Get unstuck, then stick it to the man

For a few months now, moving forward creatively has been a struggle. I’m not talking about writers’ block, necessarily, but lacking the motivation to continue writing when things feel overwhelming.

When I started writing The Soft Fall, I was working toward a tangible goal that would have an end point. When I finished the novel, I could submit it and receive any number of reactions. Encouraging reactions? I get the opportunity to level up. Critical reactions? I get the opportunity to go back and fix something broken. Either way, getting reactions means getting opportunities means getting experience. Reactions beget actions.

I did receive reactions, both encouraging and critical, to the manuscript. I still have three full in-progress submissions in the hands of agents and publishers and out of mine. While awaiting their reactions, how could I move forward in the meantime? Career-wise, how could I best apply my time and energy?

I thought writing new content would be the answer. Writers only become more proficient and prolific through practice. Stick to the craft, set a word count for the day. I outlined a sequel I called Echelon Rising, a story about Eccka, a woman of color inheriting a corrupt, patriarchal government who despises her, all while undertaking the monumental task of winning a war with an outnumbered battalion. I slapped a few disjointed scenes on my keyboard, and thought. And kept thinking.

Then I stagnated. I spiraled. I didn’t have it in me to keep writing. You’d think our current political hellhole would add more to the fires of inspiration. And I am inspired. And I am angry. But more than ever, I am burned out. Because it feels all too real.

I want to write this story, but emotionally and creatively, I’m spinning my wheels, stuck in a muddy ditch. I’m exhausted from driving all night. And I want to get unstuck, but I’m going to need a little push first. Maybe I need to appreciate the rarity of a good Samaritan stopping by the roadside to help, taking time to critique my work and point me in the right direction. Maybe I need to check my mileage to remember how far I’ve come. Why stop now, after so long on this road?

Self-doubt is a constant companion to writers. Despite this, when I started writing The Soft Fall, I felt optimistic. I don’t know that I can say the same now. So in times of crisis, it can be therapeutic to acknowledge past times in which we created our own happiness, and try to recreate that feeling again. It can break us out of a destructive negative feedback loop of fear, inaction, despair.

Getting stuck and spinning wheels is easy, but what about when the survival instinct kicks in? When zombies are chasing you and you have no ammo left in your shotgun and your friends and loved ones are somewhere on the other side of that ditch counting on your safe return, are you going to sit there and wait for your brains to get eaten? Or are you going to leave the rig behind and run for your life? Will you let terror consume you or make you more courageous?

Call it irrational, but this old thing I’m driving is my baby. I believe she still has a little spark left. And maybe if I hit the ignition again — maybe if I go in reverse this time — I can gain traction, roll out of there and take out some of the horde in the process.

Or maybe I’ll stay exactly where I am. But isn’t it worth one last try?

I’m not giving up writing, especially in the wake of such emotional turmoil and devastating defeat. That only gives the winning side more power. But I am going backwards. Sometimes we are forced backwards, and the only way to go forward is to regroup and regain a hope we’ve already fought so hard to make a reality.

I’m going to gather my new critiques and improve on anything that could possibly be improved on, and then redouble my submission efforts. Because young adults need stories with hope right now.

After that, and after a little self-care and menial but hard labor at a day job for awhile — or if my novel ever does get picked up — I promise, I’ll come back for Eccka. And I’ll do her story the justice it deserves.

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