I’ve got a few things to talk about in today’s post. We’ll chat about determination vs motivation, seasonal writing, age categories, and doubt, but they all kind of neatly tie in together, so rather than writing separate posts, here we are with a mishmash!
First, The Orangutan Librarian wrote a super relatable post recently about doubt, and I can safely say that I’ve felt all of these things at one time or another, so it was really refreshing to see it put out there in the world that other people experience it.
Second, I wrote a post earlier this year about my history with writing, and though it’s long, it was really fun to write, and I’d appreciate it if you gave it a gander! However, the tl;dr is that I’ve been consistently writing since the fifth grade, whether it be fanfiction (the first was Harry Potter) or original novels (the first involved dragons), so we’re looking at about 15 years of words.
All that aside, let’s get into it!
At the beginning of this year, I started a short story project, Thursday Thousand, in which I had to post a short story ever week that was, at minimum, 1000 words long. This was in an effort to get myself writing again since I’d been in kind of a rut for a few months, and it worked marvelously. For about four months, I worked hard to get a short story out every week, and mostly succeeded. It prompted me to not only finish the weight of us, but to also finish the first draft of book one of sister witches. I stopped writing Thursday Thousand short stories after that because I figured I was back in business. Right?
From the end of May to the middle of October, I wrote nothing. I’d find myself frequently just staring at a blank Word doc, praying, hoping, begging the words to come before eventually just closing it furiously and going back to reading. My reading skyrocketed over the summer. I was reading anywhere from 15-20 books a month, and I was spending all of my free time finding ways to ignore this growing seed of doubt in my heart.
I wrote a post eight million years ago that was about still being a writer even if you’re not writing, but I can’t find it, and really, it doesn’t matter. We’ve all had this thought at one point in our lives. If I’m not actively writing a book, can I really consider myself a writer? The answer is usually no in our heads, but yes in reality. But it’s nearly impossible to convince yourself that yes you’re a writer even if you’re not actively writing.
In the aftermath of finishing sister witches, I gave myself a break. Read some books, I said. Go back to edit in a bit. I do usually take a break in between books, but because I’m insane, it’s usually only a week or two. I like to edit while I’m writing, and while I know a lot of people say this is bad and you should just get it out, it actually negatively affects my writing if I don’t do it. Suddenly, all I can thinking about are the glaring errors that I know need to be fixed, and whatever I’m trying to write turns into a mess until I’ve gone back and fixed it. Big, deep edits full of plot-fixing and rewriting don’t happen until after the first draft is done, so after a couple weeks, I dove back into sister witches and fixed it up.
After I’d finished, there were some things I knew I needed to add in during the next round of edits, but I felt good with where it was, and I started setting my sights on what was next. Probably Saints at sea 2. But I was also really vibing with a few other ideas I’d written short stories for during my Thursday Thousand months, so I played with those a little, working on character sketches, fluffing out Pinterest boards, even trying to outline a couple of them.
I kept trying to write, but the weeks of just puttering around were turning into months. I was reading a lot, but I was also spending a lot of time staring aimlessly at a blank Word doc and internally screaming at myself to just start something.
What comes next is something I never admitted out loud this fall. No one knows this. I was terrified to even think it, and I promise, the only reason you’re reading this now is because I’m past it.
In August, I vacationed with my best friend, Erin. We usually go to a beach and spend most of our time in the water. We talk about the books we want to write, the books we’ve already written, and the books we want to read. I reminisced about Saintsverse, and complained a little about how I was having trouble with Saints at sea 2. I laughed about Theodore because even though she hasn’t read sister witches yet, I’ve talked her ear off about it, and he’s an easy character to get giggly with. I sighed my familiar oh Olly a few times while wondering if maybe the Pen boys was the right way to go. Like Rónán, I go back to Oliver anytime I’m feeling uncertain and can’t decide which direction to go in with my writing.
When our vacation was done, I returned invigorated. I could do this, I thought. I could write again. Everything was going to be fine. Right?
Nothing continued happening.
I kept staring at blank Word docs. I started rereading the bookstore boys. (Again, yes, I read my own writing. I wrote what I wanted to read, so it makes sense.) The internal screaming got a lot worse. I was desperate. Please, I begged the universe, just give me a few words, and I can make the rest happen. I just need a little help. Please.
Somewhere around the middle of September, something very dangerous occurred to me. What if this was it? What if I was not only going to never finish the Saintsverse, but I was never going to write anything else? What if I just gave up?
And then, once the thought was there, it became less of a question, more of an idea. Okay, I decided, I’m gonna give up. I’m done writing. There’s no point in this.
I’d reached this point in my life once before, but I was pushed firmly into it. As one of my oldest and dearest friends was on his way out of my life, he told me I was a shitty writer and that he despised everything I’d ever written, and I clammed right up. Fine, then, I decided, I’m done. This brings me nothing but pain.
I didn’t last long that time. After the pain started to subside a little, I was just angry. I’ll show you, I thought, and I wrote a book in a couple months.
But in September? This was different. This was me deciding writing wasn’t worth it. It’s not happening, so what’s the point? I’ve spent four months absolutely miserable, and I’ve got nothing to show for it. I’m done. I don’t want to be a writer anymore.
If I’d told someone I was having these thoughts, I probably wouldn’t have come to the conclusions that I did. I think I needed to work through this on my own, and though this is literally the first time I’m even typing these words out, I’m still glad I haven’t told anyone until now. Sure, keeping it all bottled inside is not great, but it did force me to work through it via sheer determination.
