Where I’ve Been (Or: Burnout and Where It Goes From There)

So I’m back. Or at least, I found my way to this blog again. I have been away for quite some time and below will be a rather candid explanation of why:

It happens to everyone. You write until your brain starts to leak out of your ears to get to the end of a project. You work it until you think you never want to see it again. And when it’s over, finally over, you look at what you’ve created and realize… it ain’t over yet. There’s editing. There’s final touches. You’re never quite happy.

I beat NaNo this last year by a goodish amount of time. I made it through and have a manuscript that is not finished. I have a story I really like and a large chunk of it done. I was proud of my work at the end of November. And then? Then I got really kind of burnt out.

One reason was my health. At the end of November I ended up on disability leave from work due to a back injury which, actually, turned out to be a chronic health issue I was unaware of until then. I was left to rest up, not going to work, and get healthier with medications and painkillers, the works. So you’d think that would mean I would get work done. You’d think.

What actually happened was a level of burnout I never imagined. Due to my health issues, it became almost impossible to concentrate on writing. I meandered through getting more done on my NaNo from last year. I pressed other projects, fiddling here and there. But I have now been on disability leave for months (as this is the midst of April and it started December 1st). I have gotten very little work done and it frustrates me. But I realized, in the end, what was keeping me away from writing was a few things: my own health making me unable to focus, my lack of focus damaging my self-confidence in my work and too many voices in my ear about my writing.

The first problem is self-explanatory. Medications make my head fuzzy or make me sick to my stomach, so it’s hard to get my head together. Fibromyalgia (which is what I was diagnosed with) comes with not only back and neck pain that is severe sometimes, but also a kind of fog in my brain sometimes that makes me feel weird. At first I just thought it was me, but other people who I’ve met with fibro recently say it’s not uncommon. Dealing with all that has been a major hurdle in getting my mind in the game. And that lead into the second issue of my confidence going way down on my writing, which of course does not make me want to write. See the spiral developing? Terrible place to be.

The last issue came about when I was trying to fix the previous two. I was trying to force myself to get back into writing, so I started going to writing groups. I started working on collaborative projects. I talked more to other writers. And in the end, I got a very mixed bag of responses. One writing group was all about just getting together and writing quietly in a group, for mutual support (on Meetup.com as ‘Shut up and Write’ in NYC). They’re great, and I found that writing among other people who were as passionate as I was really helped me get my creative juices going again. Then I joined a writing critique group and hit a wall. When asked to produce on a weekly basis for them to critique, I felt too nervous. And when I got up the courage to give over a piece to be critiqued, it got wacked about for grammar/editing. I felt very demoralized afterwards, and kept pushing off going back. My problem, not theirs, but it highlighted a problem in me that I’m going to share.

My problem right now isn’t writing. It’s self-confidence in my writing. It’s showing it to others and taking critique. And its kept me from trying to publish yet, or pushing myself to work harder. The constant question of ‘is this good enough’ has kept me from going forward with my writing in the last six months. And it’s a dangerous creative killer. It almost made me put down writing permanently.

This is an ongoing problem that I am happy to say I am combating, thanks to the support of a great friend and writing mentor. He has pushed me to continue to work, to nurture the creative energy, and be kind to myself in realizing that while things might need work? That doesn’t mean you suck. Talent, he’s told me, is common enough, but the discipline to work that talent is what makes you a successful writer. With his fosterage, I’m developing better habits and, honestly, flourishing more just from the support.

So I’m still writing. It’s slow. I’m working on a couple of projects all at once, reading some great books on writing (which I will comment on later). I’m even screwing up my courage to go back to that writing group, which I’ll probably bitch about incessantly. And, I came back to this blog. Because more than anything, I couldn’t write anything here about my writing since… there was nothing going on.

But I’m still here. And it’s all still going on. And there is a lot more to come. I’m back in the saddle again.

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