Writing, motherhood, and weird life turns

It’s been almost two years since I wrote my last blog post. And boy, things have changed.

Baby boy, to be exact.

I was feeling pretty down on myself in my last post. I was also — hey — about three months pregnant and constantly sick. So in hindsight, that makes sense. But I was also really stuck on the fact that I’d put a huge amount of energy into writing a novel that was my best one yet, and it wasn’t going anywhere.

So I quit writing. I didn’t have it in me. For all my past talk about “writing’s hard, you just gotta push through” — I couldn’t. All the self-discipline in the world wasn’t getting those words out of me.

Part of me thought, “Okay, this is fine. My mind and body only have energy enough for growing a human being. If I start another novel now, I’ll give birth before it’s finished, and then I’ll have to put it on ice for months as I adjust to being a new mom, and that’ll kill the project anyway.”

That was fine.

this is not fine

I did the thing. I gave birth to a baby boy, seven pounds, one ounce. I enjoyed my maternity leave. Then I grew restless. I wanted to get back to my job. I did.

And then my brain latched on to an idea and it was happening. I was writing a novel again.

As of last weekend, I finished the first draft of my fourth novel, a middle grade fantasy.

It’s a funny thing, life. I guess I only had room for one big project in me at a time. (God forbid I ever have twins.) But I was pretty sure I would never write another novel again. I was that demotivated and hopeless.

But then I did.

Writing with a 10 month old isn’t easy. Time is scarcer than ever. But you get it done. The words are bad, and you hate them, but they go down on the page.

And then you have a novel.

Writer’s block is an excuse, not a reason

So this is something that was posted earlier in March, but I wanted to share it with all the struggling writers out there. Someone asked Neil Gaiman how to cope with the dreaded writer’s block, since this person wasn’t finishing any piece of writing because he/she was chronically unsatisfied with what was landing on the page. Gaiman’s answer? Writer’s block is a convenient scapegoat, but it’s more “a combination of laziness, perfectionism and Getting Stuck.”

Even if a story’s lousy, you’ll learn something from it that will be useful as a writer, even if it’s just “don’t do that again”.

You’re always going to be dissatisfied with what you write. That’s part of being human. In our heads, stories are perfect, flawless, glittering, magical. Then we start to put them down on paper, one unsatisfactory word at a time. And each time our inner critics tell us that it’s a rotten idea and we should abandon it.

If you’re going to write, ignore your inner critic, while you’re writing. Do whatever you can to finish. Know that anything can be fixed later.

Remember: you don’t have to be brilliant when you start out. You just have to write. Every story you finish puts you closer to being a writer, and makes you a better writer.

His advice echoes what I was saying a few days ago about dealing with a mediocre or downright awful blog post—or any other sort of writing: Learn something and move on. Don’t dwell, and don’t cover it up. Make the most of your writing, flaws and all.

Writers who write for a living don’t get to blame an unproductive day on a fanciful and elusive concept like “writer’s block.” We have to write despite whether we feel like it or if everything sounds wrong and ugly and miserably off-pitch. We have to type and delete and retype, planting ourselves in front of a blank screen until we finally coax words—not necessarily the right ones—out into the open. Writing is a tough gig. But when we are, as Gaiman says, lazy or nit-picky or just plain Stuck, we push through … even if it’s only for that paycheck that always arrives a month late.

Even if writing isn’t your day job, you should treat it like one. So what if the words aren’t perfect? They’re never going to be, and that’s what revisions are for, anyway. It’s more important to finish what you start than let it fester and die before its time. Finish, and you’ll learn something. Finish, and you’ll have new experience to draw from.