I’ve always been a big believer in determination over motivation, whether it’s fitness or writing or life. Motivation works so rarely that the only thing that’ll actually get you up and moving is determination. Motivation is never going to wake you up early to workout on a Monday morning. Motivation is never going to write a book. Motivation is useless. But determination? My dudes, the only reason I actively get up and workout is through sheer determination. I want to be healthier, so damn it, I’m going to be. The only reason I found my way back to writing was through being so determined, it bordered on scary. I literally would have rather done anything other than write this month, but I told myself I had to, so I did.
But it took a little doing to get here. NaNoWriMo is no easy feat. 50k words in 30 days after both not writing for five full months and deciding I wasn’t going to write anymore? YIKES.
In October, I decided I was going to set myself up for success. I polled, on Instagram and with my friends, which story sounded the most interesting. I had five options that I felt I could reasonably lose myself in. It came down to two options, vampire detective and sister witches, and I decided I was going to work on both. Vampire detective was brand new, and so required my usual pre-writing–character sketches, full outline, several plot-building sessions. Sister witches was easy to write the first time, and the sequel would be just as chill. If I got stuck with Andrew, I could switch to Henley.
Toward the end of the month, I was actually starting to get excited. Throughout October, I’d started posting Character Spotlights and writing Thursday Thousand short stories again, all of it themed around Halloween. When I’d gotten into a rut the year previous, I created Thursday Thousand as a way to remind myself why I loved writing. I started using it again in October to do the same thing, and it seemed like it was working. October was fun, and as November approached, I slowly started abandoning the thought that maybe I was done.
And then came the question I get with every book–what’s it about? What’s the genre? Vampire detective is easier than most. I know it’s an adult mystery(ish) urban fantasy. It’s supposed to be serial style, something you’d see in a stack of mass market paperbacks. But though the answer was easy, it made me think. Sister witches also sat firmly in the adult age range. The bookstore boys also probably did since its MCs were each in their early-twenties.
But wait, I thought. If bookstore boys should be adult just because Will & Émilien were 23, what did that say about the Saintsverse? Landon is 24 at the start of King of Saints, and he’s 25 by the end. Everyone else around him is generally in the same age range, if not a few of them older. Henley is probably at least 26, if not a year or two older. The Pen boys will always be teenagers, but all of the other ideas I’ve been floating around in my head not only dealt with older characters, but with older themes.
Okay. I think I might be an adult writer? I always was, from the beginning. YA wasn’t really a huge thing when I was growing up, so I read mostly adult fantasy. Rónán has, and always will be, an adult fantasy. But when I reentered the reading world, YA was huge, and it became what I gravitated toward, so I slotted myself in with that. I was going to be a YA writer, too. Right?
Wrong, actually, and figuring that out was huge for me this year.
As the end of October approached, it was with a lot of new knowledge. I was back to writing, thanks to Thursday Thousand, and I was now comfortably sitting in the adult age range. I’m 27, and I want to read more stories about characters my age, but still in urban fantasy settings that are not totally dependent on romance, so it’s felt really nice allowing myself to do that. But I’d also discovered something else, and it was helping me come to terms with everything. As I looked back at my history with writing, it was to realize that almost all of my books have been written in a November-March timeframe. The Pen boys was written in the summer, but it makes sense for their story, and it was a weird time in my life when I first wrote it, but everything else?
Is there a such thing as seasonal writing? Or do I just have the opposite of seasonal depression, and I get in such a creative funk during the summer that I long for the cold months where I can hunker down and feel inspired again? Whatever it is, I have it. If the last decade is any indication, summers are never going to be a creative space for me, and figuring that out has literally changed my life.
So, it’s almost the end of November. NaNoWriMo ends in three days, and it’s been a pretty tough month. I started out with vampire detective, and it quickly fell by the wayside. I wrote a solid beginning for it, but I was still struggling with a lot of all of the above, so I eventually switched over to sister witches in an effort to make things a little easier for me. It was still like pulling teeth for most of the month, and there were a lot of weeks where I just barely met my goal. I had to all but abandon reading for the most part, forcing myself day after day to just do it, to choose determination over motivation, and to yank the words out.
And then, on Monday, something clicked.
I’ve been hyping up a section of sister witches since the beginning of the first book. Eventually, I wanted to write the original coven hosting a Halloween party. I mean, they’re witches in Salem, of course I need to eventually write them during Halloween. I didn’t know where it was going to fit into the story, just that at the end of the first book, it still hadn’t happened. As I started plotting out the second book, it was with the realization that I could revolve the whole plot around that night, and on Monday, I finally reached it. It’s a long section. It’s already four chapters deep, about 12k words, and I’m only halfway through it. I’ve been excited to write this section for a literal year, and I’m finally here!
On Monday, I wrote a staggering 9k, and the only reason I stopped was because I had to go to bed. It was 11:30PM at night, and I slept horribly because I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I dragged myself through another chapter in the morning, with my glasses on instead of contacts because I was so tired, but I couldn’t fathom not writing. When I was eventually able to put in my contacts, I wrote with frenzy and fury. Another 6k words fell out, and it would have been more, but I teach on Tuesday nights until 9PM. At the end of the 6k words, though, I found myself at a cliffhanger, and my first thought was I can’t wait to keep going tomorrow.
I think you can probably guess from this post how much of a relief that thought was. After months of not writing, of decided I was all set with writing, and weeks struggling through accepting different aspects of my writing, I finally, finally, found my way back to enjoying it. And I am truthfully so excited to write today. I hit 50k yesterday, so I’ve finished NaNoWriMo, but for the first time in nearly half a year, nothing matters but the fact that I’m looking forward to writing again.
I did it. I was so determined to love writing again that I think I literally forced my way back to it, and I couldn’t be more relieved. NaNoWriMo was harder than it’s ever been, and it may have taken 26 days of yanking words out at the roots, but I’m finally happy to be a writer again.