When Life Makes Writing Difficult: In the Eye of the Storm

Writing is a Tough Gig at the Best of Times

I have a love/hate relationship with writing. I love it when it’s there, flowing through my veins and out of my fingertips like some kind of alien writing monster (let’s face it fellow writers, we are a different species).

I hate it when writing leaves me and I cannot grasp it. This is what happens when you battle depression and, frankly, a shitty year of badness, including the terminal diagnosis of your mum’s cancer.

Trying to write up against all that was so hard. It just didn’t happen.

Maybe you have been in a similar place or are there right now.

2016 Began Amazingly Well for My Writing

Champagne toast - when life makes writing difficultI finally took the plunge to write. Write I did, and then some.

I practically whacked out the first draft of my novel with such aplomb I scared myself with this writing hoodoo. Who was this woman who was writing with reckless abandon and finally, after decades of convincing herself she couldn’t, produced a whole freaking novel?

The husband and I celebrated. We were winning. This was our victory because he had given me the courage to begin writing and put up with the hysterics and self-doubt that accompanied the ride.

We had done it. Just the small *coughs* matter of revising and editing, and then I could unleash my work upon the world. We were golden.

Then the Storm Hit

Depression came so fast. It felled me. I was slammed hard by the Mental Illness Express. I could barely brush my teeth let alone write, revise or edit.

The novel felt like it was dying, alongside its creator. As I lost the will to live, I also could not find the will to write.

To be honest, I didn’t care. I didn’t want to write.

I hated being reminded that I had once possessed such joy and a reason for being through writing. I didn’t want to be reminded of better days. I just wanted to curl up and disappear.

I unfollowed many writing-related blogs. I unliked some writers’ Facebook pages. I unfollowed certain writers on Twitter. I felt like a knife had been pierced into my heart every time I read of others’ writing victories. I wasn’t jealous. That would require a desire to be writing too. I felt like a failure.

When You Cannot Write Every Day as the Foolish ‘Rule’ Suggests

The worst of it all was the constant, incredibly damaging writing ‘rule’ that at least one writer would advocate on a daily basis: ‘You must write every day’.

That is bullshit.

You may disagree with me. You can tell me that you’ve had depression or tragedy in your life and that you found writing daily got you through it. I’m genuinely pleased for you. That, however, is not a truth for everyone.

When you are profoundly depressed, the soundtrack to your life is one of pessimism and self-hatred. You have so much vitriol for yourself that when it seems like you’re being judged against the gold standard of writing every day, and find yourself failing, you deem yourself a useless writer and substandard human being.

We all know the adage of walking in another person’s shoes. I don’t want that for you if you’ve never had depression. I don’t wish for my fellow writers to ever know such futility and darkness that you want to claw your skin off, turn it inside out, and hope that you find something in there that will inspire you to write again.

That is how hard it was. I didn’t need to be told every day that I must be writing. I was busy working on the living part.

The Difficulty of Writing in Recovery

Strangely, now that the recovery process has started, it’s harder to deal with not writing.

When you’re depressed you have the perverse luxury of not having to do or care much about anything. It’s par for the course. You expect it and so do the more informed around you.

Standing on cliff edge - when life makes writing difficultThere are no expectations. You can just curl up into a blanket bundle and sleep the badness away, as much as you possibly can.

Recovery is hard. Addicts will tell you it’s so. Those coming out of mental illness episodes will agree. It’s often the most difficult part.

You find yourself on the precipice. You tilt on the cliff’s edge, being pulled by depression that wants you to linger in its dastardly comforting ways. It seductively whispers that this is where you belong and that it will take over. All you need to do is fall backwards.

Then you have real life and recovery pulling your hand in the other direction. You’re not sure if that grip is secure or maleficent. Does recovery want to put you into unfamiliar and risky situations, or is it offering you another chance to stand on solid ground? Can you trust it?

It’s a wrench. It’s therefore no wonder that in the beginning of the recovery process, relapses occur along the way. I know. I’m riding that sickening, wonderful roller-coaster right now.

With recovery comes a new hope. Not Star Wars, although that is a wonderful thing. Along comes the will to write. It’s amazing and bloody scary.

I Am Petrified of Writing Again

Yes, I kept writing blog posts, even on days when I thought an overdose would be the best solution for everyone.

Yes, I responded to comments and regularly posted to social media about writing when my mind was telling me I was worthless.

Who was that woman that managed to keep going? I guess the real Lisa was tucked away in there somewhere.

