Temper Tartum

Yesterday I told Molly I’d quit writing for good. I even meant it.

I had been struggling with the same scene for days despite promising myself I’d push into first-draft gear and crank the words out. I told myself revisions would wait for later. But everything I’d written seemed to embody the freshness of sewer sludge and come delivered in the voice of a three-pack-a-day smoker.

And when I quite my novel, I also gave up blogging. After a week or two I doubted anyone would notice. Yeah, I was deep into the self-pity, so the sense of liberation was bigger than the cosmos.


What did I do with my new-found freedom and time? Well, I

  • finished a book begun the night before (Rock Paper Tiger, which is teh awesome)
  • drove my daughter to the stables and watched her ride
  • walked
  • played with our cat, Chloe
  • drank diet Dr. Pepper

Sure, on the surface these activities liked like things I would have done even when I was a writer, but they were different. I felt different in their pursuit.

Then I came home and my feet led me upstairs to the day bed I used to sit on sometimes, back in the days I had been a writer. Lo, a computer awaited me; one I’d forgotten to unplug. My fingers got busy. I tapped out a couple pages. Guess who powered through the scene, even managed to find its non-osteoporotic spine so that I trust it’ll stand up during revisions?

Who knew? Who could have told me by surrendering to despair I’d find the shortest way back to hope? That by making writing optional again, I’d desire it again from a deeper place? *thwap* Turns out I could have just listened to myself here and here, LOL. Also, I might have remembered the song Thank You by Alanis Morissette. I’m not crazy about the video itself, but the song is pretty profound:

When was the last time you had to be willing to abandon something to find it? How long did I take you to reset your fuse? All told, I figure my divorce from writing took about five and a half hours. Have you got me beat?

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69 thoughts on “Temper Tartum

  1. I’m not sure I’ve stopped, but after I finished An Autumn Tale and sent it to my last beta reader, I’ve relaxed. I haven’t been pushing myself so hard with Guillermo, trying to just let the tale simmer as I do research.

    I will say this: When I was pushing through An Autumn Tale, I found breaks very beneficial. Sometimes a day or two days would help! Mainly, I needed to get away from my own story and read someone else’s words for a while. That always seemed to refresh me. Or play with my cat or plant some flowers, some activity that allowed my mind to drift.

    I was always afraid that if I quit for a day, I’d stop writing, but that never happened.

    I’m glad you didn’t quit forever! ;-D

  2. Yes, taking a few days away does a body good! 🙂

    Many times, when things (including writing) become mandatory in our minds, we have to learn to “trick” ourselves into thinking that we’re doing it, not because we have to, but because we want to.

    Uh. Very convoluted sentence there, but hope you know what I mean. *goes in search of coffee*

  3. Excellent post, and beautifully written. I agree – sometimes, we have let something go for a bit so we can come back refreshed and motivated. I think sometimes, at least I know it happens to me with writing, it starts to feel like an obligation. If I stop for a day or two, the need builds back up inside me, and I have to write or run the risk of imploding…or something like that.

    1. Sorry. I think I caught everyone else’s comments, but you must have snuck in while I was writing a reply. Thank you for the compliment. Implosion’s exactly how I feel too.

  4. I haven’t ever said I was quitting writing or my WIP completely, but there have been numerous times I said I was going to take a break for a while (a few days or weeks) because I was writing such tripe I couldn’t take it anymore. Then I would take a shower or a walk or do something else, fully intending to focus my mind elsewhere, and lo and behold, the words that wouldn’t come while I was sitting in front of the computer began to swirl and form in my brain once I stopped applying the pressure. If only I could trick myself into working this way at will!

  5. Teresa, I didn’t allow myself to write or even dream about writing for years, I tend to push myself too long, to the detriment of my work. Obviously I need to learnt to trust myself more. You sound like you hit that sweet spot a while ago. Good for you!

    Marisa, I know exactly what you mean. And pour me one too while you’re at it, will you. 😉

    Tracy, I’m intimately familiar with tripe. Hee. Have you seen the movie Swingers? There’s a scene in there that reminds me of this discussion, and the ToolMaster and I laughed and laughed when we saw it. If I can find a link I’ll post it.

