21 May 2009

Weeding and Writing

The writing life is not always a bed of roses — sometimes, it feels like a bed of nails. Lately, I've been in a bit of a funk, and I'm trying to make sense of it so I can work through it.

For the past few weeks, I've been working on something new, and my mood about it seems to change every other day.  At the outset, I was exhilarated, then I was wary ("Is this really a good idea for a story? Is this going to work? Can I pull it off?"), then I was hopeful ("Wow, I'm really doing it!  And I think it's working!") and most recently, I've become sullen and defeatist ("This is a schlocky piece of crap.  Why did I think I could pull this off? I am a terrible writer who should be embarrassed for even trying"). This latest creative collapse occurred just as a friend agreed to give my manuscript a read; the reality of giving the story an audience seemed to trigger a pervasive rash of insecurity (and I do suffer from chronic, stress-related eczema, so this is a valid metaphor).

In her book Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott advises us to tune out our negative inner voice, which she likens to a radio station, KFKD ("you might as well have heavy-metal music piped in through headphones while you're trying to get your work done," she says), but it's easier said than done, especially when our (okay, my) creative antennae pick up nothing but that frequency. And while it's very easy for me to be a cheerleader for my authors, I can't seem to turn that megaphone around and use it on myself, perhaps because I've just never really thought I was as important or worthy. It can be a challenge to be surrounded by so many brilliant, successful writers all the time. It's difficult to nurture the writer in me when the editor in me is so fully formed and primed and eager to analyze and criticize.  And after a day of giving other writers the positive reinforcement they need to keep going, I often don't have the energy to give myself a pep talk. Sometimes I just have to stop writing and walk away for a while (usually to the TV, where I can find solace in a particularly grisly forensics show).

Thankfully, the weather is nice now, and I have yard work to do.  I've always likened weeding to editing; perhaps a weekend down in the dirt will exhaust my inner critic, at least for a while. If you have successful methods of tuning out KFKD that don't involve gardening gloves and a trowel, I'm all ears. 


  1. Hi Kara,
    Just want to thank you for writing this blog. It isn't always easy to admit that we aren't positive and productive all the time but you aren't the only one. When self-doubt puts me in a rut I just cling to the idea that it will pass and I'll be the more energetic, forward-looking person I was before, once again. I can never really pinpoint what turns the noise on or off but these periods of doubt about a project can serve as time to pull back, reflect and go back to work with a new point of view. Anyway, hope it passes quickly!

  2. I agree- thank you for talking about what must be a common pitfall for many, many authors! I went through such a spell myself not too long ago- and time proved to be the great healer. In the past, though, I've found that trying an out-of-the ordinary experience (rock climbing, roller derby tryouts) can really help to clear my mind/ slash/ make me appreciate the fact that I'm still alive & want to keep writing (that last one only really applies to the roller derby tryouts).



  3. Thanks to both of you. I'm feeling much better about it all this week, after finding some ways to distract myself. More on that in my next blog entry!

    In the meantime, I'm glad you could relate to my situation, and vice-versa. Sometimes it's just good to know we're not alone in our creative struggles.

    -K : )