Writing for a Living Means Keeping Mr. Mojo Risin’

Frustrated writer thinking about her failureOf all the fucking stereotypes the world holds in high esteem concerning writers, there is one that is unfortunately true for the pros among us: we’re a frothy and moody bunch.  Normally, that frothiness can be channeled into throwing pencils aggressively into the drywall on the ceiling, kicking ducks at the park and yelling at kids to get off our lawn while still clad in a threadbare bathrobe, but once in a while all our normal anger, depression and fear repositories are overwhelmed.

In these times (after the Scotch and the cigarettes are gone), we may find ourselves in real fucking trouble.  I mean real fucking trouble.  Just like a nun questioning her belief in her High and Holy Husband, when we writers start to fall into a self-doubt spiral, it can be the end.  The fucking end, bro.  This is serious shit, so listen up.

The Doubt-Hate-Depression Spiral

There’s no question that people who are creative for a living have a little more than a minor problem with being properly adjusted.  We’re tolerated because we’ve got a skill that the village needs, just like that herbalist that lives at the edge of the swamp.  People don’t want to come to us, but they know they have to — and we kinda know this, deep down.  That’s why we keep to ourselves, cling to that old bathrobe and try not to get too attached to humanity.

Normally, the layers of dust and cigarette butts and beer caps are comfort enough as we write ourselves into an early grave, but sometimes we get just enough damage to our fucked up brand of angry self-worship that we start to doubt.  Am I good enough?  Am I in the right field?  Am I fucking up everything I touch?  Am I really just one. giant. douche?

That’s the doubt.  The doubt, it’s a cunt.  No one likes to doubt themselves, but when a writer begins to doubt, it’s career suicide.  You know your process, you know how you work, and you just… can’t.  You lock up.  You stare at the screen and cry or throw up or stab yourself repeatedly in the arm, to no avail.

That’s when you start to hate.  You hate that fucking judgmental cursor, you have that you got out of bed today, you hate that you’re not got the fucking job skills to work at McDonald’s, you hate yourself, you hate your computer, your friends, your clients, and all those other lying fucks who coaxed you into this line of work.

Now comes the depression.  Oh boy.  Since I can’t do the only fucking thing I know how to do, what am I going to do now?  How will I buy tequila and pay for the hookers who stroke my ego?  Who’s going to keep the lights on?  Where will I find a new job?  How can I escape this house of horrors I’ve created for myself?

… and so forth.  If you’ve not been there, you’ll get there.  Don’t worry, you’ll get there.  The nasty Writer’s Funk is often mistaken for Writer’s Block.  Writer’s Block is simply not knowing how to start — Writer’s Funk is not knowing how the fuck to go on with life as it is.

Defining Writer’s Funk

I’m there today, I’ve been there most of this week, in fact.  And after nearly 20 years of doing this, I know what to look for and how to throw it a curve ball.  But I’m betting you don’t, because the first time this shit hit me, I just couldn’t function at all.

Writer’s Funk starts when you’ve gotten a little bit of negative and/or neutral feedback (we’re ego maniacs deep down, never doubt that).  Then something happens to complicate it — maybe you’re sick or you’re having some trouble at home because your spouse is bitching about how sticky your office is or the kids are on fire or whatever.

This kind of stress builds rapidly, and, like the incredibly poorly adjusted people we are, we take it out on ourselves instead of exploding outward.  Obviously if I could write faster, I’d have more time to clean my sticky office, or if I didn’t have such a pussy for an immune system, I’d not be sick ever, or if I would have just fed the cat, it might not have died.  Whatever’s going on, it’s obviously your fault, whether you admit this openly or not.

That’s when you start to doubt.  And hate.  And hurt.  And get angry.  And want to quit.

You start to daydream about starting a lawn mowing business or working at the fucking bank or running away and waiting tables as your 35 year old self pathetically backpacks across Europe.  You start to wonder what life would have been like if you had just gone to veterinary school or if it’s too late to go back and get another useless MA.  You start to want to be anywhere but in front of your computer/typewriter/notebook/papyrus scroll/clay tablet.

You doubt you can birth anymore beautiful brain babies.  You’re pretty sure all you can manage are a few radioactive Flipper-kids instead.

That’s the Funk.  But it doesn’t have to win.

Writer’s Funk Happens to Everyone

Writer’s Funk happens to everybody, from fucking Stephen King to JK Rowlings to that stuck up copywriter who lives down the road.  Anybody who claims they’ve never experienced it are either delusional lying sacks of shit or have no actual writing experience.  It’s a soul-sucking industry, this.  It eats people whole and shits out wrecked spirits.

But it doesn’t have to.  Just like St. George slaying his big ass dragon, you can defeat the Writer’s Funk.  It’s actually really easy, believe it or not.  You’ve just got to listen to someone more experienced than yourself, because about now you’re giving yourself some really bad advice.

Step. Away. but not for long.  Take a weekend out of town, unplug, do something fun that you’ve not had time for in a long time because you were writing.  Charge your batteries with nature or Netflix or butchering small animals — whatever rocks your boat.

We don’t get vacations and that makes us believe that we don’t deserve them.  The further behind we get, the harder we push, but we’re just pushing out shit at that point.  Fix yourself, fix your brain and take a fucking break.  I’m the last person in the world to be giving this nugget of advice, but you need to start scheduling weekends and week-long vacations.

Yeah.  I said it.  Get the fuck away and fill yourself with new experiences so you have something to write about.  Everybody’s writing juice starts to spoil after a while.  Change your fuel, replace the fucking spark plugs and get back up on the pony and get moving.  You’ll find after a few days away, you’ll want to work again — and you’ll work faster, you’ll work harder and you’ll work better.

Hi ho, Silver!  Away!