Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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December 14, 2016

Why it’s not always about the writing

girl-850117_1920Let’s just call it … 2016 has been a whole cluster of bad. We lost some amazing artists, we’ve watched natural disasters and man-made disasters devastate communities, and we’re now experiencing massive aftershocks of an election that’s shaken all sides of the country.

I’ll spare you the pity party of various personal things.

Now here we are staring into the holiday season. That should be a happy thing and usually it is. Except this year, I’m feeling exhausted, absolutely mentally and emotionally drained.

I know a lot of people out there are feeling overwhelmed, scared, disillusioned, angry, or however all of this is affecting you, and we’re all trying to move forward in whatever way works for us personally.

I’ve been told to “get over it” and I’ve been told “you need to be doing more.” I’m not ready to get over it and I don’t have more to give – at least not right now. Don’t worry, I won’t be getting on any soap boxes today (with my luck, I’d fall off and add “broken ankle” to my fun list for 2016). I’m also not going to tell you what YOU should be doing. I will, however, share what I’m doing for myself and why I don’t feel the least bit guilty about it.

I’m reading.
I’m not reading heavy, literary, topic-based books. I’ve started and abandoned five different novels in the last month. And I’ve resisted attempts at discussing what I’m reading.

The novels that have kept my attention are ones that allowed me an hour or two of escape each day. I’m not looking for answers to profound questions or a grand “a-ha” moment. It was suggested (with a not very subtle eye-roll) that I was being shallow, that as a writer I was supposed to be deeper than that. I shrugged and walked away. I won’t be swapping titles with that person again.

As a writer, I know just how hard it is to write a book that transports someone to a different place, a different time. Why then should I feel guilty for enjoying and escaping into a world that someone else has lovingly created? The fact that someone’s hard work can give me an hour of peace in a day where I feel like my head is spinning like a cheesy horror movie, is brilliant. Hopefully my book will one day do that for someone.

Maybe I’m not “learning” from the author’s carefully honed craft. But I am honoring that carefully honed craft by letting her words transport me. I am escaping, I’m okay with that. And when I put the book down, I’m in a better place.

I’m watching TV programs
A couple of weeks ago, I started watching a TV program (This is Us) that a lot of my writer friends have been raving about. They’ve talked about the brilliant writing, the lessons we as novelists can learn. I’ve been watching it on the sly and tiptoeing away from any discussions online and in-person. I’ve been curled up on my couch, snuggling a cat, with a box of tissues handy, and losing myself in the struggles of these perfectly imperfect people.

Have I had any “ohhh, that’s brilliant” moments? Absolutely. Have I had any “that’s what I need to do with my main character” moments? Nope. I’m simply allowing myself to enjoy. And at the end of the hour or two or three depending on how far behind I am, I’m in a better place.

I’m not worrying about writing
There are days I can whip through my word count like it’s a bag of gummy bears. Other days, I sit at my desk, open my manuscript then promptly close it and move to the couch for a binge-fix or whatever else I feel I’m up for that day.

I know the “write every day” rule. I don’t. I can’t, especially not lately. But whether I’m consciously thinking about them or not, my characters are always with me. And I find that when I’m not forcing myself to think about them, they’re more forthcoming with their secrets. When I’m stressed or upset about whatever is happening to me or around me, I can’t always lose myself in the writing. Sometimes yes. For the can’t days, I give in. And I don’t feel guilty.

I said I wasn’t going to tell you what YOU should do. I take that back. I’m going to give you one piece of advice – Do whatever you need to nurture yourself.  And do it without the guilt. That’s not always easy, especially when people tell are judging what you’re doing or not doing as the case may be. Without a healthy, happy you, there is no writing anyway.

How do you get through the hard times?

About Orly

Orly-Ivy.jpgOrly Konig is an escapee from the corporate world, where she spent roughly sixteen (cough) years working in the space industry. Now she spends her days chatting up imaginary friends, drinking entirely too much coffee, and negotiating writing space around two over-fed cats. She is a co-founder and past president of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, and a member of the Tall Poppy Writersdistance-homeShe is rep’d by Marlene Stringer, Stringer Literary Agency LLC.

Orly’s debut, The Distance Home, will be released by Forge on May 2, 2017.

You can find her on Twitter at @OrlyKonig, on Facebook at OrlyKonigAuthor, or on her website, www.orlykonig.com.

70 comments on “Why it’s not always about the writing”

  1. You're right, Orly. And this is a good reminder for me. I'm the tortoise, staying on task at all costs (feel like it's the only thing I CAN control, some days), but even I am human (though I have a t-shirt that declares me Superwoman), and I have to take time to just veg sometimes.