It is then, rather odd, that although I can write these posts, I am finding going back to fiction writing so hard. It’s not helped by battling with vestiges of depression. knowing that my mum’s days are numbered and other personal traumas.

I’m scared that I have lost my writing mojo. Self-confidence has never been high for me. When it comes to writing, right now, it feels non-existent.

I am not whinging or seeking sympathy. I’m squirming at my honesty but I refuse to feel ashamed.

So What Do I Do?

Do I give up?

Do I become a blogger who writes about writing but never actually writes anything?

I love blogging. It gives me a lot of joy and a sense of accomplishment. That’s because it is writing. Therefore I guess I’m not going to escape the hold writing has on me. It’s got me.

It’s bothering me because it matters so much. I wouldn’t have anxiety, dream about it or have random writing ideas popping into my head if this isn’t what I am.

I Am a Writer

Recently, a blogger asked me to take part in her usual writer interview spot. I was astounded that she had asked me as I’ve read previous interviews with published authors.

I Am a Writer - when life makes writing difficultI asked why she wanted me to do it. I felt like a fraud, particularly as she asked me months ago when I thought I’d never write again.

She told me that she loved my blog posts and the idea of my novel. She said I had an interesting voice and that I’m a great writer (or something along those lines).

As I wrote my interview replies, it dawned upon me that I am a writer. Here is the interview if you’re interested: My Writer Interview With Jo Lambert

I am also a Deputy Admin for a Facebook writing group called ‘All Write’: Slightly shameless plug for the ‘All Write’ group – come join us! I never make out like I’m some kind of writing guru for the group. I’m muddling my way through like so many other writers and bloggers.

I may have stalled in my fiction writing and I may not have any published novels to my name but I am a writer. I have the fire in my belly. I have the ideas. I may even have some skill. I can do this.

I am a writer.

Future Writing

So the plan is to start small. I am continuing to aim to write the best content for my blog posts. I hope you enjoy them.

I am dipping my toes into fiction writing waters with little extracts and working up to short stories.

I have a second novel planned in my head. I am moving towards plotting it out and developing characters. This will be a piece-by-piece novel. I swore I’d never get into jigsaws but now I see the sense in playing the long game and working on the whole, one little bit at a time.

If this novel takes years, so be it. I burnt myself out on the last one. I can admit that now. I wanted to prove something to myself and the world.

I thought if I quickly produced a novel I would provide the evidence to earn my status as a writer. I now see how foolish this was.

I Believe I Am a Writer

I wrote this.

I have written so much more.

I can write.

As for the first novel, it will languish a little longer. It is about depression so now is not a good time to re-visit it. It’s important to me that it does get read one day but I’m not up to missions right now. I’m happy with little hurdles.

I know my writing will be influenced by how my mum is doing with her illness too. I will have to cross those difficult bridges as and when they arise. I already have to do it, but I’m not alone.

I have the Husband, steadfast as ever. I have supportive family members. I have a wonderful best friend. I have supportive fellow writers and bloggers.

I am grateful to you all. You have all helped me to see, even when it gets a little misty and dark, that I am a writer. You read my work; therefore you make it all worth it.

To Those Struggling to Write

Self Care - when life makes writing difficultIf you are finding it difficult to write, particularly in the face of tragedy, hardship, poor health, lack of confidence, or anything else, please do not feel guilty.

Do not hate yourself if you think you will never write again. Self-care is where it’s at. You come first, writing comes second.

If writing is meant to be for you, it will wait patiently for when the time is right. It will not let you down.

You may find there are days when you cannot even write a sentence – I know, believe me – but tomorrow or the day after that, your fingers may just fly. Let it do what it needs to do.

I know how it feels to lose the will to write: The Hiding Place of the Will to Write

Writing is your friend not your enemy. You, my temporarily broken friend, are still a writer.

About Lisa Sell

Lisa Sell is a fiction writer. When she's not wrestling with words she can be found showing the love for chocolate, cheese, coffee, books, the cats, and the husband. Perhaps not in that order.

32 comments on “When Life Makes Writing Difficult: In the Eye of the Storm

  1. Brilliant post, as always! I think starting small is a fantastic and sensible way to get back into it. Also, the blog posts are gold, so keep them coming! On a final note, I just wanted to let you know how much the rest of us would love you to come back to writing group one day, I mean no pressure by that, just that everyone always asks after you, and you are certainly not the only one struggling with getting the writing done, if that makes sense!

    1. Oh thanks so much Chantelle. I’m always so pleased with how receptive you are of my blog posts.

      I am intending to get back to the group. I want to get more momentum going with the writing first but you haven’t seen the last of me, never you fear! Send my best wishes to everyone. I’m cheering them on too!

