When To Back Away

I have recently had to back away from several side projects I’ve been heavily involved in. I learned a lot from them, but there comes a point in life when you just don’t have time to dedicate to everything. As writers we so often have our head in the clouds that looking at what’s in front of us is no easy task. So I’ve had to work on getting my act together and focusing. Lately that has meant narrowing down and slimming off the top.

With the launch of Insomnia Publishing my priorities had to shift away from what they were before. I’ve had to remind myself that I need to dedicate everything I have to that project and to the books being produced through the company. It’s been hard because I’ve had so many things I wanted to spend time doing. I have hobbies, my marriage, my pets, and life to fit around my writing time. And since picking up Insomnia my personal time for writing had vanished because I was so busy running around writing for everyone else that I forgot where it started to begin with.

Being a writer starts and ends with you. If you aren’t writing, you’re not a writer. And for the last few months I haven’t been a writer. I’ve been an editor, a farmer, a church deacon, a reenactor, a violin teacher, and many other things… but I haven’t been a writer. That realization slapped me in the face with NaNoWriMo coming up. Last year, for the first time, I “won” NaNoWriMo. I was extremely proud of that accomplishment, and I started planning things for my book as soon as I hit that 50k mark. It wasn’t finished by any stretch, but I had plans.

Then I became wrapped up in other things. Write this blog, write that article, edit these pieces, accept or reject these submissions, record this podcast, publicize that on Twitter. Bit by bit my writing time evaporated and life took over, reducing my ability to focus on what I wanted to focus on. That novel is still sitting on my hard drive and hasn’t been touched for months because I have been too busy pleasing everyone else and trying to write for other people. Recently I had a few hours to myself, and I brewed myself a mug of tea, booted up my word processor, and sat down to write.

I stared at the screen for about an hour. Nothing came out. I looked over my notes, put on some music, and tried to get myself in the mood. Still nothing happened.

I spent about four hours sitting in front of that word document and managed only to write a handful of words before deleting them, hitting “save” and closing it in frustration. I’d tapped myself out. I’ve neglected this blog which, for awhile, was quite popular, and I have managed to fall out of touch with the muse who has been such inspiration to my writing for so many years.

It was time for change.

After a long process of consideration I realized that I needed to cut things out. I needed to step back, and I needed to evaluate what needed to be done for me to be able to get to that place again. I have, over the last few days, come to understand the problem: I wasn’t a writer. I was all of those things I listed – many of which are important – but I wasn’t a writer. I’d lost whatever spark made me into a writer, and now I have to go about finding it again.

I know it’s like a bicycle. Once I begin to start doing it again, it will work, and I won’t have forgotten it. But sitting on that seat and strapping on the helmet to take your wobbly first few pedals down the driveway is intimidating to say the least.

I guess the moral of the story, for those of you whom have stuck with this long enough to finish reading it, is that you shouldn’t let this happen to you. While life may pull you in a hundred different directions you need to make sure you carve out time to write or you will lose it. Then, when you finally sit down to put work into your own projects… nothing comes. It’s a tragic feeling, and it feels very much like failure. That isn’t to say it is failure, but it’s an awful sensation that I’d just as soon spare you from feeling.


5 thoughts on “When To Back Away

  1. Richard Finney says:

    I loved what you wrote.
    Your words can be a valuable cautionary lesson for anyone who takes the time to not only read the words…
    But understand how these situations can happen.

    More is better, right?
    More opportunities… better odds, right?
    Busy means “good,” right?
    No connections, no one knows I’m even alive means “bad,” right?

    In the world that we live in…
    and want to create in…
    Wouldn’t it be great if writing became more social?
    If working on a writing project became not a solitary pursuit, but something that can be achieved by being with other people, working with other people, meeting the obligations in your personal life and in other aspects of your professional life…
    And still somehow manage great writing!.