    But I'm so bad at it!

    Great post - especially this time of year!

  2. Thank you for so compassionately summing my own internal struggle. It helps to know I'm not the only one slipping into reading outside my genre, where I'm not studying another's work to improve my own, where I'm not looking for the best comp for a query, but where my only goal is to forget for awhile.

  3. Great advice, Orly! I'm so with you on "breaking" the write every day rule. I don't write every day but I still manage to publish at least one book each year, more coming in 2017. I believe we need to live life in order to create a fictional world with authenticity woven into the characters. Enjoy the holidays with your family and friends, or if you prefer, alone watching/reading whatever makes you happy. Finding your own inner peace and purpose is also important. Thanks for sharing your methods, Orly!

  4. I'm with you. whatever gets us through the day and if we can do it with creativity, grace and hope, good for us. Didn't someone recently write a post re readers can read to escape but writer must be true to themselves (my paraphrase). We're both readers and writers and certainly need to be both to write well.

    1. I agree, Shelley, that we need to be both. What bothered me was being looked down upon by another writer because I chose to be "just a reader" at a time when my brain felt like it would fizzle from all the bad around.

      1. Some people have very steep noses and to them I say bah and humbug, in a most delightful way of course. If we spent less time making judgments about other people and paid more attention to being better people we'd all be more productive. Every time someone calls my blood-sweat-and-bullets-to-create fiction, fluff, I just think, One person's fluff is another person's salvation. So there, that's my two cents worth, in keeping with the season.

  5. Check, check, and check, Orly. Boy, do I relate--a rough and unsettling year, especially the last six months. Now here we are, ten days out from Christmas and think I have finally allowed myself "be" without feeling ineffective, incompetent, or unproductive (or all three) at any given moment. Thanks so much for sharing and nudging us to remember the importance of self-nurture.

  6. Thanks for your permission, Orly. If only it was as easy to give ourselves permission to be or not be __________. But the part of your post about reading resonated deepest with me. I recently spent my reading hours purely for pleasure (I indulged in Diana Gabaldon's Outlander) This isn't my genre. I didn't think about craft. I just escaped (stayed up way too late a few nights too.) I have a theory though. I think even when we turn off our information seeking brains, we absorb anyway. It's a little like when solutions to problems come to us in sleep. Our ever-so-brilliant subconsciousnesses (can that be plural?) have a way of taking care of business when we disengage and let them have at it.

    1. I couldn't agree more, Stephanie! That's why when we're stuck on a scene it helps to go for a walk or run or whatever outlet helps you refocus. And yes, even when reading for fun I catch myself stopping at gorgeous phrases and jotting them down. 🙂

      1. I do that too! Part of the reason I love my Kindle - I highlight them, then you can dump them out in Word. An entire doc of inspiration! (and even the title, the author and the location of the quote!)

        1. I'm still old fashioned ... notebook and pen. There's something about writing those words that makes them that much more special to me. 🙂

  7. I've been enjoying some thoughtful memoiry nonfiction from Madeline L'Engle, musing about more than working on my WIP, enjoying the winter weather (nearly 10 inches of snow last weekend and this morning it was 5 degrees!), lounging by the fire, avoiding the news, scheming about next year's travel, and developing a three-year plan I'm calling Freelance by Forty (yep, I'm working out a way to quit my full time job sometime in the next three years--it's so fun to dream big!). I'm SO enjoying myself. 🙂

  8. Orly, this is a wonderful post that sums up how I've been feeling for the past few months. Other writers I know are having the same struggles. It's important to nurture ourselves so we can get back to that space where we can create again. Time to slip into our softest sweaters and cozy socks, grab our warm beverage and immerse ourselves in books, movies, tv. Now that my hectic semester is done, I am going to take some time to recharge my brain by feeding it fictional comfort food. I wish you peace.

  9. Friends and family have gotten me through a lot, and yes, if I'm in a personal funk, there are NO words getting written. I just can't do it when I'm in a funky-emotional-slump.
    And I think we need to be okay with giving ourselves some non-writing days (Weeks? Months?) As you said, sometimes we need to nurture ourselves and nothing does that for me more than lots of laughs with friends. Oh, and chocolate too. 🙂

    1. The being okay with giving ourselves the time is always the kicker, isn't it?!

      Chocolate for you, gummy bears for me. 🙂

  10. Orly...I wholeheartedly agree with your advice. Reading has been my escape since I was a kid and that's why I read now. To be in another place, to be someone else for a little while. I think your nurturing advice is something sorely needed by everyone, not just writers. In this world where people are striving to go faster, be better, grab for the newest and best, what gets lost is stopping 'to smell the roses' and just...be.

