Have you ever tried to open your mouth, only to feel your vocal cords crack? Pulled pen after pen out of your pocket and bag, only to find that none of them have any ink, leaving only the ghosts of words? Been surrounded by broken pencils, without a pencil sharpener or knife in sight?
This is how my life is starting to feel.
Not literally, of course. My voice is in great working shape. I have a huge box of pens, and most of the ones I pull out write just fine. My pencil sharpener is sitting on my desk, plugged in and ready to go. And even if all that failed, I have this computer, and my old computer in the closet. There’s nothing stopping me from creating words, thoughts, stories, verses — except myself.
And that, unfortunately, is a pretty big exception.
I don’t know if it’s post-show exhaustion, or if it’s symptomatic of something larger in my life, but writing is hard for me.
All kinds of writing. Poems just seem to stick in the pen, never get beyond scraps of drivel that don’t seem to go anywhere. Articles for Medium turn into rambling messes that go in convoluted, confessional loops that would make even Sylvia Plath do the cuckoo-crazy sign around her ear. Assignments for my playwriting class venture toward the absurd. And my novels languish in their corner of my hard drive, relatively untouched since November of last year.
At first, it’s easy to write it off, easy to convince yourself that maybe stress and mental health are taking a toll on you. No shit? They take a toll on everybody, and for most people, it doesn’t seem to impact their work too much. Now, that’s never been the truth for me; when I get pulled under the current, everything, including my art, goes down with me.
But I’m not in the middle of a depressive episode. Just the opposite, in fact. I’m actually doing relatively well right now. Sure, the suicidal ideation never really goes away, and worries about money and interpersonal relationships are enough to create fatigue and worry. But this isn’t the black hole. This is smooth sailing through the stars — there just so happens to be a lot of darkness.
Then I try to convince myself that I’m just focused on other creative pursuits. For the last month or so, I have poured my energy into a theatrical production, a welcome change of energy and focus that has done a great deal to make me happier and feel more connected to the world and other people. These are usually good things. These usually do good things for my art. But now, even as the demands of the stage wind down, the words aren’t coming back to me.
And when I start to look at the entire picture in context, over the last couple of years, I see an undeniable picture, of how, after finishing my novel and failing to garner any interest from agents, I let the defeat quell my momentum. I fell into the trap that I’d been warned against from day one: that the author must continue writing, and not let failure daunt them.
But, of course, the failure has daunted me. As a person who has failure written into his skin and bones like cruel, infinite fractals, it is impossible not to be daunted by that failure.
It is impossible not to see writing as yet another thing that I’m not good at, yet another empty tree that I’m barking at, because, no matter how much I love it, I need to make money doing something — and it would be really, really great if I enjoyed something that would put money in my pocket. Every imperfect first draft that I start becomes a cruel reminder: that book wasn’t good enough, this book won’t be good enough, because you’re not good enough. And it throws a wrench in the works.
This is not a blog post where I have some magical solution at the end, twenty-seven tips and tricks to get back into your groove, or some kind of paid service where I promise to follow you, chanting “write” like the “shame”-septas on Game of Thrones. There is no magic class or workshop, just another writer, sitting here and wondering: have I finally lost my voice for good? Is this where my adventure as a real wanna-be writer ends? How long do you get to keep failing and keep struggling before they take the title back?
Zach J. Payne is a poet, novelist, and thespian; a lover of languages and purveyor of useless knowledge. He is an assistant at Ninja Writers. You can find him on Twitter and Instagram at ZachJPayne. If you enjoyed this article, please clap! If you are willing to help him pay for textbooks, tuition, gas, and food, please consider donating via PayPal — https://www.paypal.me/zachjpayne