by M.J. Hearle
Writers are sensitive creatures.
Maybe not burst-into-tears-at-the-mere-mention-of-Steel Magnolias sensitive, but probably more touchy-feely than your average stockbroker or brickie’s labourer (I was a brickie’s labourer once – albeit for an extremely short time – however, I suspect I was the exception that proves the rule). We have to be sensitive to do our job. Not just sensitive –big fat wusses, in fact, unafraid to indulge any and all emotions, fearlessly exploring every impulse and analysing every reaction. After all, how can we truthfully describe the interior landscapes of our fictional characters if we’re unfamiliar with our own?
Which is to say that writers can be moody little blighters. Speaking for myself, I know I can be a pain to live with at times – distant and preoccupied when writing, pensive and morose when I can’t. Prone to fits of mania and depression. Like a teenager. However, it’s not all soaring highs and plunging lows. Sometimes being a writer means experiencing long periods of emotional ‘flatness’. Otherwise known as the Scribbler’s Blues.
If you’ve ever spent a considerable amount of time pouring your heart and soul into a draft and finally reached the point where you felt comfortable (or the publisher could no longer be kept at bay) to push print’, then you probably know what I’m discussing here. Once the manuscript has been posted, the champagne popped, family and friends re-acquainted with, a slight ‘greying’ tends to creep in at the edges of your celebratory mood. This greying intensifies when you wake up one morning, walk to your desk and realise you have nothing to write. The book’s finished.
Relief, might be an appropriate reaction here – exhilaration even. After all, you’re finished! You’ve overcome all obstacles, climbed the mountain, reached the summit, and planted the flag. Be proud of your monumental achievement. Fewer people than you think actually finish what they start. Unfortunately, you’re a writer. Instead of patting yourself on the back you feel a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach. A listlessness that is all the more troubling because its source cannot be identified.
Writing is like acting, except instead of just one character, writers sometimes have to inhabit the skin of several characters over the course of a single day. It’s a little schizophrenic. It’s also highly addictive. Kind of like crack cocaine but better for your oral hygiene. In writing drama, we condition our limbic systems (thanks Google), to be ready to dredge up fear, lust, anger, sadness, amusement – whatever the necessary emotion for the scene we’re writing – at a moments notice. After day in, day out of riding this roller-coaster is it any wonder that once we step off, real life can seem a little, well…flat. Less real maybe than the story we’ve been slaving over. This emptiness, Welcome Reader, this feeling of something being amiss, is the Scribbler’s Blues.
So, how do we combat the Scribbler’s Blues? Is there a pill? A drink? A ritualistic animal sacrifice which counteracts this malaise? The solution is deceptively simple. Start writing something else. Buy your ticket and get back on the roller-coaster.
It doesn’t have to be a new novel – it can be something shorter, less ambitious. At the moment, Winter’s Light is with the publisher, Winter’s Shadow is out there in the world surviving without me and I don’t know what to do with my free time (all fifteen minutes of it). I miss my characters, I miss the world of Winter and Blake, the Demori, the Skivers, and the Bane. I’ve spent so much time with them over the past couple of years that it feels strange not to be popping in to see them on a daily basis.
I could start the third novel in the Winter Trilogy but I haven’t. Not because I don’t have an idea (I do, and it’s a doozy), but because I suspect Winter’s Light will be coming back soon for a round of edits. Past experience has taught me rhythm is all important when beginning a lengthy writing project, so I don’t want to get started on a new novel only to abandon it in the early stages.
Instead, I’ve started writing a short story. Nothing earth-shattering just a little tale for my own amusement. It might turn out to be rubbish but at the moment I’m digging it. I may even post it on the blog.
If you’ve ever suffered the Scribbler’s Blues, feel free to commiserate in the comments section, and maybe offer an example of how you dealt with it. Remember, it could be worse.
You could be suffering Writer’s Block.