  6. When I was writing my last novel, I pushed myself through it. I figured once I got the completed story under my belt (even if there were many 2d scenes, flat dialogue, etc) I could go back and revise. The result? I’ve spent a year revising, reorganizing, and rewriting. I wish I had taken a break and let the story flow more naturally.

    Great post!

  7. It took me roughly 17 years (which is how long ago I graduated from college) to get back the burning desire to create art as a means of living, no joke! I’ll admit I’ve never totally abandoned painting, but it was definitely pushed way back on the back burner for that long.

    PS – I’m happy to have stumbled upon your blog (thanks Freshly Pressed), I love your writing style and sense of humor!

  8. Michelle, I had the privilege of interviewing Laura Kinsale a while back. That’s what she said: that pushing through meant false starts, and that it could be even harder to turn her back on the nice words she might have written in that blind alley. Hard to remember, though, when most people say, “Push on!”

    CBlaire, glad your holiday has been what you needed. 🙂

    Shannon, thank you for the kind words. Much appreciated. That’s my story too, although with writing. Except for journalling and dabbling here and here, I stopped for almost two decades. I think that’s why quitting, even temporarily, feels so threatening to me. Guess I better get over myself, huh? 😉

    Jessica, hee. Woot for fresh perspective.

  9. I agree that when suddenly writing feels like work..and a chore, you become more off put by it. When I graduated University last year, and unsuccessfully started to look for a career job, I started to feel like writing was becoming work and less joyful. I had to write to survive..had to keep writing so hopefully I could land my job. It became more and more unpleasant the farther I went along jobless. I didn’t write for weeks until I discovered blogging…because blogging gave me the choice to write about anything I wanted to. I didn’t just have to write about things that would hopefully get me a job. Writing essentially became an option again, and I got right back to it.

  10. This is a great post. Thank you!! It gives me hope. Can I ask what is your process of writing? How many hours do you spend on it a day? Do you physically write with a pen or use a computer?

  11. Geotravel, you’re absolutely right about the creativity coming out in a different way. I used to be a half-decent cook. Now the writing has definitely taken center stage. My children would tell you that. 😉

    Sam, that’s exactly how I feel about blogging. I can be playful with it, experimental. Blogging has been very good to my muse. Glad you’re reconnecting with yours.

    Bookjunkie, I’m thrilled if you feel reinspired. Now as to specific questions, it would vary. In writing-related activities and the writing itself, I’d estimate I put in 50 hours a week. When things are working well for me, I compose directly on a computer – one without Internet access. The harder it is to find the words, the more I find myself using a cheap notebook and pen. If you haven’t noticed, I can take myself too seriously, and that stops the words cold. Writing on something that seems juvenile and impermanent seems to make space for a different sort of creativity.

    Alex International, good luck with the thesis! Thanks for stopping by.

  12. I did not know what to call mine until I saw the title of your article. But when I looked again it was not what I thought it was. I searched my dictionaries and I did not find tartum, so I guess you meant tantrum. I think I am one who has temper tantrum, too.

    And you mentioned “fuse”, I think my problem is that I don’t have one. Or maybe I do, only it must be at some 60 amps high so I don’t easily cool. 🙂

    But I read and read your article from start to finish and I did not see anything about tempers and tantrums. I think I am near tantrum at the end of your article 🙁

  13. Medeia, yours is good advice. I know I’m panicking a little because we have a very busy summer planned, and I’m not sure how I’ll get a lot of writing done. Frustrating, because I want to. Then when I have the opportunity and the words won’t come… Well, it’s a case of pushing on a rope, isn’t it? Glad you are so good about listening to yourself!

    rltj, at some point in the last year I have been given the nickname The Tart. 🙂 It seems to have stuck. The title was a play on words, but you’re absolutely right, I was referring to me having had a tantrum. Perhaps it doesn’t show in my writing, but I promise you, when I quit yesterday, I was peeved. 😉 Good luck with solving your fuse problems. 🙂

  14. I’m stuck in the middle of my fifth draft after performing elective major surgery on number four and feel like the tunnel is endless…i wantv to chuck the whole thing.

    thanx for making me feel normal…well, as normal as can be expected,,,

  15. Jan, this was great–I love that message–that when it’s optional, we finally have the freedom to love it again. Really fabulous!

