I’ve been reading Elizabeth Winder’s new biography, Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath in New York, Summer 1953. The book focuses on the summer Plath spent in New York as an intern for Mademoiselle Magazine. She was only twenty, and yet her month in this prestigious position drove her to her first suicide attempt (and also to her book, The Bell Jar).
Maybe this isn’t a good reading choice for me right now. I’m in the throes of some sort of writing funk (again). I’m tired. I wake up tired every morning. And I have pain every day.
A friend reminded me that I just finished 6 weeks of non-stop traveling, and that can wear a person out. I get that, but those trips were mostly really enjoyable—a week at the beach with kids and grandkids, 5 days in New York City, a weekend in Charleston, a wedding in Jackson, a writing workshop in Oxford—except that they were squeezed into a few weeks of non-stop travel. And two more trips in that group included a funeral in Nashville and a meeting with lawyers about some of my mother’s business in Jackson.
So I guess that emotional work can also tire you out.
But mostly I’m tired of the novel I’m revising. Yesterday as I was working on what I hope will be final revisions before sending it back to the agent who showed interest over a year ago (before my car wreck) that dark devil of despair crawled on my back and wouldn’t let go. I stopped working and tried to just be still and focus on what was happening. It wasn’t just that I’m tired. It was more insidious than that. The old demon of self-doubt was back. Here are some of the things he said to me:
You are 63 years old and you’ve been through a hell of a year. Why don’t you just quit writing and relax?
Have lunch with friends. (Do I have even friends who want to have lunch with me?)
Go to the beach.
Visit your children and grandchildren more often.
Finish decorating your new house and throw parties.
Act your age.
I always enjoy the agent’s column, “Funny You Should Ask,” in Writer’s Digest Magazine. In the July/August issue, one writer asks Barbara Poelle (vice president at Irene Goodman Literary Agency):
Do you have any tips for avoiding distractions while writing?
Part of Poelle’s answer was just what I needed to hear today:
I’m going to slap you around a little bit and say this: if you want it badly enough, you have to find the time.
She goes on to point out authors who get up in the middle of the night to write while their children are sleeping. Another author who has three children and two jobs and writes a new young adult novel every six to eight weeks.
Personally, I have a friend who does this. She has a full time job and two kids and she gets up to write at 3:30 in the morning. She has published two best-selling novels and is working on a third. Did I mention that she’s about twenty years younger than me?
My fear is that I missed my window. Back in my thirties and forties—when my kids were still at home—I had so much energy I couldn’t sleep at night. I’d work on creative projects into the wee hours of the morning and get up raring to take on another one the next morning. One year I even got up three mornings a week to teach aerobics at the YMCA at 6:00 a.m. That young woman is feeling old and tired today.
Skimming through some “inspirational quotes” (you know I’m feeling low if I’m doing that) I found this one from C. S. Lewis. I guess it’s just a matter of deciding what I really want, and how badly I want it. For years I’ve wanted to write and publish books. I still want this, but I’m filled with self-doubt today. And writing is such a lonely pursuit. It’s not like I work at an office where I can talk to co-workers for support. I invited a writer friend over for a glass of wine this afternoon, so I’m hoping that will help. I’d appreciate any wisdom or encouragement from my readers.
6 thoughts on “Writing on Wednesday: I’m Tired”
The good news is, I think every writer goes through what you’re going through. As you said, it’s a lonely occupation, and self-doubt will eat your soul alive.
Fortunately, most of us do have friends and family who read what we’ve written and say, “this is good, leave that out, what if you added this?” Sometimes just the phrase “this is good” is enough to keep you going.
When you’ve been working on the same book for a long time, especially with an enforced break in it, you can get so sick of it that you feel as if you never want to see it again. My own advice is to force yourself to sit down and power through some revisions until you get caught up in the story again yourself. If that doesn’t happen, give it to one of your friends to beta read it, ask for suggestions, maybe something will spark. If that doesn’t happen, put it away for a couple of years. If your interest in it has died, you’re probably not going to be able to do anything creative with it. That doesn’t mean stop writing, it means work on something else for a while.
Just my thoughts!
You’ve gone too far to quit now. Just a “Time Out'” may help. You can do this! Age is just a number, and these thoughts only have power over you if you let them. It’s okay to slow down – just don’t stop!
I am always raring to do lunch!
True that. But you are in Mongolia, which is a bit inconvenient. CALL ME WHEN YOU GET HOME!!!
Many creative artists – authors, painters, sculptors, musicians, and others – remain active in their 70s, 80s, and 90s. Some, like Grandma Moses, didn’t even begin the art for which they are known until these later ages. Works may take longer to complete, due to lower energy levels and various health problems, but they do get completed. So, you are not too old. You may temporarily be too tired and need some re-charge time and rest, but that doesn’t mean you should give up on your novel currently in revision or the next novel and/or other writing projects.
I think a certain level of self-doubt is inherent in the creative process, partially because, as you note, so much of the time is solitary. I know I tend to have periods, often near the end of the process, where I lose perspective and dislike my own project. If I give myself a little time for reflection, I can regain perspective and continue my work.
I realize you posted this several days ago now. I have been away and am just catching up on emails. I do hope that things look more positive to you now. You are one of the people that makes it possible for me to believe that I may eventually be able to publish some of the poetry which I began writing at 50.
Your words are a healing balm, Joanne. Thanks so much for your thoughtful reply. I haven’t been to Little Rock since we met, but definitely want to look you up on my next trip over!
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