What stops you writing?

If you’d asked me at the end of last year, I’d have said ‘nothing’. Rather smugly in fact. I would have pointed to the times my computer fritzed out, my internet connection disappeared, I found myself in foreign places with nothing but scrap paper and pencil ends, and still wrote.

How are the mighty fallen.

I have discovered that one thing stops me writing. Unexpected success.

Since 1 January, I’ve had four acceptances – one a solicitation even – and it’s thrown me for a loop. My words just stopped dead. It’s been very odd. And it’s not as if I’m not used to a reasonable level of success, but it seems the unexpectedness of it sent all my own neuroses into a happy little spin, in which they sang ‘Oh, that’s as good as it gets, you’ll never have a week like this again’ out loud in my head until I couldn’t write.

Well, it’s probably true. A week in which one receives four acceptances must surely be rarer than a hen’s tooth. So why did I go into misery mode, rather than celebrating this rare event? Because of that voice that most writers hear, at some time, the voice that says ‘See, you’ve had the best of it. It’s all downhill from now. You’ll never write/perform/edit that well again. You’ll never get four acceptances in a week again …’ And so on, until the writer curls up in a ball and watches TV repeats until he or she dribbles.

So a few words appeared today. And I’ve blogged. And tomorrow it’s back to the routine, whether or not I get an acceptance, whether or not I get a rejection, whether or not the voice turns up in my head to tell me the worst case scenario – I am going to write.


  1. Charles Lambert
    7th January 2008

    I know what you mean. The hardest novel I’ve ever written is the one I’m writing… not writing… writing now…

  2. Nik's Blog
    8th January 2008

    Huge congrats on the acceptances, Kay. Wow! Four in a week is an odd (but grand) thing. And I don’t think it does one any harm to take a bit of time off every now and again – one can’t run at 100% all the time. I’m certain you’ll be back to the normal level soon – it is what you do.


  3. TitaniaWrites
    8th January 2008

    First, congrats, Kay, four in one week is great! But you probably wish that they had spread themselves out a little more, one every week or two weeks, just to keep that buzz going but not, as seems to be the case, to be so much buzzed that you’re wiped out. I totally understand the feeling. But you seem to be very disciplined, so I am sure tomorrow will be a better and word-ful day.
    What stops me writing? Right now I can’t imagine ever beginning a full-length, non-flash short story again… so it’s my singular lack of imagination. No idea where that came from. I hope that changes soon.

  4. Jim Murdoch
    8th January 2008

    Publication is an achievement. It’s also a bit of an anticlimax. Rarely, at least in my experience, does the editor enthuse over your piece. Usually it’s a brief, tidy note saying that your work has been accepted for publication in such-and-such a magazine. And you think, is that it? Did I slog my guts out for x number of days/weeks/months for this?

    I had five pieces picked up last month and considering the fact that I’ve published nothing in ten years you’d think I’d be overjoyed. I was anything but. I ho-hummed, updated my database, filed the e-mails and got on with the rest of my mail. At the end of the month I sent out another half-a-dozen submissions to keep pace because I had the same number of rejections as I had acceptances, a few more actually.

    The thing is, it’s no great surprise to me when I get accepted. I’ve had enough published in the past that, although I’m not cocky about it, I’ve had my validation; I know I can write. I’ve got a box full of magazines to prove it.

    Getting published is a lottery. There’s also the big question: if I’d hung on could I maybe have got it in a better magazine? They’re gone now. No one’s interested in stuff that’s already been published though why I’ve no idea. I’ve a whack of poems that were published before many of these editors were born. Writing doesn’t go off. (Sorry – drifted off topic).

  5. Kay Sexton
    8th January 2008

    That’s an incredibly important point Jim. Why do we love re-runs of favourite dramas and comedies (This Christmas I found myself watching programmes that my parents refused to let me watch because I was too young, now I must be too old!) but there’s no market for favourite fiction – previously-read should be like vintage clothing – a valued and valuable commodity!

  6. Anonymous
    8th January 2008

    Congratulations on the week Kay!

    Work stops me writing, my career. Particularly bad at the moment. I’m drained and stressed more and more just trying to keep up (and when I was supposed to be cutting back), then am two scared/guilty to write as I know that all such moments I should be working: my professional clients must come first.

    I will fix it. I will 🙂 I’m sick of it.

    Mark Hubbard

  7. E.P. Chiew
    10th January 2008

    How very very interesting, Kay.
    I’m suffering the same malodorous neurosis, and i didn’t even have the kind of success you did. There was one similar quality — it was totally unexpected and that threw me for a loop-de-loop.

    I think the trick for me in the future is to neither announce acceptances or rejections anywhere. Look at them. Then….Shrug.

    — Elaine Chiew

  8. Louise
    12th January 2008

    “The minute you become willing to write badly, you’ll be able to write.” is a quote from Julia Cameron that I put on my desk last week. I’ve got exactly the same problem … I cry because I’ve written one good novel and I think that might be it for the rest of my life … But since I put up this quote it seems like I’ve relaxed a bit 😉

  9. Louise
    12th January 2008

    “The minute you become willing to write badly, you’ll be able to write.” I put this quote by Julia Cameron on my desk last week and so far it has worked very well. I’ve started to have “fun” again instead of thinking about what THEY will think. I had very good reviews for my first novel and have been blocked ever since … (Apologies if this appear twice due to computer problems.)

  10. Kay Sexton
    15th January 2008

    I think the issue of what happens after success is a very real one, Lou, and not often addressed by those books on creative writing that profess to have all the answers – writing, regardless of quality, is one answer and another is remembering what Anne Lamott said in Bird by Bird, we all write shitty first drafts!

    Good luck …



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