The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Writer's Hiatus Redux

Yet again I’m typing at ten o’clock the night before my blog is due. Ugh. I’m even resorting to blogospeak now? WTF? OMG! My brain atrophies from neglect and once again Writer’s Hiatus has me in its clutches. All my long battled bad habits have regrouped and besieged my productivity.

What is Writer’s Hiatus? Ahh, now I have an excuse to pull from way back. An oldie from 2006 updated for 2008.

The symptoms of Writer’s Hiatus (WH) are innocent at first: bad sentences, stupid grammar mistakes, and that general headache that strikes anytime you try to think your way out of the latest dead end you’ve written yourself into. Left unchecked WH can become completely debilitating. It will leave you convinced you’re a writer who needs a break, a short time to gather your thoughts. That’s all. Nothing to worry about. Writing is still banging around your frontal lobe. You’ve started 3 short stories. You’ve received some great rejection letters, including one that says “writer holds much potential.” See, you’re a writer, once a writer always a writer. This is WH Stage 1.

Stage 2 is more advanced. It starts with regression from your writerly connections. Writing output drops considerably. You withdraw from Zoetrope, appearing only sporadically to see what’s going on in the CWC office and add some of your friend’s stories to your review queue. Of course you never actually get around to reviewing them. But it’s okay; you’re a fish that’s broke away from the zoe pond. You’re taking your first short breaths of air and learning to walk on your flippers. You have to go back once in awhile to catch your breath, but you don’t need to be immersed in Zoe anymore, you’ve evolved. So you stop emailing and keeping in touch with the writers who helped you when you were a little guppy (sorry, Judd), and those who stood on the edge of the water urging you out (my apologies, Renate). You stop emailing stories out to your trusted first readers (stuff it, redpen). And you start flogging the shit out of metaphors in a vain attempt to extend them into pataphors.

Near the end of Stage 2 you stop sending stuff out for publication, but only because you need more time to hone it, it’s missing something. Really.

If you’re in Stage 2 it’s not too late. You can still recover. But you need help fast. Alcohol has worked for all the greats. I advise against this, however, because it also led a lot of them into trying to see what comes out the end of a shotgun. You could try forced writing schedules. This works for some, but it can be stifling for others. You need support and gentle nudges. Write anything you can. It’s okay to misstep, you used to do it all the time. Recovery from WH is a convalescent process not a bursting forth. Reread your grammar books, your old stories, your good reviews on Zoetrope. Slowly work your way back to the concrete from the purposely vague.

Stage 3 is where it gets dicey. Here you begin to think that life is only going to get busier. That maybe you should hang this whole writing thing up till you retire. Maybe the goals you set for yourself are a bit lofty. It’s okay to settle for a little less, you gave it a good shot. You start questioning your ideas. At this point you need a Seinfeld type intervention because questioning your ideas is a sure sign you’ll stop merely thinking about Stage 3 symptoms and start believing them.

And this is Stage 4. The point of no return. Stage 4 leaves the writer a heaving mass of cliché and unoriginal imagery. We won’t go fully into Stage 4 here, it’s too scary, especially since I’m up to my knees in Stage 3 right now and sinking. I need something to kick me in the ass, someone to hold out a stick (or beat me with it).

Well that's WH and I'm in it (again). Contrary to the above, I’m happy as hell. Maybe too happy. Maybe good writing comes from unhappiness - certainly not an old theory. And maybe I have an idea for my next blog! Oh joy! Wait a minute…the irony is tragic here. Maybe that will work? Sigh.


Blogger Jacqueline said...

Great blog!

I really know what you mean. Writing for me seems to come in waves and right now my life is so great that I have put my writing on the back burner.

I know I'll keep writing avidly again why not have the time of my life now!

Dangerous! Does that mean I'm already at Stage 4?

Maybe I've come full circle. One can only hope!

Tue Aug 05, 12:52:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Chumplet said...

Oh. My. God. You have officially scared the crap out of me.

Maybe it's a cyclical thing. Do we fall into the deep trench only in the summer?

I've been ignoring my 3-years-in-the-making WIP for a few months... okay, several months. I did start a few short stories and submitted one for an anthology.

Tue Aug 05, 01:05:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Steve Gajadhar said...

Thanks for the comments!

Jacqueline, WH is definitely dangerous. I'm dealing with my 2nd official bout of it and I suspect it's only going to get worse.

Chumplet, I think you touched on part of my problem: it's always summer here in Hawaii. There's no winter to hunker down into.

Wed Aug 06, 03:10:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Andrew Tibbetts said...

Steve, I need to know how to SOLVE these problems, not have them lovingly detailed!

Wed Aug 06, 09:35:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Okay, so who's that guy in the photo? I know it isn't you.

Fri Aug 08, 05:40:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger T. Lee said...

Stage 3 sucks. In all meanings of the word. Happily, I'm still flopping about in stage 2. Yay, stage 2!

Sat Aug 09, 05:06:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Andrew Tibbetts said...

Hey, Tricia, that's Jeff Daniels playing a writer/professor in "The Squid and the Whale".

Wed Aug 13, 09:56:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Thanks, Andrew. Trust you to know. I'm a total film illiterate

Thu Aug 14, 11:22:00 pm GMT-4  

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