insist we must write every day. To me that is legalistic. My own rule is write as often as I can. The days I do I usually write enough for many days. I think of God’s pattern for a day of rest and Jubilee years. It seems like you’ll be more productive after you rejuvinate a bit and and allow those creative juices to flow again. Its always a challenge to find a healthy pace, sometimes a change of pace. It does no good to burn out. We are vessels that need constant refilling when we are pouring out. Our brain and body can become fatigued under the stress of constant work (thinking, producing, trying to generate income). That kind of stress is not only detrimental mentally, but physically. I try to erase some of the stress each day by just doing something that makes me not think and gives me a chance to laugh – I Love Lucy reruns are my remedy. I hope you’ll take a little time to refresh. You deserve it!!

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  2. Tuesday, June 7, 2011 10:28 am

    I’m with Carla–and you, Kaye. I have always thought it was crazy that we should write every day. Is it that way with every career? That a plumber should plumb every day? 🙂 That a decorator should decorate every day? Don’t we have weekends for a reason?

    When my oldest two were little, I wrote every day–Monday through Friday. If I had time and felt like it, I wrote on Saturdays too, but that was not the norm. And I always took Sundays off because I knew I needed a time to recoup. If I didn’t take a full day off, then I found I fought myself the next week–wanting a break but feeling guilty.

    For me, I’d like to write every workday and keep the weekends for family, resting, and rejuvenating for the week ahead.

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  3. Tuesday, June 7, 2011 10:35 am

    Remember, coming up with that backstory IS writing. It’s crucial to the story that’s simmering up there, but not quite ready to come out and play!

    Don’t beat yourself up. That’s what I’ve been doing to myself, and then I wrote one reallllllly good sentence the other night, and it kinda got the juices flowing. Oh, I haven’t settled back into a routine of writing daily, but I’m thinking about my story, making notes, considering changes.

    I’m with Carla and Sally. Think of this as your “Jubilee!”

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  4. Charmaine Gossett permalink
    Tuesday, June 7, 2011 10:39 am

    Sounds like you need a rest and renewal. Although you are not writing anything on paper, you are thinking, as you said, picking out new faces, etc. That’s writing. I do some of my best “writing” when I am sweating and working in the garden. Ihave started taking a note pad with me when I walk. Seems like that clears my head and give me energy.
    Relax. I’m praying for you and I believe everybody else is too. God bless you, Kaye.

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  5. Tuesday, June 7, 2011 10:40 am

    I’ve always taken the “write every day” advice to mean that writing should be a priority in your life. If you’re serious about it, it shouldn’t just be something you do when “inspiration strikes.” You should be disciplined and try to make room for it as much as possible. But vacations are just as important, and I agree–backstory and character casting IS writing. Those things make the actual writing of your novels go much more smoothly, and they can help get you excited to tell your next story when you’re ready. Until then, enjoy your break!

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  6. Tuesday, June 7, 2011 11:08 am

    There’s discipline, and there’s healthy balance. You can’t pour out what you don’t pour in. I do believe it’s important to show up every day, but I don’t drive myself with a whip when I do. I might work two hours a day, or three, or five, rarely six or seven. Unless something really pressing arises, I work Mon-Thurs, most Fridays, some Saturdays, and almost never Sunday. Sunday is my day to get out of the house for an extended time, first for church, then something involving hiking boots. And hubby and dog! One day in seven of mental as well as physical rest is crucial. And taking a week or two off between projects is also needful, whenever possible. I hope you revel in good books, good movies, and whatever else will fill the well, Kaye. Blessings to you!

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  7. Tuesday, June 7, 2011 12:16 pm

    It’s normal to need a bit of a break, to want to change gears after a particularly grueling schedule. 7 single titles in 24 months has to be some sort of new world record!

    The planning stuff is part of the writing process. If your schedule permits, maybe you should give yourself a couple of weeks, maybe even a month, to recharge. How about catching up on your reading? You can continue to work on non-writing writing tasks, like the photos. You’ll write when you’re ready, but give yourself a firm start date in case you don’t feel it.

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  8. Tuesday, June 7, 2011 2:06 pm

    You need a break. We can’t stay “on” all the time. Creativity must be nurtured, and sometimes that means just sitting back and daydreaming without actually putting any words down.

    After my mini-marathon yesterday of 3,000 words in 3 hours, I am mentally exhausted. I can’t even imagine how tired your brain must be! I still have the flexibility to take breaks when I need to. You haven’t had that for a couple of years now. Enjoy it! Recharge your creativity so you come back better than ever.

    I think the answer to your question is a most resounding yes. Coming out of my dry spell, there were spans of weeks at a time where even thinking about putting pen to paper was not a good idea. Turns out my brain was still working in the background, but actually writing was beyond my mental comprehension.

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  9. Marcia permalink
    Tuesday, June 7, 2011 5:14 pm

    Chapter One
    And while I woke up this morning with the complete backstory for another of the characters and spent a couple of hours writing that out, it still didn’t motivate me to start doing any actual writing.

    Sure sounds like an opening line to me. M

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  10. Wednesday, June 8, 2011 7:13 am

    Ecclesiastes 12:12 NIV: “But, my child, let me give you some further advice: Be careful, for writing books is endless, and much study wears you out.”

    Been there! Done that! Balance is the key. 🙂

    Blessings,

    MaryAnn

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