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On Losing One's Way

Written by Siri Paulson

I have a confession to make: I've lost my way as a writer.

It's been a struggle to write for several years now. I struggle a lot with motivation -- I set goals and miss them, I bribe myself, I procrastinate, I feel guilty, I beat myself up.

All of those things are normal for many writers, but if it's this much work to make myself write...something's very wrong. And when I do write, I struggle with editing and go around in circles and brainstorm fruitlessly until I beat the story into the ground.

It's not fun anymore.

I've been telling stories since before I could print. When I was a kid, I once wrote a play with my right arm in a cast. Everything got turned into make-believe. I was always writing.

When I got a bit older, I discovered Star Trek and started writing fanfiction (by hand, long before AO3 and My first novel-length story was a rather non-canonical tale about Garak, the tailor from Deep Space Nine.

Later I moved on to original novels. I got derailed by university for several years, but discovered NaNoWriMo in 2005 and away I went again. I have multiple 51K drafts on my hard drive, and every one of them was a blast to write.

But I haven't won NaNo since 2011. I've flailed a lot, guilted a lot, made myself miserable and frustrated. I've written plenty of short stories because they're less immense, but novels are where my heart is...but they're too complicated and leave me all tangled up in plot and motivation and logic. When I edit one of my stories, often I suck all the joy out of it -- fatal to someone who dreams, or dreamt, of Being A Writer, of publishing and seeing her books in stores, all shiny and edited and real. It's ironic because editing is what I do for a living, but I can't seem to get over that hump.

If I'm not meant to be a writer, not meant to go down that path...who am I? I don't have a clue.

The thought of quitting writing terrifies me. It makes me feel like one of the Doctor's Companions being left behind, after travelling in the TARDIS through all of time and space and having adventures and saving the world, to try and lead a normal life.

But if I am meant to be a writer...something's got to change, big-time, because this is just not working.

So where do I go from here? I'm not sure. I do know that right now, I'm not setting any writing goals, and definitely not any publishing goals, and no pressure. I'm going to feel my way through, following what brings me joy, being mindful of when I'm avoiding something, trying to watch out for the narrow line between self-care (i.e., things that are soul-uplifting) and self-indulgence (i.e., things that are soul-deadening).

I'll let you know how it goes. Wish me luck.


Erin Zarro
# Erin Zarro 2015-01-07 04:27
Hugs, Siri. I think you have a good plan of action.

I think it's tough once you lose the joy.
I did, briefly, after struggling with that one book through four rewrites. But then Fey Touched happened, and that was where I rediscovered the joy.

Maybe you need a for-yourself-only novel that is just plain fun to write, and don't worry about making it perfect and logical...just have fun. Maybe after that, you may feel better. Or differently. Might be worth a shot. ;)
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KD Sarge
# KD Sarge 2015-01-07 04:56
I didn't write for much of my marriage. Not because I didn't want to, I just didn't want to ENOUGH to do it past all the other things I needed or wanted to do. Then after seven years of mostly not writing, I wrote three and a half books in six months.

*hug* I like Erin's suggestion, but only if it feels right. What if you wrote a first draft and then YOU weren't the one to give the first edit? You might be a little caught up in the editing cycle. ;)
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Linda Maye Adams
# Linda Maye Adams 2015-01-07 11:43
Your head's likely getting in your way. It's really, really easy to do because everything online in writing seems to add to it. "These are the mistakes you're making!" scream blogs. It's just so negative that I had to stop following message boards and many writing blogs to keep it out of my writing.

It was so bad that when I started my last novel, I had to remind myself that I did know how to write and I started some scenes by saying myself "Trust the process." Write only scene at a time and trust that you know how to write.
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Ellen Gregory
# Ellen Gregory 2015-01-07 12:07
It's a tough one... and in my experience a fairly common part of the roller coaster. Take a guilt-free break and eventually I'm sure your writing demon will tap you on the shoulder. And if not, then by the time you realise, you'll have figured out who you are when not writing anyway.
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# Liv 2015-01-07 16:14
I think it would be hard to separate your work as an editor from your role as a writer. There's such a tremendous difference between the way I think when I'm a nurse practitioner and when I'm writing romance that I don't have trouble figuring out which hat I'm wearing. I could see, however, that it might be easy for you to get caught up in editing the words before they hit the page, which would certainly be a fun-killer. Don't have any great ideas for how to fix things (which is really hard for the mother in me to admit). I just hope you find peace in this difficult stage of your journey.
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Siri Paulson
# Siri Paulson 2015-01-08 04:16
Thanks for your wise words, everyone. They help. :-)
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Kit Dunsmore
# Kit Dunsmore 2015-01-11 03:56
Wow, Siri, this is rough. I've had the same problem. I had a project die mid-draft and it left me feeling dead. My solution was NaNoWriMo. I went out of my way to find the fun again, writing a story that my teen-aged self would have loved. My prep work was making huge lists of things I loved to have in my stories and I returned to them throughout the month. I got the joy back by seriously goofing off. I hope you find your path back to happy writing soon.
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Emmie Mears
# Emmie Mears 2015-01-11 22:46
Siri, I totally understand that feeling. I slogged a lot in the last couple years and for the first time, had multiple unfinished novels on my hard drive. Finishing them before was sort of easy. It was harder when I had a deadline, I think. Then this idea came to me out of the blue, and this book is the book I have wanted to write my whole life. It hit me, and it stole away my soul.

I saw this yesterday, by Amber Benson (of Buffy fame, who is also a multi-published novelist). It's pretty apropos of this conversation.
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Siri Paulson
# Siri Paulson 2015-01-11 23:15
KitD and Emmie, I think you're saying the same things (and yes, Amber Benson gives a great example with the dance movies -- thanks for the link!). Look for the joy: got it. :) Will keep you all posted.
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Kit Campbell

Kit Campbell used to be an aerospace engineer, but it turns out that there's a lot less launching of awesome things into space and a lot more paperwork than one would think. More

Siri Paulson

Siri Paulson writes all over the fantasy and science fiction spectrum, including (so far) secondary-world fantasy, urban fantasy, steampunk, historical paranormal, and things set in space. Maybe someday she'll pick one and settle down. More

KD Sarge

KD Sarge writes for joy and hope, and works for a living. She has tried her hand at many endeavors, including Governess of the Children, Grand Director of the Drive-Through, and Dispatcher of the Tow Trucks. More

Erin Zarro

Erin Zarro has been a poet since she was 11, when she discovered free verse poetry. She has been published in literary magazines such as Prism Galliard, Lucid Moon, Pen & Ink Magazine, and Nomad's Choir, among others. More