26 August 2019

Mojo Lost

by Travis Richardson

There was a time when I was writing 700 words a day before work 5 days a week and then another 1500-2000 each weekend day. I tracked everything on a spreadsheet and pushed myself to hit and exceed goals. Those days weren’t too long ago, somewhere between 2010 to early 2016. I had this weird magical drive where I wrote those 700 words every morning before work. In the peak period, I even did a sun salutation yoga routine before writing. I produced several near finished/unpublished novels and short stories that I never took the time to edit because I had fresher ideas to write that were even better than the older material. 

Then things changed. Not suddenly, but gradually until it seemed that I was barely writing anything at all. The biggest change was having a child. The awesome responsibility of caring for another human cannot be understated enough. My heart and attention focused on her. I altered my schedule to drop her off at daycare then to go to work, taking away some of the morning writing time. I started making up for it by writing during my lunch break. In the early part of my daughter’s life I was mostly able to make the goals, but not with ease. Then parts of my daytime job started to shift. I was pushed out of my office and into a general bullpen area, which deflated my ego and interrupted my workflow. Then my boss retired and his job split into two. My workload doubled for a while and I was skipping lunch breaks for weeks at a time. I wasn’t writing much at all. Somewhere in November 2016, depression started to hover over me. I’d have writing streaks now and again, but nothing with a sustained output like I had had.

Things bottomed out around the beginning of 2018. I worked things out with my wife so that either on a Saturday or Sunday, she takes my daughter out for the day and I get to write. I started a new writing spreadsheet with a modest 200 words a day goals. It worked great for a while. But then stupid things like Chrome not working on my desktop stopped me from tracking word count which meant I pushed myself less (even though I could look on a laptop, the desktop is sort of the writing hub…and I still haven’t fixed the problem.) 

Even with my family out, I’m not always hitting those 2000 words a weekend like I used to. My attention gets too scattered and that zone where my fingers try to keep up with my thoughts and I forget about time and food doesn’t happen as much. At times, I feel like a former high school athlete dwelling on the glory days that will never happen again because of age and bad knees. 

But that is BS. 

Writing is a craft that one can continue to improve on regardless of how old you are. I look at authors like the recently departed Robert S. Levinson who wrote into his 90s, keeping a constant creative output all the way through the end. (RIP Bob.) 

And while having a full-time job and kid is a partial excuse, is not the ultimate excuse. Writers such as Rob Hart, Angel Luis Colon, S.W. Lauden, Eric Beetner, and Matt Phillips have jobs, children, and tremendous output. So what is my problem?

I’m not sure. 

I’m not the same person I was five years ago and I wonder if my desire has lessened. I remember when I started going to MWA and Sisters in Crime meetings and listening to midlist authors complaining about the publishing industry, and I wished that I could be in a position like that to complain someday. I never made it that far, but I feel cynical at times and I hate it. I’m still dreaming the impossible dream, for better or worse. I need to believe in it again on a more intense scale. 
In July, I changed jobs, and now I have a bit of a longer commute (on foot) with an earlier start time. I’m trying to get to work a little early and write for a few minutes before the workday begins. That has worked for a few paragraphs, but not pages. I write on most of my lunch breaks too, but that has also been a limited chunks. And I haven’t opened my spreadsheet in months.  

Perhaps I might need to re-transform myself into the night writer I used to be in the unpublished 90s and early 2000s. The problem is that I’m so tired and stupid by 9-10pmish when my daughter falls asleep that I feel I can’t write anything coherent. 

I might also go back to an early carrot trick when I used to reward myself anytime I got a story published. I stopped after a while because I had a decent amount of publications and it seemed indulgent… but maybe it’s worth looking at it again.
Reward 1
Reward 2

In some ways, I feel bad for everybody at Sleuthsayers. You got me at low period. I’m not as interactive as I’d like to be and while I’d like to write a poignant blog that would shake up the writing community (in a good way), I can’t seem to knock that ball out of the infield.

On the positive front, next month I’m going to a writing retreat and I’m hoping that besides creating some output, I’ll have renewed energy to take me through the rest of 2019 and into the upcoming twenties. 

Have you had/have any writing productivity issues? For those who got past it, what did you do to overcome it?

Thanks for reading this!


