Mental Health Planning and Writing

I Am In A Slump

I took a significant break from my memoir for the month of March. I spent the time engrossed in a few writer’s workshops and got some much-needed mental boosts.

Then, the end of the month came, and with it the end of my allocated break. And I slumped. I have revisited my work in progress – my memoir, and revisited it, and revisited it. I have shuffled through it on my computer, staring at the words and trying to come up with ways to make everything pop. To be perfect.

Sure, I have added some paragraphs, and an additional essay or two is in rough notes. But I just can’t get momentum. I am not in one of my depressions, I just need a kick in the ass to jump-start me.

I imagine every writer gets into a funk once in a while.

But what am I going to do to get out of it?

Last year I took a great workshop for ADHD writers with Cathy Kirch. We process things differently. We struggle with organization, time management, and capturing one idea at a time to focus on rather than getting waylaid by the dump truck of thoughts that descend on us and spin us out.

I had a meetup with Cathy, and we discussed my frustration. Here is what we came up with.

I have competing desires for my time right now. After getting my two vaccines, my husband and I are planning an extended trip for next year. SE Asia or Europe? That is fun to think about and we can let our minds go into the rabbit warren of hotels, excursions, flights, restaurants, etc. It is easy to set aside my writing for a day, which turns into two and keeps going. It is fun to daydream. Easy to put off “work.”

Writing workshops are fun too. They are short-term focused time. I learn a lot but realize they may get in the way a bit. At the end of a session, I am tired of thinking and stop writing for the day. I am trying to cram too much in.

Then, there are my two blogs and I have been neglectful of this one, and our lifestyle and travel one – Our Prime Of Life. Sometimes I can’t think of what to write about. Then I get frustrated. Other times, I think of too much to write about, writing cryptic notes and one-word ideas in the middle of the night, forgetting what they meant in the morning, and becoming frustrated trying to sift through everything.

I need to determine why I am having this slump and know that forcing myself into something is not the best way for me to go. Situational claustrophobia sets in and then I spin. I need baby steps.

When Glenn came back to Mexico from California, it threw my schedule off a bit. Instead of joining multiple ZOOM writing sessions early in the day, sometimes as early as 5:00 am, I have been sleeping in and joining Glenn for a leisurely coffee in the morning, followed by some Pilates and then breakfast. And I get lazy. Then we take a walk in fine weather, maybe stop for a cool drink. And I get lazier. By that time, the day is almost over, and I have written nothing.

If I want to move forward, I must do what an ADHDer dreads – set a schedule and determine priorities.

Writing requires work, time, and resolution. Life sometimes gets in the way.

For my memoir, I was trying to do too much at once; rewrites and revisions based on my entire piece of work while still determining how to get to the finish line, even though that is a long way off. I really shouldn’t do that. I need to break things down, to realize there will be many rewrites, and to focus on a different aspect of each read-through. I try to do too much at one time. To hurry things along and get impatient and frustrated. In the end, myself and my work suffers.

I participated in a workshop, a Magic of Memoir boot camp, which was fabulous. The first of the six sessions was with Marion Roach Smith. She has an algorithm for memoir. “This is about x, as illustrated by y, to be told in a z.” or in other words “It’s about something universal (x), as illustrated by something deeply personal (y), to be told in some length of a piece (z).” I have to remember that and write the three steps she says every memoir should focus on.

  1. The answer to the question, “What is this about?”
  2. Your argument
  3. The scenes from your life that you will deploy to prove that argument

My question is: How the hell did I end up bankrupt, homeless, and broken after a life of trying to play by the rules?

I am writing essays for the first of my memoirs.

I know each essay needs to be a stepping stone in my journey to the big breakdown and be a part of “how did I get there?” That is my theme.

So, now, my first step in delving into the rewrite or revision is to make sure that I answer the question in every essay. If the essay doesn’t serve a purpose, I need to take it out or restructure it to do so. I need to show that ARC, not only in each essay but also in the entire book. Answer those three questions along the way. My readers need to connect the dots of my journey.

For this, I need a new MindMap of bullet points. Having a visual helps a lot. I can really see the connections. A list, or typical outline, just doesn’t accomplish that for me.

After I have gone through step one on the complete manuscript, I need to confirm what voice I am using and ask “is it appropriate for that particular essay?” Different essays have different emotions. I have already done some of this in the rough draft. But sometimes my essays haven’t reflected all the emotions I need to bring a point across. Writing an essay is sure different from speaking a story. How do I write inflection and pacing?

I need to make sure my written word fits my voice, and my descriptions paint a picture. I am still falling into “telling” what happened, that is a hard habit to break. There are some women in a memoir group I belong to that are excellent with “showing.” Every time they share a chapter, I learn from their example. I have a quest.

I know that when I had my tour business, which failed, but I am still proud of, I was manic. The prose flowed from me! Delightful descriptions of itineraries in Africa and India rolled onto the keyboard. Some days, I wish I could experience that spilling of my mind. Not the crazy mania, but maybe a bit of the hypomanic, creative energy. It still surfaces once in a while, but medication and a stress-free life have harnessed it. I wish I could pick and choose.

Life with ADHD, Bipolar 1, and Eating Disorders fluctuated. It didn’t always follow the rules. It didn’t always make sense. I want that turmoil and uncomfortableness to come through. But how do I dig deep and write emotion that has dissipated?

Lastly, I need to boost my confidence. Although I am a better writer than a year ago, the dreaded “am I good enough” thoughts are seeping into my brain. I am not nearly where I want to be. I am second-guessing myself. There isn’t “fear,” just questioning, and I want a small win. Something to boost me up. Put some fire in my belly.

There is a lot to learn to be a writer. There is a lot to do to be a writer. There is a lot to do to be a well-rounded, thriving person, too. I just need to figure out how to merge the two and be kind to both.

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2 Comments

  • Reply
    Barbara
    May 9, 2021 at 1:40 pm

    As always, Ria, you are so candid, so “real” and authentic about sharing your life and what is happening in it. You take your reader on a journey with you, allowing them to feel your joy, your agony, and the stages in between. Ah, if we could all be so candid in our thinking and sharing. Along with that, it is impressive to see your writing improve as you have attended more workshops and of course, done the work required to improve. You set such an outstanding model for so many.

    Yes, it is easy to agonize over the slumps; however, I have a hunch that your brain is processing what will soon spurt forth onto the keyboard and screen. Also, keep in mind the many, many, and did I say, many authors who have experienced serious slumps, going on to write superb pieces.

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    • Reply
      Ria Talken
      May 9, 2021 at 2:02 pm

      Thank you so much Barbara!! Love you and your wisdom. Always a cheerleader for me that I appreciate so much. Maybe I should call it a regrouping instead of a slump. And maybe I just need this extra time to enjoy the return of my husband to Mexico and our brilliant lives together. I know that my memoir will come together and be all I hope it can be when it is supposed to and that I need to be patient with myself. Even outside of my workshops, I am learning life lessons.

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