A Loss for Words: Avoiding Burnout in the 21st Century
Writers should never be at a loss for words, but there are times when the words rush like a mighty river, spilling over the banks, and other times when there is little more than a trickle of thought trying to wend its way down a bed of ideas. If you’re writing strictly for the fun of it, you can wander off and do other things–you don’t depend on word count to make or break you. What about those who need to get the words out, but don’t want them to be forced? That, my friends is a sticky wicket and there is no easy answer. Many folks far wiser than myself have addressed the subject, and each person needs to find what’s right for them when it comes for writing. I do know a few things work for me, enabling me to clear my head and return to the desk with a better sense of what’s going to happen when.
Honestly, I’m rarely at a loss for words. The right words, from time to time, lie buried down deep. Sometimes writers are archaeologists burying ourselves–a rush of words on random musings can often allow us to sift back through at leisure and pull the treasures we didn’t even know we hid down there. Other times, the words are bursts and fits, so the best thing to do is take a break for a few–workout, blacken your lungs, play a video game–do not beat yourself up over it. Something engaging but relatively brainless works wonders for this–by concentrating on one thing, you free up the other part of the mind to untangle the issues for you. It’s a Zen way of thinking, I suppose, but it works for me. It might work for you.
Who knows? You may come up with a clever idea out of the whole shebang to boot. Some of the things I’ve done which have given my ideas for other things–Agents of Oblivion occurred to me while I was playing Splinter Cell. The two don’t have much in common at the end of the day–but I was sitting there and thinking…”now wouldn’t it be neat if Sam Fisher could do a Psylocke on that guard?” Things progressed from there. Other times, I’ll have a break through while doing cardio, such as “ah ha…that’s how I need THAT work. Something just rises to the surface of the mind, so you need to train yourself to be ready when the little blips come. Some folks carry a notecard around, some a smartphone. I typically file it away in a corner of my mind, letting my mind process whether that’s right or wrong for a bit, until I get to a keyboard and can put it in a word doc. I have lots of files with random ideas and musings which leads me to the last point of the day.
You can inspire yourself. Yep. It’s true. I’m the type of writer who doesn’t usually look at his own work for some time after the process in the finished form. I’m so used to it being intimate and personal…sitting there all rough and unaligned, perhaps marked up a bit, or a lot (once the editors have gotten their hands on it), and it’s like the old pair of sneakers I refuse to get rid of. I know where everything is, and it always amuses folks when they get the book and are able to flip right to the proper passage while I sometimes I have to hunt for it. The relationship I have with the document means I know what is where, but it shifts with the introduction of art and formatting. When it gets to that stage, I’m used to using the search function, so when the book is released into the wild, I’m often at sea for a bit. I thought I would be able to quote things verse and passage, but my mind can only hold so much, and there are words to write before I sleep. While you are playing the current thing, which was my last thing, I’m working on the next thing. I’m fully aware of the irony of making games I want to play, and then not getting to play them. Welcome to my world. I have veered off topic, so let’s move return.
Inspiring yourself often means reviewing something you’ve read and you’ll find one of two things: 1) either it is not as bad as you think, and may be quite good, actually or 2)you can do so much better now. Either way, you have motivation–you’ve written good stuff in the past, so you know you can do it again, or you’re more motivated to eliminate the suck from your work and write better words, words which captivate, transfix, hypnotize, or at the very least have a modest degree of clarity.
So, today you learned I influence myself–some of you who know me may say that’s a very bad thing–and hope I’ll find redemption, salvation, or at least additional inspiration in a video game. I’ll let you know. I’m still looking. As for you, don’t beat yourself. The words will come. Sometimes you have to just chill for a few, but it beats staring at a screen trying to force things along. (Pretending to work is not work, wherever you do it.)
And with that, I bid you adieu!