Writing Withdrawal Symptoms

Over the last two weeks, it’s been a busy time for me with the day job which involves travelling all over Scotland. I’m an all or nothing kinda girl so I realised that I might have to put my WIP on hold whilst I concentrated on giving my work commitments 100%.

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Setting off. If I knew then, what I know now…

Also, my brain isn’t big enough to jump from training teachers in a numeracy programme to instantly switching to writing fiction. But ever the optimist, while I was on the road and staying away from home, I packed my notebook and laptop in case inspiration struck. However, the reality was that I was just too tired at the end of the day to feel creative.

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One of the many times I was at a complete standstill.

One of the worst journeys I’ve ever encountered was a trip to Oban when I drove on completely untreated roads to battle through the snow. Between Callander and Tyndrum I forgot to breathe I was so tense. I still don’t know how my trusty wee beetle didn’t end up in a ditch like many cars I passed or stuck on a hill like the lorries littering the road. I drove the 100 miles with white knuckles and in 2nd gear most of the way, arriving at my hotel like a washed out dish cloth.

room 201

I feel a TripAdvisor review coming on…


Room with a view!

Imagine my disappointment to be given the smallest hotel room I’ve ever stayed in complete with its own distinctive stale soup ‘aroma’ at no extra cost. Thankfully, I’d packed my slippers as I wasn’t chancing a meet and greet between my feet and the dodgy carpet.  The grim view of the fire escape did nothing to enhance a wet Wednesday night in Oban and the tired décor transported me back to the 80’s. Then there was the dog yapping in a room down the corridor and next door’s telly blaring.  Inspiration had not checked into room 201 with me.  It was a long restless night…

imagesAwake most of the night, it gave me time to think. I’m in awe of the fact that Chekhov practised as a doctor throughout most of his literary career and said, “Medicine is my lawful wife and literature is my mistress.” But I’m most definitely not one of the greatest writers of short stories in history and had absolutely no energy whatsoever for getting down and dirty with my WIP at the end of a hard day.

downloadBut I missed writing. I didn’t have the shakes but I did feel withdrawal symptoms of frustration.  The only consolation is that I compensated for neglecting my WIP by reading more instead so that was a bonus. I’ve just finished one of the best books I’ve read in ages – Snowdrops by A.D. Miller. I was totally hooked from page one by the evocative descriptions of Moscow and the flawed characters in this fascinating psychological thriller.

So there are positives and negatives in every situation. The good news is that my diary is clear of work commitments for the near future so there’s no excuse for me not to get stuck into my WIP again. The bad news is that being self-employed means that no day job shifts is not good financially. But as Oprah says, “You can have it all. You just can’t have it all at once.”haveitall_crop380w

Have you ever experienced writing withdrawal symptoms? Do you ever feel annoyed if you’re not able to work on your WIP? Or do you keep writing no matter what else is going on around you?

14 thoughts on “Writing Withdrawal Symptoms

  1. Brilliantly written post, Helen. I enjoyed reading it so much. At least you will have SOME time now for your writing, so make the most of it. It sounds as if you are doing a great job of balancing all your commitments.

  2. Oh, it’s a bugger trying to balance things. I’m just happy you stayed safe on your snowy journeys (done a few like that in the Highlands myself). But look: you made me smile describing awful hotel rooms and bad smells. If you can do that with horrid subject matters, your WIP is going to be fab.

  3. I’m feeling incredibly sad at the moment that I’m not getting any writing done. I did NaNoWriMo in November and notched up 50,000 words of a sequel novel that I was relatively pleased with for a first draft. However, I used December to plan for my new teaching job, and since January I have been flat out working for that and finding no time for me. I’ve had to give up on attending the writing group I was so enjoying, and cannot see my situation improving before the end of July. I’m only avoiding great depression by telling myself it’s only a temporary job and the money I earn will buy me writing time in the autumn. After 26 years in the profession I am seriously thinking of not looking for another teaching job.

    • Hi Lesley, I’m sooo impressed that you managed to write 50k for NaNoWriMo! Wow! But I’m sorry to hear that you’re not getting enough time to write. Working with teachers I know how stressful the job can be leaving you with very little energy left at the end of the day. All my jobs in recent years have been based round school terms so I appreciate how precious it is to seize the blocks of time during the school holidays. Hopefully, once you’ve done your stint with this job, you’ll get back on track and if you managed to achieve a huge word count during NaNoWriMo then your sequel will be finished before you know it. Hang on in there!

  4. Hi Helen, I definitely feel frustrations at not writing as much as I’d like – no matter how organized I try to be, the rest of my life often gets in the way. However, sometimes allowing oneself to take a break is a good thing, despite the withdrawal, as you’ve done with your very busy times. When my family goes back to the U.S. for our visits I used to get very frustrated with the fact that I found it impossible to write but I had the expectation that I could/should. Then our own friend Isabel C. pointed out to me that I needed head space in order to write, and obviously during our frenzied visits back, trying to see friends, do necessary shopping, flying off to see relatives, there was no room for head space. I’ve since abandoned any plans of writing during these trips, and I feel better for it. I do notice, however, that on a daily and weekly basis if I don’t write when I have the time to do so I can get rather snarly. It’s best for me, AND my family, if I press on and do it!

    • Hi Kristin, I think you’re right about not beating ourselves up if we take a writing break. You do need time to let your ideas etc download into your brain and even if you’re not tapping away at a keyboard, thinking time can be just as productive. All the best with getting the balance right. 🙂

  5. Helen, thanks for sharing. Had to laugh at difficulties involved in switching from numeracy coaching for teachers to writing fiction! One thing that struck me from reading your post is that your experiences of the wild weather and occasional dingy bleakness of highland hospitality could provide a very real backdrop for a creative work.
    I’ll explain that better. For me, as a reader, its the wee touches of intimate detail that make a story, which is why I usually only read books written by people who have experienced the reality of the fiction they create. Your description of the gloomy hotel room and the journey to it put me right there. I used to live in Onich and I know that in certain places, behind the picture postcard cheeriness of the highlands, lurks darkness, introspection and unfriendliness – especially in winter! You really brought that out. Anyway, I guess as a writer I have to try and squirrel away intense experiences because they’re priceless in their way.
    Thanks and Failte Lochaber!

    • Thanks Tom. I’m glad you identified with my experience and enjoyed reading it. I totally agree with you about using the reality of our own lives in our fiction.I think that’s why I’ve decided to use my own ‘voice’ in my current WIP rather than trying to create something I’ve no genuine understanding of to ensure authenticity,

  6. Helen – what a trip! That hotel room sounds awful. I have to say that even though it’s awful when there’s a WIP in the back of your mind, which you don’t have the energy or space to get to – I always think it’s better than not caring enough about it and going on day by day not thinking about it at all. This is the plight of the conscientious writing. I’m sure we will always feel that we could be working harder at our writing. In your case, you’ve really built up eagerness so those free spots in the diary call to you loudly, and you will go willing! Good luck with it.

  7. Horrendous driving conditions for you. I’d have been in tears. I had a similar experience in a hotel in Dingwall when on teaching business. Makes you feel a very valued employee – not! I get v bad withdrawal if not able to write. It really affects my mental well being if it goes on too long. But If tired writing is next best thing – counts as research 🙂

    • Hi Anne, yes it was scary biscuits! I agree that when you’re used to the having the emotional outlet of writing, it’s not good to be unable to release any pent ideas and feelings. I’m glad to hear that you’re back to work after your bout of flu and look forward to reading your next blog post- no pressure! 🙂

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