I went months without writing.
I sent lots of emails and drafted blog posts and proposals and such, but when it came time to really look at my fiction, to really dive into the craft, I could find all kinds of things to do besides write.
There were some big life changes that happened. I’d like to say it was just that.
There were some nuances I had to figure out with my mental health and body chemistry. I’d like to say it was only that.
But the reality was I was in a sort of writing depression. I felt like, for the most part, I’d gotten the big D depression that impacted my overall life under control, I’d been able to return to a new normal in most of the other aspects of my life, but when I thought about sitting down to write, all the negative everythings started swirling, growing ever heavier, and I started to look to TV episodes I’d already watched, mindless games I wouldn’t normally play on my phone, EVEN laundry during my free time. I didn’t care what it was as long as it felt like an okay excuse justify my reasons for not writing.
I was scared of my book.
I don’t write scary books.
I had to really explore where my fear was coming from. When I started this story, I was at a writing retreat and cranked out 16,000 words in two days. I knew this story, knew where it was going, knew what the character arcs were – I was cruising. But when I came back from that retreat, I started realizing I was, in fact, engaged in a wrestling match with my mind, one that I thought I’d already won. I tried to work on this book but couldn’t. I took months to play around with another book, started to like it, then received a recommendation from my agent that this one, this really hard one, was probably where my writing should go next.
And I just – I couldn’t. I wasn’t sure that I could write this book. I felt – still feel – strongly that this is a story I can tell, that it can resonate with readers in a way that will be meaningful.
So . . .
The first thing that I did was go back to the drawing board. I looked at the story I had, where I wanted to the story to go, where things had become stuck before. I got insights about character arcs from my critique partners, I read craft books, I looked again and again at this document, and then closed it, making myself keep focused on the story I wanted it to be.
And I put A LOT of effort into taking care of my writerly self, just as I have learned to do with my mental self. I fed my mind words – good, good words – to remind myself what they looked like. I took the time to find representatives of my characters, to dive into their personalities, where they live, what they want. Still didn’t write a word in the manuscript. I went to movies – the movies that were getting great buzz – and let myself sit and absorb and fall back in love with story.
And then I revised the first two chapters. It took a long, LONG time. And I sent those two chapters to my critique partners and held my breath. I was prepared to hear that they needed to be dismantled, re-written. I was ready for them to say I needed to start over again.
The whole meeting, the critiques were super nit-picky. Do you know what that means?
The foundation of the story was good.
As anyone with mental illness will tell you, the moments when you can tell what is truth and what is just a thought with no power, when you can identify the source of the thoughts, things start to get better. This is also the case (and has been the case) when I have these kinds of slumps. I have to fight, and clear all the distracting chaos. I have to be able to see the things that my not-quite-well brain & writerly mind have tricked into existence for what they are – lies.
Yes, this kind of thing can happen to all people. Maybe it’s a little worse for people like me who have regular mental health issue. And I know there are all kinds of people who say there is no such thing as writer’s block, but there is absolutely a kind of creative block. Our job is to do the really hard work to determine, first, what we are experiencing; second, if we need to push through or pull back and heal, and third; have the courage to open the manuscript, to trust our creative soul, and to craft again.
Tasha Seegmiller believes in the magic of love and hope, which she weaves into every story she creates. She is passionate about helping women nourish their creativity and is a member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, where she serves as a board member. The former high school English teacher now assists in managing the award-winning project-based learning program (EDGE) at Southern Utah University. Tasha married a guy she’s known since she was seven and is the mom of three teens. She is represented by Annelise Robey of Jane Rotrosen Agency.