  2. Beautifully written as always, real Lisa. So happy you’re on the road to recovery, but yes, one small hurdle at a time. Look at me. I’ve written blog posts about my unfinished novel for a year! Love that I’m part of your online writing group. A very valuable thing you’re doing there x

    1. Thanks lovely Elle. I have been writing as lot about an unfinished novel too. You’re in good company ha ha!

      I love that you’re in the writing group now. It feels like a binus having extra ways to interact with you! Gush, gush… xx

  3. Wow! I can relate so much to this post Lisa. You’re amazing and incredibly talented. I’m so sorry you are going through the horrendous experience of having a loved one diagnosed with a terminal illness. Your strength is remarkable. Xx

    1. Oh bless you Caroline! I certainly don’t think I’m all that strong but as you probably know, the negative voices are noisy little buggers aren’t they? I’m pleased you can relate to this post because it means it matters to someone. I feel you and I have got a real connection going on now between our blogs and beyond. One step at a time eh? Just keep breathing. xx

  4. I’ve come to believe that writers don’t just write – they first have these tremendously emotional experiences, and then second they contemplate them, and then third they write the “1st draft”. In this way, the first draft can be seen as really a third step (draft)- and then the process starts all over for the 2nd (aka 6th) draft.

  5. I’m not a writer, but what you say about MH rings true for all things creative. Painting, poems, miniature making – anything creative MH can really mangle.
    Hang in there 🙂

    1. Thank you Joe. You’re right, mental illness hates creativity. That’s why now I’m in recovery I’m using it to fight back. Thanks as always for your support.

  6. I’ve been dealing with some health issues for the past couple of months and that has depressed me. I wasn’t writing or doing basically anything other than existing, or at least that’s how I felt. I’m starting to get back to myself, more writing and jewelry making, so you’ve seen me posting in our group. It’s hard, I know. I can’t imagine what it’s been like for you. You’re such a strong person and I think we all find that strength when we think we have none left.

    1. It is hard trying to make your way back to creative pursuits because they need your mind to be sharp and full of ideas.

      I’m glad you’re getting back to it and I hope you find joy in it. It’s great to have you in the All Write group too!

  7. Sending so much love to you! I had a bad bout of depression two weeks ago and it was a miracle I managed to get dressed in the morning. I combat writing-related depression and pressure by keeping a backlog of posts for up to three months. I have posts scheduled through April right now. Some days I feel super creative, so I take advantage of that time to write 2 – 5 posts in a day. But most days I’m too exhausted to write.

    Just come up with a schedule that works for you. 🙂

    1. I do something similar in that I write posts to accrue them on better days. I certainly don’t have three months’ worth though!

      I hope you’re doing okay and getting the help and care you deserve.

  8. I can relate to so much that you wrote here! I had a period where I couldn’t write much or where the desire wasn’t enough most of the time to do anything good with it. Even when you’re in the “recovery” period, you’re still collecting your thoughts in a way which makes it hard to be coherent when you write. I say you write when you can and as much as you can, and that is what makes you a writer, not writing every day.

    1. I can relate to how the recovery period can be a tricky time in regard of trying to muster some kind of coherence. It’s difficult trying to get the ideas from my head and on to the page.

      Thanks for your encouraging and helpful comment Bonnie.

  9. Such an encouraging story, thank you so much for sharing your struggles but also your triumph. I find my biggest ‘killer’ for writing is time. I wish I could write all the time, but struggle with the busyness of life.

  10. I loved reading this. There is so much to which I can relate and so much from which I can learn. Brilliantly written and exquisitely shared. Thank you for pouring this part of you out to us. It does help those of us who may not feel the exact depth of the pain you have in the past, but have at times sensed that inability, insecurity or unworthiness or even faced the question of whether to continue or not. Thanks.

  11. I am very touched by this post. I, also, am a writer who lost the mojo (going on for years now). I also was very scared and bothered by the idea of maybe never being able to write again. Even though I had lots of other things to keep myself busy, I could never let go of writer altogether because it is who I am. Recenty I started my own blog, which is a step into the right direction. It’s still a bit hard, the mojo is slowly coming back, but I’m so happy to have my writing back! Goodluck to you and I will keep reading your posts!

    1. Lianne I’m so pleased to hear that you’re finding a way back to writing and have started blogging. It is tough to write when you’re torn between a compulsion to do it and a voice that says you can’t.

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting.

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