  16. Wonderful blog you’ve got, and I hate I’m JUST learning of it now, lol! Nonetheless, when it’s so cluttered in my head that writing no longer feels like therapy, I take breaks that can be months long. I can’t completely stray from it, however, as it’s been my refuge in some form or fashion for over a decade. Keep the mindset that you write because you love the freedom, not that it “blocks” your freedom, and you’ll be able to cut those 5.5 hour divorces out completely!

  17. I left (abandoned) my first novel and began on a second which I soon also left. Then I began a third. Is it a fear of commitment? Unsure, but I am glad I did. I was getting brain clogged and the ideas I had for the other books began to filter into the original. It’s not good to include ideas about a 28 day rehab and a man’s questionable entry into Heaven while writing a book about an 11 year old boy. I’m glad you got your mojo back!!

  18. You just needed a break! It happens to us all…my last break lasted 12 years! And you know where I went with that! 🙂

  19. barrymanana: I’m guessing you didn’t need to replenish your blush? 😉 Hang in there, dude. You never know when that Muse will arrive.

    Cooper, that book I’ve referenced above? If my memory is intact it’s author – a friend of mine – said she went through seven drafts before she was done. You are a mere infant, as it were. 😉

    Thank you, hopelesslycrushing! Me too.

    konan christopher: pardonez-vous ma francais terrible, mais merci. Je suis heureux d’être la Canadienne. (le Canadienne? J’ai oublié.)

    Hart, I guess it does come down to freedom to choose it all again, doesn’t it? Glad you enjoyed it.

    Itsaelaine, yes! The clutter! Here’s to less of that and more divorce-free periods. 🙂

    Eviejane, you snuck in there while I was writing another comment. I’m so glad you commented, for reasons I won’t get into here. Your process definitely worked for you, too. I find that very comforting.

    Donna, LOL, I don’t want a break for 12 years. *wails* I took a twenty-year one. That’s the big fear behind my not taking a rest when I need one – that I’ll never resume. Yet here I am… 😉

    Donna Cummings, what a clever title! The concept’s pretty cool too, but whatever. *dismissive gesture* No, seriously, you’re absolutely right. I’ve been too earnest about my writing lately, and it shows. Now I just have to schedule in the playtime and I’ll be good. 😉 Ha!

  20. “Even when I was a writer” — you are too funny.

    I wrote a post recently extolling the praises of “Butt Outta Chair”, because I think forcing you to keep your butt IN the chair causes the feelings you described, and they make us (and our muse) resentful. Our brain NEEDS playdates, so that it’s excited to transform those experiences into words.

    I’m glad you found your way back, and that it only took a 5 and a half hour resignation from writing. 🙂

  21. being willing to abandon something in order to find it again – such an important, and overlooked concept. thanks for the reminder!

  22. Thanks for coming, Abby. Glad you enjoyed it.

    Lifeaftereighty, not new at all, which is why I get so irritated at myself for forgetting it. 😉 Thanks for stopping by.

  23. like your thought: “Who could have told me by surrendering to despair I’d find the shortest way back to hope?”
    My husband and I just re-found the fun of bike riding. How?
    Riding had become a drudge as we trained for an upcoming “kill-athon” in Indiana, a 160 mile/one day ride across the state. Yesterday, though, we unanimously between the two of us decided to chuck the idea. Now the thrill is back. I love my little blue bika again! I’m already planning future trips and adventures.
    Drudge to thrill by way of chucking! What a coinkydink your post was freshly pressed today! Gloris

  24. Brilliant! I just stumbled upon this on the WordPress homepage as I was on my way to update my own blog. I followed the link because I happened to have Alanis Morisette’s Jagged Little Pill on my stereo (an indulgence in nostalgia – the first album I ever bought), and the coincidence seemed too sweet. That line – “Who could have told me that by surrendering to despair I’d find the shortest way back to hope?” – was just what I needed today. Thanks.