Travis Richardson is originally from Oklahoma and lives in Los Angeles with his wife and daughter. He has been a finalist and nominee for the Macavity, Anthony, and Derringer short story awards. He has two novellas and his short story collection, BLOODSHOT AND BRUISED, came out in late 2018. He reviewed Anton Chekhov short stories in the public domain at www.chekhovshorts.com. Find more at www.tsrichardson.com

                                                                              

9 comments:

janice law said...

Children grow up and go off to school, so there is that. I found Sesame Street a wonderful help back in the day when I was home with a small child. Don't forget, too, that writers have fallow periods. Not all of us were cut out to be what the 19th century called " the great galley slaves of literature," and it is a mistake to think that just because a few people produce reams of prose that everyone is supposed to be as super productive.

Good luck! I suspect 90% of us have been in the same place.

Eve Fisher said...

Travis, we're not freakin' machines, you know. We're human beings. Except for the freaky few (like Dickens and Stephen King) who do nothing BUT write, most of us have dry spells. Writers block. Exhaustion. I'm just getting beginning to write again after surgery (more on that on Thursday). And there are simply times when nothing's happening. It's okay. Believe it or not, the Muse returns, and you get stuff done. Trust it. Meanwhile, give yourself a break and let yourself be human. The older I get, the more I need relaxed downtime for the Muse to show up and whisper in my ear.

Barb Goffman said...

I ditto Janice and Eve. I get far less writing done than I'd like. I only write when I have set-aside time. I can't do a little every day. But I do think about writing a lot, and I'm regularly writing down story ideas for later use. I think that counts. So give yourself a break.

Lawrence Maddox said...

I feel your pain, Travis! I've gone through much the same. Kids. Job. Less writing output. I recently interviewed Eric Beetner and asked him how he does it. I was heartened that he's human like the rest of us, and feels drained after 90 minutes of writing. Honestly, I find writers like Eric very inspiring. Maybe that's the trick-staying inspired. Thanks for a great read, Travis!

Leigh Lundin said...

Ditto Barb's ditto. Setting aside those frustrating distractions, I wonder if the changes mark a shift from quantity to finer quality? Perhaps you're undergoing an internal evolution. Your wonderfully open-hearted article hints at that, starting with "I had fresher ideas to write that were even better than the older material."

Just a thought from someone who's also frustrated when a day, week, or month ends without writing output.

Depression is terrible to experience, but it means you feel… deeply. Like ADD, it can become a creativity tool. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of writers, poets, artists, musicians, inventors– Beethoven, van Gogh, Edison, Einstein– all driven by depression– changed the world. I like to keep that thought in my hip pocket for use in emergencies.

Michael Bracken said...

I've had periods of sustained output, and periods of minimal output, and the key (for me) is aiming for the finish line. In the long run, it isn't how many words you produce, but how many finished ms. you produce.

Steve Liskow said...

Travis,

Since about 2007, I have generally been in various stages on two or three novels at the same time (in 2010, I had four in different stages of development): notes and/or outline, first draft, revision(s), and final touch-up. Occasionally, I would work on a short story for a change of pace and to get perspective on the longer works.

I have a novel that will probably come out sometime in the next six months, but I don't have another novel in draft, or even notes or the beginning of an outline for one. this hasn't been the case in over a decade. On the other hand, I have six short stories floating around, and two others in development, which is also a personal record.

It feels like my brain has had enough of the heavy lifting and wants to go elsewhere. I'm letting it. Will it work? Who knows? Maybe your brain is saying it wants a change, maybe sci-fi or romance for a while, maybe poetry or nonfiction. Maybe it will return to your usual default and maybe not. But it will do what it's going to do. Beating your head against the wall doesn't work any better though. It just gives you a headache.

Travis Richardson said...

Thank you, everybody, for all the kind words. It's been frustrating, but it is good to know that I'm not alone. I've felt like a superhero who lost his power and is trying to get it back. Wishing all of you the best in writing and life!

Unknown said...

Hello Travis.

I understand the frustration. A good friend of mine -- as talented a teacher of writing as she is a writer -- experienced a drought of some 19 years. I'm hoping this isn't the case with you.

All kinds of personal things can get in the way of one's creative impulse. Something that I have discovered about myself is that I need an external deadline -- someone waiting for something I must write -- to jump start things (perhaps a byproduct of too many years in daily journalism....).

Just know, this, too, shall pass. Wishing you all the best.