    1. And unplugging! I've found that staying off of electronics for periods of time has done wonders for my outlook. 🙂

  11. Lovely advice! And thank you for it. Yes, 2016 has been a massive SuckFest, and I've been looking toward more self-care activities to regroup and refresh. I feel like I'm coming out of the fog, but I let myself stay in that fog for a bit because it's where I needed to be.

    Here's to a wonderful 2017! May you, I, and many others have a banner year.

  12. I liked this post - I could relate... I do many of the same things. I've started and stopped novels this fall - just too heavy for my mood. I've lost myself in shows where I can escape the things that stress me out and lose myself in the drama of the shows. Downton Abbey and Gilmore Girls have relaxed me as I sat with my feet up. If I feel extra pressures, I pick up a notebook and jot down my feelings before I jump into the world of the Crawley family or Stars Hollow.

    1. Confession ... I've neer watched Gilmore Girls. But I'm right there with you on Downton Abbey!

  13. "It was suggested (with a not very subtle eye-roll) that I was being shallow, that as a writer I was supposed to be deeper than that. I shrugged and walked away. I won’t be swapping titles with that person again."
    Oh hell no. Get that person out of your brain space. And wallow, wallow, wallow until you are ready to climb out of the rabbit hole. I'm right there with you. Psyche flattened by so much this year topped off by utter craziness and despair from the election. So I take a mental health fix with PBS's Agatha Christie (not the new ones, the best ones with Joan Hickson) and Poirot with David Suchet. And I read mindless fun Lady-Something mysteries set in a windswept house on the moors. Meanwhile I also read wonderful posts like yours. We'll get through this. And our writing will be the better for it.

    1. You made me laugh, Lorraine! Trust me, that person was evicted from my brain space in the time it took for her to huff at me.

      Mental health fix ... YES!!!!

  14. I love you. I love everything about you at the moment. This post is like you've been in my brain--and I love that you are a sensitive and insightful and caring enough person that the troubling state of the world right now is affecting you this way...although I am also so sorry that it is. I know that bleakness and devastation and despair. I know it well. And you're SO not alone in it, as the comments here reveal. I have had a similar journey in my own writing and had to give myself permission to let go and just take care of myself. And I'm seeing it also in a surprising number of the authors I work with.

    Yet I also love your comments about the value of escapism and even "fluff" right now (not that THIS IS US is fluff--I'm adoring it too). Lighter novels offer a lovely place to retreat to when everything feels ponderously heavy, and I have also been delighted to lose myself in shows like JANE THE VIRGIN and CRAZY EX-GIRLFRIEND and let myself laugh...and forget for a while.

    But also, it reminds me of what's good in the world: humor, love, joy, fun. And that we will find our way to those things again. Until I can really believe that wholeheartedly, I need those books and shows and movies to remind me.

    Thanks for this, Orly. Did I mention I love you for it?

    1. If only I could give you a big squeezy hug right now, Tiffany!!!!!

      This --> "it reminds me of what’s good in the world: humor, love, joy, fun." <-- THIS!!!!!!!!! Mic drop! 🙂

  15. Perfect timing, Orly. I can put my head down and be brutal on myself and my body to finish whatever it is needs doing. I'm learning that isn't the best way for me to stay healthy. Yesterday I took a "day off" and played with Bella and read. Feeling so much better and ready to get back after it today!

    1. Taking that break is so important and so under-done! Glad you took the day off to play and read.

  16. THANK YOU for posting this! I sent a comment earlier--I thought--but it disappeared into cyberspace. I've been so overwhelmed and so underwriting, and it's just a welcome relief to read that I'm not alone.

    1. Even technology is having issues these days. 🙂
      You are so not alone!!!! Sending virtual hugs, Christa!!

  17. I've been depressed for days. And I too am reading many books of varying quality. However, the one thing that takes me right of my funk is working on my second novel. (The first is still searching for an agent.) Instead of waking up in the middle of the night to fret about what will happen in January, I'm thinking about how to improve Chapter 7, what gaps I'm already discovering in the first ten chapters, and how to tie certain loose ends together. Writing has recently become very therapeutic.

    1. I love hearing that. That's how I was with my previous novel. I was in a weird place in my life and the only thing that helped was working on the book. Glad you have that!!

