On Writing Through Hard Times

It’s birthday week on the blog :o). This week I turn 42 (!!), and in case you’re wondering, yes, I’m still writing my books out by hand. Today I inaugurated Notebook 28!

There’s a blog post I want to write, about what happens when your life choices — or maybe it would be more fair to say, things in life you didn’t choose — get in the way of your writing. About five years ago, I made a decision: I decided to prioritize my own mental health, and my own personal healing from something that happened LONG ago, in a way I never had before. I’m not going to get into my long-ago story here. I write fiction and I write musings; I do not write memoir, and feel no calling to it. What matters for the sake of this blog post is that the moment I decided to prioritize my own mental health and healing… my capacity to focus on writing decreased by about 50%.

Maybe another way to put this is that writing became twice as hard. Writing is always horrendously hard, so twice as hard was really something.

That lasted for about three and a half years. For a person whose identity is largely tied up in book creation, it was a scary time. I kept plugging along, wondering if it would always be like this. As hard as it was, I knew it was a privilege to be able to be writing so slowly and still call it my job… And you know what, dear readers? I have you to thank for that privilege, because during that time, I was largely living on the money I’d made previously on my books. My readers made it possible and safe for me to take a few years in my life to wade into some horrors and start to find my way out again.

It is criminal and disgusting that everyone in this nation doesn’t have access to mental health care. Or even to the knowledge that mental health care exists and you might be the person who needs it.

Anyway. My mental health care will be a lifelong project. I don’t want to suggest that three and a half years passed and then I was “cured” :o). But three and a half years passed, I took some very courageous steps, I found myself in a less scary place, and you know what happened next?

My writing came back.

Here’s a sign I put up on my desk lamp in my office about a year ago.

Of course, I’d never actually gone anywhere. I was always here writing. But it was SO HARD. You might think to yourself, well, it probably didn’t help that you decided to write a book that splits off into five different simultaneously-occurring genre stories during that time, but that’s not what I mean by hard. A book is always structurally hard and intellectually challenging. I mean that it was emotionally hard, hard to motivate to sit and immerse myself in someone else’s story, when my own tedious, too-familiar, unchosen story was in the forefront of my mind all the time, making me feel terrible.

This is not my favorite kind of blog post to write, and I probably won’t write one like this again for a very, very long time. But I wanted to write it, because for the past five years, I’ve been thinking a lot about creative people who, for whatever reason (and there can be so many), feel blocked from their creative process. And I’ve been wanting to convey one simple message: It can come back.

Don’t give up. It will come back.

Godspeed to all writers.