Recovering from Writer’s Brain Freeze

Brain freeze is something you associate with ice cream or a super cold drink. It’s certainly not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of writing, especially not at this time of year. I mean, brain freeze is all about panic, stress, pressure, and all sorts of fear-inducing factors, while summer is all about play, fun, and relaxation.

Summer is usually a happy time for me, not because I expect to put my feet up on a beach somewhere (although that would be nice, too), but because I get to have a whole month to write! My library job is temporarily suspended, my translation clients are off on their own adventures, leaving me totally free to write. This is the time when I start a new novel or attempt to finish a project in progress; when I let my mind wander and come up with amazing ideas; when I try new genres just for the fun of it. Pure and simple joy!

This summer things haven’t gone quite as expected. In fact, they took a completely downward turn. My happy expectations vanished overnight when unforeseen expenses drained my bank account to an alarming level. I needed to make money and fast!

Unfortunately stress and writing don’t mix well, at least not when you’re not used to it. In my case, during that first week of vacation, my brain literally froze. I learned that there’s a vast difference between self-imposed pressure and the real deal. It’s one thing to plan on increasing your income with your writing and set yourself goals and deadlines, but it’s quite another to be forced into it. Up until now, my writing had grown at its own slow pace, which is to be expected as I write part-time. But slow was suddenly, and definitely, not an option anymore.

I think what saved me from my brain freeze and got me moving again was, funnily enough, having to stack a bunch of firewood! Being relatively new to country living, my body is not used to hard labour. If I stack wood one day, I need the following one to recover. So I’d tire out my body one day and ease into writing the next. By the time all the wood was stacked at the end of the first week, I was able to keep right on writing.

So far, the positive thing that emerged from all this drama is that it is forcing me to come out of my safe and cozy, introverted shell. Although I’m an extremely friendly person, I don’t naturally reach out to people. But I realized that connecting with others and building relationships was crucial at this point. The need to make money hurled me way out of my comfort zone.

As I opened myself up and started reaching out to magazine editors, book publishers, former clients and employers, and anyone who might need my writing and translating skills, strange coincidences began to happen. A publisher I had not heard of in eight months turned down the picture book manuscript I had submitted, but encouraged me to send more stories directly to her. An ex bookstore colleague now turned educational book rep contacted me out of the blue to ask me if I knew writers, proofreaders, and translators who might be interested in working on a new line of activity books. Yes, me! Pick me! Then finally, finally, a magazine editor asked me to revise a short story for possible inclusion in her publication, and then accepted it after I did so!

None of these things have filled up my bank account yet, but they’re a great beginning. More importantly, they’ve given me hope and helped me renew my efforts with greater enthusiasm and energy.

The moral of the story is, if you ever find yourself with a case of writer’s brain freeze, do the following:

  1. Move your body in any way you can. It will help you stop worrying and clear your mind.
  2. Decide what needs to be done.
  3. Then do it! Don’t worry about the outcome. Just get on with it.
  4. Ask for help. Reach out to past and present clients, friends, social media groups, the universe. You never know who might be able to lend a hand.
  5. Don’t stop until you’re safely out of the danger zone. Take short breaks when you need to and do get a full night’s sleep, but don’t stop until you reach that safe point—only you know what that will be.

If all else fails, leave a comment below. Maybe I can help you work it out. But first, I need to reach my own safe point!

Do You Cut Corners and Settle for the Easy Win?

I’ve never been motivated by the easy win.

It used to drive my gym teacher crazy. Whatever team sport we’d play during phys ed, I hardly ever tried to score even though I was one of the best athletes in my school. I didn’t see the point of scoring against kids who could barely dribble the ball. I got a bigger kick out of helping them make that basket or sink the ball between the goal posts.

The same thing happened in class. I would never answer easy questions unless I absolutely had to. I’d only raise my hand when a juicy problem would come up, when there was a chance I might be wrong. Again, teachers seemed baffled by this attitude.

In both cases, it always amazed me that my teachers could not see what I was doing. When actual game time came along or exams popped up, I never fooled around with scoring and getting all those right answers in. Because then, it mattered.

Maybe that’s part of the reason why I’m attracted to writing. There’s nothing easy about it. And there’s no guarantee of success either.

Starting a book doesn’t mean you’ll finish it. I should know. I have several unfinished manuscripts to prove the point.

Finishing a book doesn’t guarantee it will find a publisher. Again, I have many orphans in my files.

Publishing a book doesn’t automatically ensure it will get read, bring fame, or even stay in print for long. One of my books survived for less than one month before the publisher unexpectedly decided to close up shop.

No, there’s nothing easy about writing. But there’s nothing that could bring me more joy, pride, and satisfaction either.

If you like easy wins then maybe writing is not for you. But then again, it doesn’t need to remain a struggle. If you’re not making the progress you desire, then it’s a sure sign you need to change your game plan.

Start by answering these questions honestly:

  • Are you putting enough time into your writing?
  • Are you keeping up with market news?
  • Are you querying, pitching, and submitting regularly?
  • Are you learning continuously?

Just because you’re a part-time writer doesn’t give you a free pass to skip the steps necessary to succeed. Sure, you may not have as much time as some other writers do, but it’s not a valid excuse to cut corners.

A friend of mine publishes at least one novel a year. He teaches full-time, has three kids, and is involved in various causes and activities. He certainly hasn’t skipped any steps to reach this level of success. I bet he’s not motivated by the easy win either.

What about you? Will you settle for the easy win—or take a chance, invest in your dream and become the writer and person you want to be? The choice is all yours.

Claim Your Writing Career

How do you introduce yourself when you have more than one career? That question still stumps me sometimes. When people ask me what I do for a living, do I say that I am a writer, a translator, or a librarian? The answer is… It depends!

If I want to promote a specific aptitude, then I’ll stick to one particular job. For example, when I happen to strike up a conversation with an editor at a book fair, you may be sure I will put the emphasis on my writing career.

However, if I introduce myself to a new neighbour, I will most likely mention all three. Why? Because any one of my careers may bring me in contact with more assignments either directly or indirectly should that person know someone who has a need for one of my professional skills.

If you’re a beginner, you may be tempted to say, “Oh, I just write part-time.” Please, eliminate the word just from your vocabulary when speaking of your work. By inserting that tiny little word, you are demeaning your writing considerably, as if you are worth less than someone who writes full-time. As we all know, more is not necessarily better. Don’t be timid about it – claim your writing career from the get-go.

On the other hand, if you’ve been writing part-time for several years, you may feel embarrassed that you haven’t reached full-time status yet. I personally went through this phase when I reached my ten-year milestone. I kept reading success stories of these new kids on the block who had made it after selling their very first book, and here I was still writing whenever I could fit it in. If this is the case for you, feel free to drop the part-time part altogether, especially if it’s not relevant to the situation at hand.

Am I less dedicated than someone who writes full-time? Absolutely not! I am simply more focused. Because each and every minute counts, I never take my writing for granted, and I bet this is the case for you as well.

I’ve come to realize that the expression part-time actually means precious because my time is exactly that. So whatever activity I choose to do, it has to be a worthy one. Therefore, whoever I happen to write, translate, or librariate for should definitely feel special.

So, be proud of your part-time status and the next time anyone asks you what you do, claim your chosen careers with confidence!