  18. Healthy advice Orly, good on you for having the courage to show we're not on top of it all the time and its okay to just focus on looking after yourself, more people need to hear this message. I think a novel that can give us escapism is a talent in itself, it takes skill and craft to get a reader to lose themselves in a book and every writer can learn from that 🙂

    1. I find it so sad that we're made to feel less than because we take time for ourselves. That's wrong.
      Thanks for reading, Tamar!

  19. Thanks so much for this post. It made me feel a bit better seeing that I wasn't the only one stalled in my WIP. This whole year has been one long bummer, so looking for ways to seek solace and peace as well as laughs, isn't such a bad thing! We'll all come out of this fog and be better writers for it. Hugs to everyone - especially you Orly!

  20. Funny that a lot of people are gald to see 2016 coming to a close. I'm right there with them. I do manage to write a little each day. I am on a loop that until I had knee surgery last year, I was sneaking up on year 6 of not missing a day. After I was sent to a nursing home for rehab (hated it there) my wonderful niece-in-law brought me my little computer. It wouldn't turn on. I had been faithfully writing in the memo app of my phone to maintain my days. i was so angry, frustrated and drugged out that I blew that Friday off. I did get back on the bus as one of great women on the loop calls it. We are such a tight knit group we vent and support each other. I made ti to the end of year 1 again. But, lately I have to play all my favorite video games on my tablet or my phone before I can start the writing. Some days I can pick it up and roll. I actually struggled with NaNo this year.
    I'm sitting here procrastinating and decided to settle for the minimum of 100 words tonight. Things are stressing me out unrelated to the writing that I need to get a handle on before I can figure out what I am doing.

    1. Having a strong support system around your writing is so important. Good for you!!
      100 words is still 100 more than where you started. Focus on that. 🙂

  21. I was so glad to finally understand what is going on with me at this time. Yes, 2016 was indeed a disastrous year. Even though I have had my first really successful book appear on Amazon, and even though a movie I helped write and film is finally available to be seen, I seem to have days when I put off writing, Now I feel much better about watching This Is Us or shopping for gifts or cooking which I love doing. I will soon be back writing more I do believe.

  22. Dear Orly,
    Thank you so much for your brave honesty. I too am where you are right now, and it has given me heart to know I am not alone. Life is like a hormonal friend: there are days when she embraces us with open arms...and there are days when she is a bitch. I won't give advice, just sentiments; my thoughts are with you and good luck for 2017. K

    1. Thank you, Kati! Take comfort knowing you're in good company and we're all here cheering for each other!

  23. What's wonderful about this post, Orly, is that you're bringing up what so many of us feel. You're spot on. I'm also exhausted by the past year and have recently been retreating to watching 'fun' tv and the last two novels were purely because I could escape. It reminded me why I loved reading so much and what the fictional world can provide. Sometimes it's life's lessons, but sometimes it's purely to allow our minds to wander and perceive life outside of our own. Keep taking care of yourself and thank you for this!

  24. Thanks for this piece of advice. I'm a blogger and can't seem to get my articles finished these days... I personally make myself a good cup of tea and try to relax. Simple but a much needed 15 minute break!

  25. Orly, I can relate totally even though I'm retired. I've found that even retirement can bring times like this. I'm working on my first novel, had written the book through to the end. Unfortunately, I had written my daydreams - you know, all comfort and joy with only a couple of pitfalls. Now I'm up to chapter 4 rewriting the book. Discouragement catches me as I realize how hard it is to rewrite something - to know what can be kept and what must go. My little darlings - most of them have to go. Is it so wrong to mourn them before I bury them? And to realize that I have neither the slightest idea how to write a blog nor seem able to learn from the various articles/blogs I read.

  26. Who judges someone for what they're reading? That's incredible. Reading, for me, is one of the greatest pleasures in life (right up there with chocolate and family and those snuggly hugs my kids give and a jumping into an already warm bed when you're cold), and for someone to judge that and make it negative is just rude.

  27. Orly, first, I do not expect a Reply to this, since it took me almost a month to get to your thoughtful essay. And that in itself should tell me something about 2016! The number of people who have -- unsolicited -- said that it sucked as a year is amazing, and not a good thing. I wanted to say thanks for your honesty and sharing what it's like. After some personal things that just steamrollered me, even though I didn't realize it at the time, I curled up with a couple of Stephanie Plums that I'd read before, and they helped, a lot. Thanks again.

    1. Well, James, I'm replying anyway. 🙂
      I'm also amazed at the number of people who struggled through 2016. Hopefully that means we're all due for a kick-ass 2017!

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