17 February 2012

The Writer's Crash

I have recently experienced the worst Writer's Roller Coaster Crash ever, so I thought I'd get a bit personal here and share about it -- in the hope that you other writers and artistic types out there might, in turn, share your experience with me!

First, the backstory. I've been developing an idea for over a year now. At the beginning of January, I sat down and began pounding out the prose for a solid few hours every day. I've never worked so hard, long, exclusively, and uninterruptedly at any project that I can remember, or at least not since my master's thesis.

I've never been so happy in my life.

For six weeks, I sat down every weekday, switched off my wi-fi, and just banged out sentence after sentence. Then I would turn on the internet again and do more research, etc., to round out the world I was creating. As the six weeks rolled by, I got happier and happier, totally caught up in my character's life, feeling I'd found my life's calling, feeling like I was on a permanent caffeine buzz (OK, I was on a caffeine buzz until at least noon every day!). And then I wound up the episode I was working on, which ends rather dramatically, and I was a psyched as if what happened to the character had happened to me!

I went around bursting, telling everyone "This is the best day of my life!"

I felt like it was my birthday.

It was a gorgeous, hot spring day (in February), too.

And then I sent out the episode to a few insightful, literary friends, read bits to other people in my life, and waited for feedback.

And the feedback trickled in, far less than I'd hoped for, not anywhere near as enthusiastic as I'd imagined.

And I crashed. Hard.

So now I'm blue as can be -- well, no, not quite. If I were really depressed, I wouldn't be able to get distance and reflect on this roller coaster. It's happened before: I'll finish a project, have a book published, do a reading, give a recital, complete a school year, or something, and there will be that void afterwards. That sense of: Wait, who am I? What do I do? Why am I here? What have I accomplished with my life?

But just as this high was the highest I've ever had (creatively speaking), so this low is the lowest (also creatively speaking).

And that was just the first episode -- of thirty-six episodes!!! Yikes.

So here's what I would love to know. Writers (and other creative types): Does this happen to you? All the time? Sometimes? When? Why? How do you get out of it? Is it a sign that the work wasn't good? Or is it just the roller coaster we have to ride?

Thanks -- and help!!

~ Sørina




Rosie Perera said...

Could be a sign we need to watch the level of highs we let ourselves get to, as those can precipitate lower lows. Creatives are often somewhere on the bipolar spectrum. Self-care is necessary to avoid needing medical care, but if it comes to the latter, don't resist it.

Iambic Admonit said...

Yes, and I had to ask myself those questions (given family history) and found that the writer's highs and lows were totally different from the medically diagnosable ones of bi-polar. They didn't come with any of the dangerous symptoms, such as change of sleep pattern, change of eating habits, weight gain or loss, interference with work and social life, etc. So that's good!

karenkulberg said...

It seems you were let down because others weren't as enthusiastic about your work as you were...I think we get into trouble when we allow others to determine how we feel about ourselves and our accomplishments. Why would you give another person that power? If you were as happy about your work as you say, shouldn't that be enough. Or, is the purpose of your writing outside approval. I'm quite sure it was wonderful! The joy was yours and no ones to take away!

Iambic Admonit said...

Thanks, Aunt Karen, for your positive words! Here are a few thoughts.

First, don't we all desire affirmation, adulation, or at least encouragement from our friends and family? That's only natural, and to be expected and even promoted in the communities where we live and work (both physically and virtually).

Second, there's the practical aspect: I don't want outside approval, I want book sales! I need to know if my work is marketable. So that's the very nitty-gritty pragmatic side of readers' opinions.

Finally, the real reason I wrote this post is to prompt other writers (and artists) to share their experiences. How common is this?

geoffh said...

The more highs the better I say. Once we start counting and limiting them, then we end up being literary junkies, knowing we need one more fix before the day was meaningful.

A question of quality? Well, it depends who you share it with. They may be literary, but are they people who share the story, the spirit or worldview of the piece?

When I'm ready, I share my work with a friend, Maggy, who told me that she isn't a proof-reader, but a speed-reader. That for me was an indication that she was the right person for the job. I trust her! She wasn't going to appraise it through literary analysis, but the beauty of a speed-reader is that you get to know about things like the flow, empathy with the characters, whether it captures the imagination. At this stage of the process, I don't want an over-analysed critique. I want to know if the story makes sense, hangs together etc.

After that, I'll correct a few things, depending on what Maggy says, but all along I'll be sharing the journey with my publisher. Chris' enthusiasm for me is all I need to bolster my confidence. Be careful who you share your work with, find a literary soul-mate rather than seek a democratic decision on the quality of your work.

For me writing gives me the most intimate spiritual experience. It seems to point to affirming my life as a writer. That's not bad really!

Keep going! Don't apologise for your gifts. Enjoy the highs, they don't have to be followed by lows!


Iambic Admonit said...

Thank you so much, Geoff! I really appreciate what you said. I agree: "The more highs the better," as long as they don't ruin the rest of life (family, work, health, etc.). I am so happy for you that you have such great readers in your life who fit your varying needs for consumption, comment, and critique.

Your advice to "find a literary soul-mate rather than seek a democratic decision on the quality of your work" is really, really good. I am blessed with half-a-dozen literary soul mates and should rely more on their feedback than on a general response. You're right.

And if I liked the work, well then, there must be other readers out there who like to read the same kind of stuff I do!!

Thanks again.

Mehitchcock said...

For me the highs are subtle thought they can get really high. The lows can be subtle if I maintain my healthy attitude.

The two things most likely to make me crash are, thinking too much about what other people might think about my work. (Or thinking about what they'll think about my response to their opinion. Or even thinking about what I might say to them if they respond a certain way...) You get the idea. The point is this can go on forever and forever and is further and further from what is real. In fact, if you allow yourself the dubious luxury of expecting a certain response or even a response at all, you are less likely to enjoy any responses. You will have most likely anticipated the response already and thus sucked all the joy of surprise. No no, best to send it and (as much as you are able) forget it. That way all feedback, even so-called negative becomes a surprise and you are more able to take it in and see the truth of whatever they're saying. You can't take it personally then, even if you choose to ignore it, you were able to give it a fair and compassionate listen.

The other thing very likely to create a non-subtle low is when I try to force myself to write when I don't want to, or when I haven't asked myself the right question yet. (For me writing is often a case of once I ask myself the right question, I don't have to think at all, I just let the answer appear before me. Thinking is mainly reserved for the editing.) If I just try to force myself to come up with an idea, I am shut off from the receptivity that allows the ideas to work themselves out with me. It puts me in a bad mood, which can then make me less receptive and thus spiral out of control. For me it is best to leave it for a minute and go pursue other interests. (Which can be hard when I am low because i have damaged my receptivity and I can no longer even be completely receptive to my own desires.) This is why I have my writing set up so I always have some stuff (especially editing and analyzing) I can do without inspiration of any kind, it's just filling in the blanks of the inspiring questions I asked myself in sunnier times.

That's how it is for me. Everything's better when I don't have to think and when I can be completely receptive. Just how to go around receptive and empty of thought is a wonderful and separate subject that might take about six times the amount of words to address. Wordlessness is funny that way.