The Dark Night of the Creative Soul

Several months ago I got a huge pile of notes on my novel, and was asked if hey, could I turn that around by a certain date? I said well, I will put my best effort into doing that. And now, staring at my big huge wall of notecards, assessing the structure of this thing, I’m wondering how anybody could have sloughed through this damn book in the first place.

I’ve officially gone from “I really like my book!” to “Ugghhhh, my book sucks.”

I suspect I may have been whining about it, too, because when I was polling for a topic to write about today, dealing with the pit of despair was a suggestion. But to be honest, I don’t have an answer. Or, well, I do, but it’s nothing fancy, nothing inspiring, no quick tricks here. I just kind of… suck it up and deal with it.

By day I’m a software engineer. Lately I’ve been dealing with some pretty frustrating code things. Would I like to do these frustrating things? Hell no. I’d rather be doing fun coding, building new toys, designing architecture, and ignore the boring or tiring or frustrating parts of code.

But that’s the difference between being a hobbyist programmer and a professional. For my hobby-code, if I get angry or tired or frustrated, I get to drop it, walk away, and pick it back up when I want to. As a professional, I don’t always have that luxury. Sometimes, I just have to deal with it.

The same goes for my writing. When I was younger and writing as a hobbyist, if a scene frustrated me, or edits weren’t going how I liked, or a story hit the part where I didn’t enjoy it anymore, or hell, I just didn’t feel like writing, I got to walk away. It’s for fun. I’ve got enough stress in my life, and I’m sure as hell not adding the thing I like doing to the pile of stuff that drains me. But the step between hobbyist and pro is digging in when you don’t want to do it because it’s hard, and doing it anyway.

This isn’t a judgement call, by the way. There’s no moral weight on being a hobbyist or a professional. I’m a hobbyist baker. When work gets tough, when I’m busy with other things, when I get frustrated with a new recipe that just isn’t working out, I drop it and walk away. It’s meant to be fun. It’s how I blow off steam. This doesn’t take anything away from the incredible professional chefs out there, that I’m sitting at home practicing my frosting techniques or experimenting with recipes, and it doesn’t take away from them that I only do these things when I want, for fun.

(Of course, I don’t say things like, Oh, I could be a pastry chef at a Four Seasons, if I just had the time. 😉 )

I know people talk about tips and tricks of getting out of the slump. Reward yourself. Break it up into manageable chunks. Walk away for a bit and come back to it when you’ve gotten distance. Get a friend to read it and tell you how much you rock. And actually these things can be helpful. They can get you out of a brief slump, a one- or two-day rough patch. But in my opinion, when push comes to shove, sometimes you just have to set yourself down and do it. No tricks. No gimmicks. Just hard work.

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