When Your Writing Needs a Kick-Start

Kick-start:  to start something, to give something energy. Literally, to kick a motorcycle into life. Figuratively, to jump-start something.

Like that writing project just sitting there?

If you’re anything like me, the last few months have been a downhill slide. Slow, sure, but steady. Yes, there have been moments where things have leveled out; you’ve felt okay, things seem to be going well – for me, that was two weeks ago when I rescued this adorable little thing that had somehow become impaled on a barbed wire fence –

Hammie 2

but then something else happens and suddenly you’re on that downhill slide again, just trying to figure it all out and stay afloat.

Like, I suspect, a lot of writers, I had kind of thought that this time spent social distancing and staying home more would mean I could write more. I even printed out the last draft I’d done of my novel Ghost Hunt and went through it, making notes, reading over the notes I’d left myself. When I stopped that project last October so I could focus on the research for the Kimmel case, I left myself a pretty good blueprint to follow. The pages and pages of notes I’d written were excellent, and I was able to start to see where things needed to change, to be rewritten, in some cases where entire scenes needed to be deleted so that the blueprint could be followed.

And then, depression began to set in.

I don’t know about you, but when depression hits me – and it does often, and no, I’m not talking about ‘the blues’ or just feeling down in the dumps, but real, true depression, the kind it takes monumental effort to rouse yourself from, if you even can – I can’t write. At all. Some writers can write through it; some use writing as a way to raise themselves up from the depths, or to work through the causes of their depression. More power to them, and to you, if you’re like that. I wish I was! But when it hits me, I find myself unable to write a single thing. Can’t even look at my manuscript. The very idea of turning on the laptop and putting fingers to keyboard is just too exhausting, mentally and physically.

Especially not when those rewrites are so intense. 

I went through the manuscript in late May. But the more I thought about jumping in and starting those rewrites, the more overwhelming it all became. Because it’s a lot. And I’ve been doing rewrites to this thing for a long time. Add in the fact that I had planned to go to England in late May – in fact, I was about two days from booking the trip when everything shut down, I even had the itinerary putting me in London for at least one performance of Hamilton and the seat picked out, damn it! – just made it a thousand times worse. Because this novel is set in Oxford, and I just do not know how to write it when I’ve never been there. Hence, the need for that trip. I need the veracity, the sounds and smells of the city. I need to walk it, to know the streets and what you see when you turn this way on this corner. I know how the colleges are nestled next to each other in the heart of the city, but not how they mesh together. In short, how can I write about a city that’s beloved by thousands, when I’ve never been there? I can’t.

And so the rewrites became even more daunting, and I said screw it.

And that’s where it’s all sat for the last thirty days. I can’t go to my coffee shop and write in the afternoons, as I usually do almost every day in the summer. And it’s hard for me to write anywhere else. Home is congested, busy, full of things that need my attention. And sitting outside when it’s 102 in the shade is not happening. Besides. Those rewrites. Those daunting, exhausting rewrites. I couldn’t even think about them. And for the past month, I haven’t. Well, that’s not true. I’ve thought about them a little, in that fleeting, guilty way we think about projects that need to be done, those projects that skitter off into the abyss because we just can’t face them. Hunt was in danger of being one of those projects.

So a few days ago, I decided I had to do something.

The fact is, none of us knows what’s going to happen in the next two months, or two years. God help us all. And my depression isn’t going to magically go away on its own. There will be good days; there will be bad days. There will be days when I can barely function (except that I have no choice but to function, or the cats will eat me). I have to accept that, and jump in on the good days, and give myself a break on the bad ones.

So, I signed up for Camp NaNoWriMo. 

We’re all familiar with NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month. But it’s evolved beyond that, and now every July, you can join Camp NaNoWriMo. Here’s the website:  https://nanowrimo.org/

There are a few reasons why this is so great – and in fact, it might even be better than November:

  • First of all, we’re stuck indoors anyway; we may as well put that time to good use.
  • Second, some of us have drafts we started last November (or before) that need to be finished; this is a good time to revisit them.
  • Third, you set your own goal. If 50,000 words is way too much, set the bar lower, like I did. I set my goal for 20,000 words – I don’t know how much rewriting I’ll be doing yet, but that seemed reasonable.
  • Fourth:  it keeps you accountable on those long, hot summer days when we could so easily just lay on the couch and watch reruns of Bones and Supernatural and Dr. Phil, eating ice cream and dreading the coming of August.
  • And fifth:  I needed the kickstart. 

As my friend is always telling me:  “You know how you get momentum? You go out there and you get it.” If I don’t write, the novel will never get done. If I don’t find a way to encourage myself, or even force myself, to write, I’ll never get the momentum going. For example, I tried all last year to lose weight. Fluctuated up and down, and by the time the year ended, I was right back where I’d started. I just couldn’t get the momentum going. But this year, I hit the ground running – literally – got a FitBit, and now I’m doing 3.5 miles per day, plus core workouts and some small hand weights, and I’ve lost 9lbs already this year. I went out and got the momentum. I kickstarted myself. And the FitBit keeps me accountable. I know what calorie count I need to hit every day to continue to lose weight. Just like I know what I need to do to finish this novel.

So I signed up. Did the whole thing – typed up a short synopsis of the novel, uploaded a short excerpt, and put in my word count. Maybe by doing just a bit at at time, I can get the momentum going. I have the blueprint. I know what needs to be done.

And hopefully, this is the kick-start I need to get it done.