Wow, six months really flew by! Sorry for the radio silence, I’ve been busy with work, being a mum to a now one-year-old (how did that happen?!) and actually reading again! After months of barely managing to pick up a book and read more than a sentence before my eyes drooped shut or someone needed me, I’m starting to get some time back for myself, and have even gotten back to my writing. (And maybe even blogging?)
I wanted to do a sort of update to my previous post On the Writer’s Block, in which I talked about writer’s block and what sorts of things can cause us to struggle to put words on the page, and how we can break through the blockage. I’ve been thinking recently about my own experience of writer’s block, and how I don’t think my past post went deep enough or covered enough of the broad spectrum of reasons for feeling blocked.
I won’t reiterate too much of what I said last time, so feel free to go and check out On the Writer’s Block and pop back to read this post. In a nutshell, I explained how perfectionism and performance anxiety can lead us to feeling unable to write, and the best way to get over the blockage is to keep writing – whether that’s free writing to get your thoughts and feelings out, or just slogging through the hard days, and fixing (or deleting) your work during the editing stage.
What I hadn’t considered when I wrote that post was the effect your emotional and mental health can have on your ability to write. Events going on in your personal life and struggles you may be facing can have a real impact on your writing, from causing you to feel blocked or even showing up in your stories, especially if you’re someone who works through their emotions and processes thoughts and experiences on the page.
In hindsight, this is what’s been going on with me for the last couple of years. Yes, years. I’ve only just realised after all this time what’s been preventing me from writing. I think I haven’t wanted to look too closely or acknowledge the problem, so I just put it to the back of my mind and carried on with my day to day life, all the while knowing something was missing and wishing I had the time, or the energy, or the headspace, to write.
But it wasn’t just about having the time, or the energy, or the headspace. Yes, those things are important and necessary, but I could have made time, I could have chosen to write when I felt awake and energised (rare, but it did happen on occasion!). I could have journalled, and meditated, and created some headspace in which to fit my stories. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t face looking too closely at why I was feeling blocked, or digging deep into my mind and heart to find the words for my story, because I was afraid of what I would find. Afraid to admit I was battling against my own mental health and struggling with anxiety.
For a little bit of background, my writing journey really started in 2016 when I got the idea for my first novel. I’d written a lot as a kid and a teen, but just for fun and never anything close to a full length novel. I actually wrote a poem in the style of Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes at primary school, and when the Ofsted assessor came to visit the school my teacher showed her and she loved it and asked if she could take a copy to show at other schools. So that’s probably what gave me the bug for writing. I also wrote Harry Potter fan fiction, as I think all writers of my generation did (or do)!
In the summer of 2016 though, the idea for my novel THE FAIR QUEEN came to me when me and my husband moved house to a village near Sherwood Forest. And the compulsion to write a novel came from the fact that we were trying to conceive and having some difficulty, so I wanted a sort of project to distract myself while we tried and waited and hoped. We’d decided to get a dog, our beautiful German short-haired pointer Bailey, so I was walking her twice a day in these woods near our house, and the story just came to me. Whenever I was struggling with a scene or a plot hole I’d grab Bailey’s lead and we’d go for a stroll through the woods and I’d almost always come home with the scene fully formed in my head and it would just spill out of my fingers.
I took part in NaNoWriMo in November 2016, finished my first draft in January, rewrote through Camp Nano that April, and entered Pitch Wars in July 2017. I didn’t get picked, but I did have an amazing experience just entering, I won a mentor’s help with my first chapter, which resulted in me cutting several thousand words of padding off the front of my story, and learned so much invaluable information and knowledge about writing, editing, querying and the publishing industry. I would absolutely recommend entering to anyone with a completed manuscript. Even if you don’t get in, if you make the most of the community and the learning opportunity, you’ll come away a better writer and that’s a win in my book.
Right around the time I was waiting for the Pitch Wars mentees to be announced, I found out I was pregnant, and immediately it didn’t matter whether I got in or not. Not because I intended to stop writing or didn’t need the distraction anymore, but because I was so happy and relieved. But I wasn’t giving up on my writing or my dream to be published one day. And I always like to have a project on the go, to occupy my thoughts and distract me from my anxiety. (There’s that mental health beast again.)
I sent out a few queries in October, and even started outlining and drafting something new – a sort of YA contemporary that soon became a paranormal/fantasy as I realised I’m not that interested in reality and fantasy is where my heart lies. I wrote about a fifth of a first draft and then shelved that project. I sent out a few more queries for TFQ, received a few more rejections. Nice ones, some that said my submission stood out, but ultimately they weren’t interested.
And then my son arrived. This time the relief was palpable. After everything we’d gone through I’m not sure I believed everything would turn out OK, even to the very last second of my pregnancy. But here he was, and now I definitely didn’t have time to write, and if I queried and an agent was interested I wouldn’t have time to revise or go to meetings, so probably better not send any more queries. And suddenly another 6 months had passed and I hadn’t typed a single word.
It’s a chicken and egg situation for me, writing helped me manage the anxiety I suffered while we struggled to conceive, and then when I was pregnant and during the first year postpartum my anxiety was so bad that I wasn’t able to write at all. I’m not sure one can be blamed for the other, I think they go hand in hand, round and round in a vicious cycle, and there’s a balance that needs to be found in order for me to feel able to write.
I think I’ve found that balance now. I decided to start working on book two to THE FAIR QUEEN, which is called THE SOLITARY KING, because I wanted to get back to writing. I knew that making some time for myself would help my mental health, and returning to the world I created and love was easier than trying to start an entirely new project from scratch at a time when I was struggling just to think about writing. And it has made a huge difference, but I can’t credit writing with bringing me out of the black hole of anxiety I’ve been living in for a couple of years now, I think I needed to start to heal first before I could even consider writing again.
I’ve learnt that writer’s block isn’t as simple as running out of ideas, or being afraid that no one will like your book. It might be that you’re going through a really difficult time and your brain can’t comprehend creating a story right now, or that you’re scared to bare your soul on the page because it’s too raw, too painful. You might not be able to persevere through what you’re going through, you might need time, and other methods of self care to help you heal the wound that’s preventing you from writing that book you know is inside you.
And that’s OK. That’s more than OK. You will write again, one day, when you’re ready. There’s no rush. But the world needs your story, so please don’t give up. We’ll be here waiting for it when you’re ready to tell it.