  25. Gloriadelia, I think exercise is another place it’s easy to set the bar too high and get discouraged; it’s as if we think, “If I can’t run 50 miles, what’s the point of taking an hour’s walk?” Um, fun, fitness, being outside, community. (Not saying *you* think this way. That’s just the soundtrack that can run through my brain.) So nice you and your husband were on the same page with this. Enjoy your rides!

    Jason Hirsch, my pleasure! You’ve made *my* day by being so enthusiastic. Thank you.

  26. Awesome, you’re on Freshly Pressed! 🙂

    Having got that out of the way: I had homework-related writer’s block once, which is pretty depressing. It took me two hours to get done with a simple essay; but what was worse: nothing sounded right, and for me, who I’ve always been complimented on my writing style in exams, that’s aweful incarnate. So, well, I laid off it for a bit, which is quite risky when you’re in sixth/seventh form and basically every time you pick your nose is relevant to your Abitur (German A-Level thing) — but I didn’t even get caught much since it wasn’t like I stopped doing the reading and taking notes, I just kept avoiding essays like the plague. Eventually, it worked and I got back my mojo 😉
    A bit off topic, but still: I once found I needed to “reset the fuse” with regard to a relationship: I loved (and still love) the man dearly, but he was being an inconsiderate idiot. I told him as much and let my anger override my feelings for him — I was rewarded: One, my knowledge of his character improved due to my changed perspective, and two, he made it up to me. I fell in love all over again a lot quicker than I’d thought.
    I’m glad you fell back in love with writing, too!

  27. That is why I’ve always ran away from writing for a living. I had a discussion about this with my boss not too long ago. It seems that he other bigwigs aren’t convinced of my dedication. I confirmed it, I love the company, that’s why I choose to work there, but I also have other interests in my life other than making money. Interesting though, as I wonder how my attitude would change if I were actually “worked” (in the pay sense) at something I enjoyed doing.

  28. Plus it’s fun to be able to counter your bosses “I went home last night and the kids were screaming” stories with “I went home and was asked to talk about roller derby on a radio station! Hobbies are great!” (P.S. I also (obviously) love run-on sentences.)

  29. As an artist, I switched mediums from painting to metal in order to get better at painting. By making metal (in which I’m not as emotionally invested) my business, I let painting become optional. No pressure on the painting= better painting.

    When you’re all spun up, it’s hard to remember to let go, huh?

  30. I grew up with a writer, my dad. He was an English teacher by day and a writer by night. The thing I remember most about his writng was that he was usually in a dark place when he wrote but the words that came out of that darkness were the most beautiful words I had ever read. I always wanted to be like him, a writer that is. He died 3 weeks ago tomorrow and wouldn’t you know that my own darkness has seemingly released the writer in me. It’s always been there in an on again off again fashion but maybe that was because I rarely thought people cared about anything I had to say. I think when I stopped writing for them and started writing for me the world turned right side up again. Although pain mostly drives what I write at the moment at least I know what I right makes someone other than me, feel something. I still remember when I was six and my dad asked me what kind of things I wanted to write about I told him, “I want to write about the things that make people think.” Pretty profound for a six year old eh?

  31. Awesome job! I’m hoping to become a writer myslef and admire the fact that you could keep going even though you thought you were done. Bravo.

  32. Good topic. I have not hit my blogging breaking point yet, but as with others, I am sure it will arrive. Glad to hear yours only lasted less than a day.

