Writing Burnout (Just one more word…Please?)

April has been a bad month for Willow. Birthdays, trips to Michigan, snotty noses, other stories suddenly becoming priority. I think throughout the entire month of April, I only worked did three chapters, when normally I do 6. And most of that was rewrites.

It’s something I grew very concerned about because I had just done a pivotal scene that leads into the last part of the book. After that scene, it should have been easy coasting. All I had to do is get my characters to the magical paradise, have things blow up there, and that will be it. Should have been simple, right?

But I can’t get my characters to get going. I can’t get them to move, because I can’t move. The words won’t come. It’s worse than writer’s block, because I could easily work on other stuff with no problems at all. It’s just that when I sat down to work on Willow, I would write a sentence. Stop. Think. Write another sentence. Stop. Suddenly become interested in my nails. Stop. Write a sentence. Stop. Play Nethack. Stop. Write another sentence. And so on…

At first, I thought that I was burned out after writing that very pivotal scene. It took a lot out of me as well as my characters, who only wanted to sleep and didn’t want me to push them up and nudge them on their way. Then I thought it was because I needed to perfect the pivotal scene itself. I hadn’t been pleased how it came out, so while I was in Michigan, I honed it down until I got it to a place that I was satisfied, at least for now. But I still had trouble starting the next chapter.

It got to the point where I began to dread working on Willow, something that scared me, because this is my novel here. I should be excited to work on Willow. How did my novel get out of control? What went wrong? Has I lost my love for Willow? Has it grown far too large for me to handle? Will it be doomed to sit on my hard drive, untouched? What should I do? I was supposed to be done with this by the end of April!

Well, it didn’t happen. And that’s when I realized that I needed to step back and take a breather. If I wasn’t progressing in Willow, I needed to find out why. I needed to put the fun back in Willow. So I stopped trying to eke out the chapter and started doing freewrites, basically letting my fingers move while I mentally worked on the outline to Willow.

Freewrites are fun. You can write anything in freewrites. You can have conversations with your characters, write long journal entries, write utter nonsense, and you don’t have to hold it accountable to any story whatsoever. Oh, stories can come out of freewrites, but so can inspiration.

In freewriting, I was able to figure out the main theme of Willow. It was something I always had on the back of my mind, but putting it in words enabled me to go back over the chapters and see where it worked in the theme and where it didn’t. The major theme of Weeping of the Willows is strifeful family ties: son against father, brother against brother, parent against children. It is also about deep families ties as well, the bond between sisters, siblings, couples, etc. With that realization, I was able to see how the next chapter would play out. (It also lead to an unintentional splitting up of a family–something that surprised me, but after freewriting, I saw that this splitting up was necessary; and it would make the betrayal later in the book all the more harsher).

I also came to the conclusion that one of my supporting characters had gotten way too much page time and that I really needed to whittle her involvement down. It bums me, because her story had grown very interesting–but it also grown very, very long. As much as I hate to do it, I’ll have to cut out major portions of her story to make it more manageable. I think the storyline will become sleeker because of it.

I did freewriting all last week. Yesterday, I sat down and rewrote the chapter I was stuck on. I wrote a word. Then two. Then ten. Then fifteen. Got stuck for a moment. Wrote some more. Then more…

Ahh…things are finally moving again. My characters are now preparing for their harshest trip ever, I’m now back on track. Willow’s moving forward again. Whew!

Ironically, right after I finished writing, I was checking my blogs and this post from The Writer’s Block came up. Basically detailed everything I went through in April. You mean other writers experience this burnout too?! I thought it was just me!

All of a sudden, I feel a whole lot better.

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4 Responses

  1. Seems to me that “Writer’s Constipation” needs to be added to “Writer’s Cramp” in the list of writing maladies. Sometimes, it’s just hard to keep going…

  2. Congrats on moving past it. I’m sure writers get burnt out more often than a lot of people think, especially those who are lucky enough to be able to do it full-time. It’s a lot easier to frustrate yourself–the next one’s got to be *bigger*, got to have more *impact*–and put yourself in a position where you have a hard time looking at the pen than it is for, say a factory worker pushing buttons on a machine.

    Good luck with Willows.

  3. Thank you very much! Took a quick jog to your blog and saw that you know exactly what you’re talking about. Good luck with Book #2!

  4. As you know I’ve had the same thing. I didn’t know the name of free writing, but I was going to do that anyway and see what happens.

    Glad you’ve seen what to do!

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