Low tide for writing

I love being on a beach or by a tidal river at low tide to watch how the water and sand merge, and how the light reflects and shifts with the tide. It all seems especially beautiful to me. And there’s always the hope that a low tide will reveal aspects of the landscape that you haven’t seen before: maybe an old feature – a rock or an abandoned jetty or bits of a wrecked boat. So there’s hope and interest and the promise of the unknown: all very attractive.

But right now I’m having persistent troubles with writing, and that kind of low tide isn’t at all hopeful or interesting or promising. It’s not a classic writer’s block – I don’t get that, or at least I don’t think I do. This seems more a lack of the energy and confidence you need to create something on paper.

I’m trying various strategies to move beyond it. The confidence is the hardest part for me, and dealing with that’s a fight against the devils of negativity. Still, I’m making some progress. Joining The Tuesday Poem blog helped a lot because it gave me a structure to think about writing (I don’t write poetry myself but I admire it passionately). And the advice I offer other writers when they’re stuck – like making character notes, or revising the chapter plots, or just thinking rather than doing (but doing the thinking intensively, not just vaguely wondering) helps as well, or anyway it’s helping me this time around.

A few weeks ago I moaned on about this in an email to a writer friend, and she wrote back so thoughtfully I want to share her response. This is what she (Anna Owen) said: –

“I don’t know what to say about your current writing low point. At the moment, every writer I know is having a grim time. I’ve been wondering why we bother, any of us, especially since I’ve been under pressure from my paid job to go full time.

However, I’m now on the 18th draft (or 17th? – not sure) and in this rewrite, every single chapter has been ripped apart, most replaced, all rewritten. It still feels like restoring some dodgy old house after the collapse of the housing market, with a heavy mortgage to recoup. It would be quicker to build a new one, but it’s a listed building. I can’t fix the inconvenient structure, just have to make a charming feature of it, or plaster over it.

Despite the multiple difficulties … I still have moments of pure pleasure when writing. Rationally, I know this is because I am in a ‘flow’ state – this is an activity that I find so absorbing that it tickles obscure pleasure centres in my brain and makes me feel alive. Thanks to these intense neurological rewards, I am passionately interested in writing in general. But it doesn’t have to be like this. If I looked round, I could probably find another activity that makes me reach a similar state – something that adds up to a rewarding hobby rather than a hideous addiction. Water-skiing? Making your own clothes?

The only reason for continuing with writing is that you can’t give up – which is crap, but seems to be the deal. So, having accepted this, the only thing to do is to write. When I can’t bear to write, I do the Dorothea Brande thing of writing first thing in the morning for about three days, find it too annoying, agree with myself that as long as I write 1000 words a day I can do it at any time, do the 1000 words and then I’ll be grabbed by an idea and realise that resistance is futile… This sounds glib, it is actually a long and bloody annoying process but it works, after a fashion.

The other thing that cheers me up is the realisation that you’re as good as your next book – so what if everything I’ve written in the past is unlovable and unloved? Just wait till you see the next one!”

So I think I’ll get a t-shirt printed with “WAIT TILL YOU SEE THE NEXT ONE!’ on the front. And meantime I’ll look at this picture of low tide on a New Zealand beach and find inspiration from its beauty.

And I’ll just keep writing. Which, I remind myself, is what writers do. So do it, woman, do it.

4 Responses to “Low tide for writing”

  1. T. Clear Says:

    Thank-you for this! Misery loves company: I’m also in a writing funk, waiting for the brain to light up with “intense neurological rewards.”
    –T. in Seattle

  2. mary mccallum Says:

    Sorry to hear about your low tide, Belinda. I am at ‘low tide’ but only because I’m just not making the time. I have re-found my confidence after a long low time tidally. Although I do wander sometimes why I do it when it’s such a battle to find the time and space – mentally, physically and emotionally – and then there’s so little in the way of financial reward for all that work done…However, I believe I am happier when I’m writing – that, in fact, other things cannot and do not replace it in my life. Here’s a great quote I saw the other day: ‘Don’t forget to write.’ Am putting that up somewhere obvious … I do think the regular writing thing does ‘break the dry earth’ as it were, or – using your metaphor – is the real moon to the tides.

  3. admin Says:

    Thanks so much, you two, for your comradeship & support. I seldom mention this difficulty to anyone who isn’t a writer because it feels so self-indulgent, but I agree with Mary – regular writing does seem to break through the skin of it.


  4. Frances Thomas Says:

    Writing comes back – it always does eventually. Just hang on in there!

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