    What I think will never change is that the requirements of professional writing (especially when you are still making your way as a writer) requires solitary confinement –
    A cell without a window… at least for a set period of time, every day, for long periods of time.
    When the volume of the rest of your life turns up, the situation becomes a crossroads to being a serious writer.
    Often times people who want to write professionally don’t realize that you need to fight to get the time to actually write.
    And if they don’t fight for that chance to simply write, they end up not doing it.
    This is why we have so few really good writers.
    It’s a fight that often times very few aspiring writers are actually willing to roll up their sleeves and do battle over.
    Because in the end…
    Writing well for an audience of readers is so hard, that you’re actually fighting for the time to continue working in a pursuit that might only lead to ultimate disappointment.
    We are now smart enough to realize that living a life doesn’t have much meaning if we don’t connect with family, friends, and community. And so we give to that in the hope that we’re doing the right thing, not just for our own wellbeing, but for the general good.
    But writing requires selfishness.
    It requires time.
    Especially when you are still exploring what your creative brain and spirit will require to turn out quality work.
    The irony is that when one aspires to fight for their chance to become a professional writer, the mental, physical and seismic changes one needs to make in their life is all about fighting for a different kind of “reward” – the opportunity to daily sit behind the computer and face the fear of creative failure.
    No surprise why so many people who want to write professionally end up dropping out, especially when their lives become more complicated.
    It’s certainly easier to think about what might have been, rather than face down a daily firing squad.
    I see writing as I do most creative pursuits – a siren call.
    In some people, that noise in your head can only be quieted by writing… acting… painting… singing… etc.
    Elizabeth, if you need any words of encouragement, I say to you that apparently the siren call in your head was loud.
    Your achievement at Nano was amazing, a sure mark of your potential ability.
    But Nano is more like a sprint…
    Writing professionally is a marathon.
    The fact you reeled yourself back in now is a sign how loud that siren must be going off in your head.

    With that said…
    Your recent post kind of sucks for me.
    I was just about to inquire about your availability to edit something I’ve written.
    Perhaps you’ll reorganize things and we can still work out some sort of arrangement.
    I know, I shouldn’t be inquiring about your editing services based on what you write above.
    But that’s what I guess I tried to write above…
    Its necessary for some good writing to happen that it becomes –
    Me, Me, Me.

    But I totally understand if you aren’t available.

    • E. Prybylski says:

      Beautifully written and so very true. You express the contradiction and difficulty of being a writer. Being a professional writer is a tough job because so often our writing time isn’t understood as our working time. Just because we may not drive to the office for a 9-5 doesn’t mean we don’t have to have a space and time with no distractions in order to work!

      I would be happy to talk to you about editing something. I’ll need to know more about the project before I can decide what kind of timeline or availability I have, so why don’t you shoot me an email?


  2. Helen Bellamy says:

    Oh, Richard, I agree with everything you have written, especially at the end when you bemoaned Elizabeth’s unavailability for editing work (I have her website BOOKMARKED for a future project). Such talent she has, and insight, too.

    On another note, your comments reminded me of the days when I buckled down to write my first novel. I served notice to friends and all family that I would not be available most days between the hours of 10a-3p. And every day without fail my elderly mother broke into my concentration with a phone call. I couldn’t in good conscience ignore her call, but I did remind her that I didn’t want anyone to interrupt my writing, whereupon she tartly responded “but I’m NOT just anyone, I’m your mother”. And so it continued – a part, I suppose, of the rhythm of life.

  3. somemaid says:

    This summer I struggled to find time to write. I was losing Richard’s fight to find time to write, I was still in the fight but with two small children, husband, house and a day job needing me to work 40-50 hour weeks I was hanging in by a thread. But I was still in the fight.
    I kept writing mainly by readjusting my expectations. I also won Nano last year and found myself comparing my summer word count to the heady days of November. I allowed myself to only write 300 words a day. Some days that turned into 100 but I celebrated any and all progress. That shift in expectations really helped me get through the summer and stay in the fight to be a writer.

    • E. Prybylski says:

      All progress is good! While trying to make “x” words a day can be a great goal it needs to be a feasible one. I’ve been having trouble managing my time properly, too, so trying to get more than maybe a few sentences out can sometimes prove almost impossible. I’m so glad you’ve found ways to keep yourself writing, though! I look forward to sharing the NaNo experience again this year. I’ve got my novel in the outline stages, and am raring to go.

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