Equipping Writers for Success
The Writing Life
The Writing Life
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by Donnell King
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I always had more to write about than what I possibly had time for. Ideas were no problem. Writing was no problem.
That is, until my special needs child, Hannah, was born.
My well dried up. I could still put nouns and verbs together; I just didn't want to. All that mattered was getting through the current hospital stay without losing my child or my day job (which provided the insurance that kept her alive).
If you're reading this, you may be searching for the will to write again. This differs from starting writing, and from overcoming writer's block. You've been writing, maybe for years, and suddenly the activity that has been as natural for you as breathing has become as unnatural as a responsible politician.
I know you. You need for it to become natural again, because a part of your life is missing. Not to mention a part of your income. You don't have writer's block. You have life block.
Try these suggestions:
Separate writing from getting paid, and write first. If you have written for pay before, you likely have two issues going on: writing and getting paid. Part of my problem predated my child's birth, because writing had become just another of the ways I made a living. Keeping a journal, just for myself, helped me rediscover the joy of working with words.
Get counseling. It's not just about writing; it's about recovery. Not everyone is going to need this, but if you're fighting a fear that you've lost an essential part of yourself forever, professional counseling may help with facing it and working through it.
Read. Yes, the magazines in the doctor's offices and the hospital waiting room are all old. But if life has handed you something that has really thrown you off track, you may have time you didn't have before. Read some different magazines than you used to -- even those old ones. Pick up new magazines at the bookstore. If you've always read fiction books, read nonfiction books. If you've always read novels, pick up some short story magazines. If you've always read literary works, read some modern romances.
Start a blog. You may have done that already to promote your writing. Start another one -- this one just for fun. Give it a theme, perhaps. That will give you a focus, which always helps to get started. It's possible it will later work into something you can monetize. But for now, make it for fun. Unlike one you use for promotion or for generating money, don't pressure yourself to update it regularly or constantly. Just focus on having fun with it, even if you keep the blog private.
Do something else. Yes, you've been doing that already. I mean do it consciously. Get a new hobby. (Mine was World of Warcraft for a little over a year.) It will give you something to write about, at least in your journal or your blog. Warning: it is possible to use this to avoid writing. Advantage: when you're ready to write again, you can instantly gain a huge chunk of time by dropping the "something else" (I just flat out discontinued my WoW account, caring nothing anymore about my level 70 Druid, 65 Hunter, 40 Rogue, etc. If I want to write about WoW, I can always get them back.)
Rent some movies. Yes, you've probably been doing a lot of that already, too. Now, though, you’re going to watch them as a writer. Even if you never want to write screenplays, thinking in scenes helps any kind of writing. Looking at things like scene setting, story arc, and characterization will get you thinking like a writer again.
Resubscribe to some writer's magazines and market guides. Market guides weren't hugely important to my writing before Hannah, but they were important when I was starting, and I kept up the subscriptions. When my writing stopped, I stopped the subscriptions. At the time, they just reminded of what I couldn't do anymore. Eventually they helped get me in the frame of mind to get back in the saddle.
Use some new technology. RSS feeds aren't really new, but I had never used them. Since it had been about four years since I was able to write anything (forever in technology terms), all my favorite writer's blogs had added RSS feeds. In less than 20 minutes, I had a daily dose of easily gathered inspiration just by checking one program each day. I picked up at least one new market this way. I got a new computer, too, but that's not a necessity.
Join a writer's group. If you've never been part of one before, this is a great time. If you had been part of one, chances are you dropped it along with your subscriptions -- it just felt too bad at the time. Now, though, you'll have something to contribute to the wannabes who are part of every group, and you'll get enthused again. Plus, you’ll have networking opportunities to rebuild your markets, and if it's your old group you'll be welcomed back like the prodigal son.
Submit to some new markets. This is a better start than your old markets for a few reasons.
1) You're not a newbie, but if you've been out of the business for a while, you have much in common with newbies. You're going to need to go back to the basics of marketing. You did it once already, so you might as well scrub the rust off by doing what you did before.
2) Depending on the kind of writing you did, going back to your old markets could be very discouraging. Editors move on, agencies change, someone else has already picked up the slack you left. If you start here, you may convince yourself even more deeply that "it's hopeless." By starting with new markets, you remind yourself that you really do know how to do this, including how to handle rejection.
Next, contact your old markets. Now you can approach those former markets saying, "I'm back in the game" rather than "Please let me back in the game." Depending on how much they know about what happened in your life, it's possible they'll extend you an assignment out of pity. You don't need that. I mean, you really don't need that. It can feed the "I can't actually do this anymore" feeling. But when you approach the old markets with a feeling of success, you have the double charge of knowing you can do it again and being welcomed back by your professional community.
Chances are the life event that took you away from writing was, by its nature, sudden, but you're not likely to get back into it suddenly. It could happen, but it is likely to be a long, slow process, because it's really about recovery. It takes as long as it takes.
But if you're reading this, take assurance in this: writing isn't just something you do. It's something you are. And when it's time, you'll find the well went dry for awhile, but it didn't get filled in. You will write again.
This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission.
Donnell King has been a writer for over 30 years and in that time has worked across most areas; as a staff writer for newspapers and magazines, as a freelancer for radio and print media, as a copywriter, and as an assistant editor, news editor, chief photographer, news director and program director. In addition to all this he is an associate professor of speech and journalism. Visit his website at http://donnellking.com.