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Everyone Hits The Wall – What to do When You’re Sick of Writing


The wall--everyone hits it

I had a very interesting discussion with my editor recently. She had just returned from a workshop where she had been teaching writers. She asked if I had any questions about anything.

“Yes,” I said. “But I’m sort of embarrassed to ask it.”

“Ask it anyway,” she said.

“What do you do when you’re sick of what you’re writing? Or not just sick of it–what do you do when you start to hate what you’re writing, even if you know it’s good?”

To be clear, I wasn’t talking about the blogs I write or the short stories I’m always pecking away at or the journals that I keep. I was talking about the memoir, which will be published by Gotham books in 2013.

Specifically, one chapter, nearly 300 pages in, was breaking me down, and I was suddenly so sick of writing and thinking about myself that I nearly gagged every time I sat down to write, which of course I have to do now, because I signed a big fancy contract.

There are few things worse than realizing that something that usually gives you great joy is now a chore, or worse, a misery (serious hyperbole).

She laughed. That was not was I expected. I expected something like “How dare you be ungrateful about this opportunity you have? We’re risking everything on you!”

But she laughed and said, “Oh, that’s when you know you’re really a writer. Everyone hits the wall. Every project has several moments where you want to jump ship or just go do something else. Anything else. I’ve been there. It’s no different with editing. Sometimes it just sucks. Just like any job.”

“So I’m not an idiot if I’m sitting here simultaneously feeling grateful for this incredible opportunity I’ve got to publish this book, and feeling resentful and annoyed that I have to sit down and write today?”

“Everyone gets there,” she said. “Just keep going. What else are you going to do, not write the book? Memoirs seem particularly susceptible to getting sick of their subject, as odd as that might sound.”

If you’re in a similar situation, whether you’re under contract or not, here are a few personal observations:

  • Find a way to touch the work every day. I thought I needed to write 1000 words a day to be productive. There are days when I’m writing 3000 and days when I write zero. I’ve learned to be okay with that.But I do something every day, even if it’s just revising a paragraph or trimming some fat.
  • Just because you’re sick of it doesn’t mean it isn’t good, and it doesn’t mean you’re not grateful. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Even if you’re some sick weirdo who loves marathons more than anything, nothing can feel as good as snapping the finish line. Those miles have to be made of many challenging, gut-wrenching moments.
  • It’s good for me to write something else when I feel like this. I don’t hop from long project to long project, but I’ve always got the blogs. Having another writing outlet has been great when I need to write but can’t feel anything good about what I’m working on in the book.
  • It’s really not fun to sit down and be lively and lighthearted on the page when you’re not feeling lively and lighthearted in your mind and body. But it’s still possible. I’ve written funny pages when I’m delirious with joy, and when I’m maddened with annoyance and fatigue. When I look back, I can’t ever tell the circumstances under which a chapter was written.

Anyway, there you go: if you want to write, you’ve got to write. Stay at it and don’t get all doomsday and hard on yourself if sometimes it feels like a grind.

Books get written a sentence at a time. Just go sentence by sentence.

photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rberteig/





Comments on this entry are closed.

  • franciso r March 25, 2012, 1:51 pm

    I would love to write books. Mostly for kids but enjoyable enough for adults also. What do recommend I do to start? Journals? Notebooks? Computer, smart phones????

    • Josh Hanagarne March 25, 2012, 2:12 pm

      Francisco, i don’t understand the question. If a book is the goal, write the book if you can. The tool you use is never going to be the deciding factor.

  • Casey March 25, 2012, 3:20 pm

    I like what you say about writing other things to break up the monotony of a long project. It something I try to do a lot. Figure out which way the wind is blowing then sail that way. Writers finish things, as Neil Gaiman says, but you aren’t going to finish your projects a lot faster by refusing to do other things that are intriguing to you.

  • Todd March 26, 2012, 8:07 am

    I find that doing other writing projects helps to keep the fires burning. So far this year I haven’t been doing that and got burned out on my own blog. I’ve got a project coming up with another blog, so I’m sure the embers are about to be stoked.

  • Noch Noch | be me. be natural. March 29, 2012, 2:20 am

    the is such GREAT advice. I’m labouring through some sample chapters myself, hoping to produce something remotely legible to query agents and publishers. But I’m so stuck on this last sample chapter I’m writing. GRRRRRRR!!! I will go somewhere and do something else for now. And cme back to my writing. So stuck
    Thanks 🙂
    Noch Noch

  • Segun Akiode March 29, 2012, 2:40 am

    Hello Josh, I love the simply but powerful tips shared. Now, I know what to do when I hit the ‘writing wall’. Thanks for sharing 🙂