  33. Geotravel, I agree that work of the right nature generally energizes a person. For the most part, writing does that for me. When it goes well, it’s a feeling like no other; well, nothing I’ll confess in public besides my love for my family. 😉

    grummelmaedchen, thank you! It was a surprise to me, too. Eep. Your school sounds a lot more structured and forbidding than ours. Glad you found your mojo. And I would agree the principle remains the same, whether it’s a relationship or a career choice. When it’s done out of love/desire/want, it’s a different thing than when it’s compelled.

    shenanitims, good point. I do know people who’ve left careers in writing because the practicalities did not match their ideals. Especially these days, when it’s difficult to make sufficient money.

    vakadesign, exactly! You are wise to listen to yourself. How did you come to that decision? Did you fall into it or make it consciously? Inquiring minds wish to know. 😉

    thehopeinside, don’t worry about the spelling! I think we all know WP could use a built-in spellchecker. Besides, your words and sentiment were just lovely. I’m sorry for your loss. Three weeks is awfully, terribly fresh. I can’t help thinking, though, how your dad would likely be pleased you’ve found a part of yourself that sounds rather important to you. Take care of yourself, and good luck with the writing. May you learn to access the beautiful words even when the grief isn’t so fresh!

    liac333, thank you! Appreciate you stopping by and taking the time to comment.

    slamdunk, LOL, I hope yours lasts even shorter than mine. Blogging is wonderful if it’s done with joy; not so much if it’s from duty.

  34. It is either in you or not. Either you sit down and write or you don’t. What does it matter if what you write has no meaning to anyone but you? I only write what I want to write anymore and very little of that. As writers, we are only as good as the reader thinks we are. Even then, sometimes the readers can be a little nutty. It is all about imagination, so use it!

  35. Five years. On purpose. great experiment and I learned more than I can say.
    I also ended up suicidal and on wellbutrin for two years
    but anything for eventual art, right?

  36. I think it is important to sometimes step away from whatever it is that you are doing, especially something as creative as writing. To have a “holiday” for the brain and that (sometimes elusive) muse.

  37. No – don’t tempt me. I have a couple of days within which to plough ahead with my writing. Don’t go tempting me with all this talk of options (which translates to hammocks, snoozing and thoughts of the cold beer I’ve forsworn for this month).

  38. For what it’s worth, I always try to remember that writing is fun for me, whatever it is I’m doing … when I forget that, it becomes a chore, and why do another chore when I’ve got a list as long as my arm already?

    Happy writing …

  39. Yes. Some things in life just need to simmer. When comes to writing I guess is all the same, specially if you want to embrace a diverse bunch of new friends. Writing is a great way to re-write our hopes, until it becomes as real as the air we breath. I hope your future is full of Hope, that would invade you. That when you look into your future you are full of hope regardless of anything.
    Hoping the best for you!
    ~Great Love to you,
    Mirian from peelingtheorange. “)

  40. windyscotty, to some degree I agree with you. We have to be our own first readers and in the first draft, we’re the only ones we should aim to please. BUT, I aim to communicate with others through my writing, to someday be published. Feeling other readers are unworthy won’t work for me in that context, even if I felt they were somehow less.

    Beth: “Anything for eventual art” – Methinks you meant that as jest, and that you’ve turned a difficult experience into something with meaning. I hope so! How ’bout next time doing the Cliff Notes version. 😉

    Songbird, augustreverie, beachblogger, Vivian Dixon Sober – thank you for stopping by.

    blackwatertown, you forswore cold beer? We have to talk. 😉

    peelingtheorange, LOL, we seem to have a lot in common: writing, hope, and citrus. Welcome.

  41. I may never be a Mark Twain or Herman Mellville, but by God, I can be the best that I can be. A lot of guys died penniless and unpublished and became famous afterward. You have heard of a few painters who suffered the same fate. A writer lives to get published and you can do it if you pitch it to the right place. Still, in the end, it is talent and skill that wins out. Many are called to write but few are chosen to last throughout time. Keep the faith and write on!

    1. windyscotty, ah, yes, you’re saying to make “success” about the internal struggle, rather than external. I agree. That really is all we have control over, in the end. Thanks for your comment.

  42. Vivian Dixon Sober – I can only echo her remark. I write because I am compelled to write. Some inner spring is wound up so tight, that it will take my lifetime to unwind. Maybe when I lose the drive to write (and to blog) then I will keel over, kaput?

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