Writing and emotional blockages

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.

Lyndsey

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Review: The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy by Mackenzi Lee

Any other giant Mackenzi Lee fans in the house? If you haven’t read The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, where have you been? Get thyself to a reputable book store immediately! The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy (winner of the best book title of the year award) is a companion novel that follows Monty’s sister Felicity in the aftermath of Gent’s Guide.

Spoiler warning – if you haven’t read TGGTVAV then read on at your own peril!

TL;DR Badass feminist Felicity Montague wants to study medicine, but no medical school will so much as interview her, simply because she is a woman. When she hears that an old friend is getting married to her idol, the infamous Doctor Alexander Platt, she heads off on a wild adventure in the hopes of joining him on his next expedition.

After getting into all kinds of shenanigans in book one, thanks to her brother Monty, Felicity is back to show us she’s an independent woman who doesn’t need a man to help her get into trouble – or out of it!

Everyone has heard stories of women like us, and now we will make more of them.

Felicity Montague

Since her return from Europe, Felicity has been living in Edinburgh and working at a bakery, hoping to attend the medical school there. After months of rejection, she returns to London to visit her brother and Percy, feeling completely dejected and demoralised.

As a last ditch attempt, she decides to send a letter to the London medical school suggesting she’d like to make a donation (after all, she is still a Lord’s daughter, they don’t need to know she’s been cut off by her father…). Once inside the door, she pitches her application to study at the school, demonstrating her intelligence, strength of character and proficiency in the medical sciences. Unfortunately, they still can’t see past her gender, and send her packing.

“You’re trying to play a game designed by men. You’ll never win, because the deck is stacked and marked, and also you’ve been blindfolded and set on fire.”

Simmaa Aldajah

When she hears that a childhood friend is getting married to her idol, eccentric scientist Doctor Alexander Platt, she concocts a hare-brained plan to travel to Germany and gatecrash the wedding in order to convince Platt to take her on as an apprentice on his upcoming expedition. And, in classic Felicity style, she does just that.

Almost.

With the help of a female pirate named Sim, and her oldest friend Joanna, Felicity sets out on an adventure that could lead to her discovering more than she ever imagined.

“In the company of women like this— sharp-edged as raw diamonds but with soft hands and hearts, not strong in spite of anything but powerful because of everything— I feel invincible.”

Felicity Montague

I loved this book. Felicity might not be quite as entertaining as Monty, but she’s smart and brave and sassy as hell. I absolutely loved all the feminist elements and quotes throughout, Mackenzi Lee put exactly what I’ve been thinking and feeling into much better words than I ever could, and I found myself nodding along and saying “Yes, girl!” out loud, alone in my car…

I gave Lady’s Guide 4 stars, it was such an enjoyable read and I flew through it. Seeing Felicity grow and realise that her version of being a strong, independent woman isn’t superior to Joanna’s, or any other woman’s, was really heartening. I’m glad Felicity ended up staying true to herself as well, rather than being forced to fit some romantic ideal. The cameos from Monty and Percy were really fun, and it was great (and also heartbreaking) to see what they’ve been up to since Gent’s Guide.

It only wasn’t a 5 star read simply because I loved Gent’s Guide just that little bit more, and I felt at times that Monty swept in and saved the day rather than Felicity getting herself out of predicaments. (Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of instances where she does, it was a tiny niggle really).

Have you read Lady’s Guide yet? If you love petticoated swashbucklers and mostly accurate historical fiction, with just a pinch of the supernatural thrown in, you’ll adore this book. Go read it and let me know what you think!

Lyndsey

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Review: The Lady's Guide to Petticoats and Piracy by Mackenzi Lee

On the writer’s block – Author Toolbox Blog Hop

Happy New Year! It’s been a few months since the last Author Toolbox Blog Hop, what with NaNoWriMo and the festive break, but we’re back with the first hop of 2019. (I’m a little late as I’ve been away for a couple of days!)

Author Toolbox Blog Hop

Whether you’ve been writing for years, or you’re new to the craft, you’ll almost certainly have heard of writer’s block. You’ve probably even suffered from it, to some extent. And if not, then you most likely will at some point in your writing career. (Sorry!)

Laini Taylor, author of the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series, and the Strange the Dreamer duology, just posted a great thread on Twitter about one dangerous misconception about writer’s block. Click below to read the full thread.

In the thread, Laini opens up about how challenging she finds the writing process, and how rarely the words just flow out of her without resistance. So, if you’re battling writer’s block or find writing really hard work, even though you love it, you’re not alone. Even the greats like Laini Taylor (I mean, have you read Strange the Dreamer? Perfection.) hit a wall with their writing at times.

Writer’s block can manifest in a number of ways: you might struggle to find the right words, or it might feel more like performance anxiety – the fear of not being good enough may stop you before you’ve even started. It can hit you at any time in your writing career, whether you’re sending your first draft off to beta readers – finger hovering over Send, paralysed with fear – or you’re publishing your twentieth novel and worry it won’t be as well received as your previous works.

The important thing to remember is that it will pass. You will write again, you’ll find the words, become inspired and have moments of flow. But only if you KEEP WRITING! Push through the blockage, persevere and write even when it’s slow and painstaking. Even if you cut half (or more) of what you wrote while blocked during editing, it’s a necessary process that will help you break through the blockage, and ultimately become a better writer.

We won’t always feel inspired, sometimes writing will feel like pulling teeth, but the key is to keep at it, keep working on your story. Writing, like any job,
is hard work, and whether it’s your career, your side hustle, your passion or your hobby it won’t always be easy and fun. You’ll stumble sometimes, hit a wall and struggle to climb over it, but the only way you’ll finish your novel, type those two little all-important words, and ultimately publish your book, is if you don’t give up.

Laini shared a book on her Instagram called Around the Writer’s Block: Using brain science to solve writer’s resistance, which discusses all the various obstacles writers may face that could cause us to struggle with our writing. It focuses on the scientific reasons for writer’s block, and habit-building to help us make it a thing of the past. It worked for Laini, maybe it will work for you?

One of the methods that lots of writers champion is free writing, opening your notebook and filling a page or two each day with whatever comes to mind. You can use a prompt if it helps you to get the pen moving, but there’s absolutely no pressure for the words you write to turn into a story, or ever even be seen by another human being. You don’t even have to read it back yourself if you don’t want to!

Whatever you find helps you to break through the block, just remember you’re not alone, there are probably a thousand other writers going through the exact same thing at the same time. Why not reach out to the writing community online for some friendly encouragement? Twitter and Instagram are great places to start, just use the hashtag #amwriting and you’re sure to get a fair few responses from your fellow wordsmiths! And don’t forget to share your tips for what helps you when you’re blocked, we all need a little advice sometimes so add your voice to the conversation, you never know who you might help.

Lyndsey

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