Monday, March 18, 2013

Learning To Not Write

I can't not write. I'm sure some of this blog's readership would say the same thing. We writers are an obsessive lot. We have these... ideas. An entire plot just pops into our heads (or so it feels like) and we must write it down. It's catharsis for us. It helps us keep the world in order. And it gives us hope that someday, our books too will be on shelves.

But what about when we can't write, meaning: the time or energy just isn't there? Sometimes for weeks. Perhaps even months. This used to drive me bananas! All these stories clamoring to get out and here I was embroiled in equations, or some such activity. I needed to get the stories down and the queries sent or nothing was ever going to happen. The frustration would nearly cause my brain to rupture. Of course, that's when you sit and check your email every 30 minutes to see if you've had any replies. Not a healthy situation!

For some time now I've been unable to write. Due to our current political situation, the funding for the satellite development program I was working on dried up rather suddenly in early November. One would think that would give me more time to write. Actually, the opposite is true. With bills to be paid, I suddenly had to engage the hyperdrive to find new business. The added anxiety took care of any free time by draining my creative spark. I even had to fall back on one of my hobbies to help bridge the gap.

However, I am now very much enjoying myself and have discovered that I can make money building cabinets! More than I can make doing engineering. The trade off is, it takes a lot of time and energy. Fortunately some consulting work also happened to pop up, working on a proposal for a DOD program. It has been long hours too. Very long. But also pretty darned satisfying. Not only do I get to do some engineering and keep that part of the machine well-oiled, it is, surprisingly enough, a lot of writing!

Of course, while all this is happening, I have absolutely no time to work on my writing. It's been frustrating. I'd been pouring a lot of energy into my writing for about a decade. Pushing hard to get out the next book. Sending out those queries. Marketing my work that is out there. Somewhere in the midst of this flurry of activity, it hit me. All that rushing, all that fighting the order of events, hadn't done me a bit of good. It was like swimming up stream. Maybe I'm just getting older, or maybe I'm growing, but I backed off the writing and just decided to let things unfold as they will.

The transformation in my own life has been remarkable. I sleep better. My wife sort of likes me again. Exercise is more enjoyable. The work I am doing is more satisfying. I get more relaxation from just reading, instead of constantly comparing. Sure, sometimes I get hit with that frantic feeling that I'm missing writing opportunities. That if I had just sent that query!!! But then I force myself to remember that hurrying doesn't help. I've tried it. Things will unfold as they will. I will write when I can. Market when I can. But live TODAY.

At the moment, I'm wrapping up two projects and have no time to write. At the same time, one of my books is a finalist for an award. Sales aren't too bad - considering I'm doing ZERO marketing. Some incredible (non-writing) opportunities have sort of materialized out of thin air. And, I'm making great progress on my next novel. That's right. I'm writing my next novel. Or rather, doing some reordering and revision of the last draft. Without all that frustration and anger I find I'm able to get a lot more done in my head. So, in the next few weeks when things calm down a little, I can start fresh and ready, with a host of ideas to turn this next project into what I really want it to be.

All of which leaves me wondering: Were I writing in frustrated anger, forcing out pages, would I be able to convey the messages I really want to share? Or would my frustration come out, and chase everyone away? Maybe sometimes, not writing is good. You just have to learn how to do it.

Until next time,

John C. Brewer is the author of Multiplayer an MMOG YA SF novel, and The Silla Project, a North Korean nuclear romance. You can learn more about him and what he is doing at his website,


  1. I think it's totally understandable that you're not writing right now, because sometimes other work and life in general have to take priority. I haven't been writing either; at least I haven't been writing fiction. I've had to spend all my free time on academic writing, because I work on my dissertation. It's not as interesting or as fun as fiction writing, but it needs to be done. I miss writing my own stories, though.

  2. Some times you gotta do what you gotta do, John. I think taking long writing breaks are a good thing. I do it all the time--though I never really stop writing. Freelance work takes up a lot of my time, but I do feel refocused when I return to the fun stuff.

  3. As I blogged about a few weeks ago, proposal writing uses many of the skills I developed in writing fiction. I wonder how the government would feel about a proposal with characters and a plot...?