When covid hit, I’d just finished the third novel in my Sam the Spectator series. I was really happy with how that book turned out, I was feeling creatively energized, and I was ready to move onto a new novel idea, something not in that series. Because as much as I loved Sam, Rod, and the gang, I just wanted to do something else, live in another world for a while. I had a notebook full of ideas so I picked the most exciting one and decided to write that.
I outlined it. Meticulously. First time in my life I’ve ever started a project with everything all figured out. Then a few things happened: quarantine, my laptop died, my elderly dog got worse and needed more care. I found I couldn’t force myself to write a single word. At first I thought it was just, you know, covid and the fact that the world felt like it was ending. That’s not conducive to creativity. Then I figured out that I’m not the type of writer who enjoys a full-on outline. I once saw John Irving speak about his process and he said he had every single sentence in his books figured out before he wrote the first word. Fully outlined with pages and pages of notes. He knew the first line, he knew the last line. To hear him speak, it really did seem like he knew all of the lines. I came away from that talk a bit in awe and a lot baffled. Because the fun of writing to me is not knowing where I’m going. To be out without a net. It’s exhilarating! I found out later that’s called a pantser. You don’t plan, you fly by the seat of your pants, I guess? Whatever, I’m that. I am so that! So my take on why I never started that project was that I was TOO prepared. I’d outlined my way right on out of excitement for the project and straight into boredom. Like The Smiths song says, “I was bored before I even began.”
My ADHD diagnosis has helped me to realize there’s another reason I couldn’t write that book. It was too well outlined, sure, but also I was simply bored with writing books. My entire life I’ve assumed I had a problem with follow through. Which, I guess, is true in the most basic way. But, the WHY of the follow through problem is interesting and explains my entire career. I tend to quit things right when I’m getting “good” at them, right when I’ve started to build an audience, right when I’m getting what anyone else would call traction at it. (I quit acting right when I started getting callbacks, to the confusion of everyone who knew me at the time.)
I’ve spent hours in therapy ranting about this. Is it fear of success? Fear of failure? Laziness? Rebellion? Self-sabotage? I never once considered what the ADHD diagnosis has made so obvious: I just get bored. I started writing personal essays when I grew bored of articles. I started writing novels when I had a personal essays book proposal out (my third) and had grown incredibly bored with writing about myself. When I couldn’t get going on that novel idea during covid, I pivoted again and started writing screenplays. Now that I understand how to write a screenplay and have three projects under my belt, I want to write novels and personal essays again. Shit, maybe I wanna write some bad poetry. For me, the dance steps go: ONE, TWO, THREE, AND PIVOT TURN, AND ONE, TWO, THREE, AND WRITE SOMETHING ELSE. I think I just need things to be different and challenging or else my brain folds its arms and sits there scowling at me like a bouncer who is so not letting you into the club.
One thing I’ve realized, though, is that this is a good thing. It’s personal progress. Because it’s all writing. Before I started writing it was acting then it was oh I’m gonna be a casting director, then a yoga instructor, etc., etc. At least now I’m not trying to learn how to do stunts or train lions or start my own cake business, I just want to write. And it’s okay if I’m not always writing the same thing. Does that mean I’ll never get as much momentum as a writer who sticks to one thing? Totally. Would it be better for my craft and my career if I picked a medium and stuck to it? Probably. But not if I get bored. Not if I can’t get started.
And, I think it’s always best to be true to yourself.
So, except for when I’ve been hired to write a specific thing and I’m given a deadline (your girl absolutely THRIVES on a deadline), I’ve decided to work on whatever I want whenever I want. Sometimes all at once. Because writing novels is amazing and wonderful. And so is writing scripts/screenplays. I fucking love banging out humorous essays and I’ve let that part of me nap for too long. I’m gonna start all the projects and let my little squirrel brain choose what I work on each morning. We’ll see how it goes.
So, to the fantastic, lovely people who keep asking me when I’m putting another book out, I’d like to say: hopefully soonish. I’m working on it; I really am. I’m just also working on some other stuff. And I’m working on being okay with that process.
Thank you, sincerely, for caring. I’m off to work on…something.
*Bored Now meme from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, duh.