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Janni Lee Simner
02 April 2016 @ 01:51 pm

Jaye Wells and Tiffany Trent both have posts up this week about writers and burnout. (I totally agree with Jaye Wells on the importance of writers having hobbies, once writing ceases to be one. Writing professionally is one of the things that led me to become a serial hobbyist.)

This got me to thinking about one of the cycles I’ve noticed in writing careers, one that we don’t talk much about–the cycle of intensity and burnout.

I’ve come to believe, watching countless writers go through this–and having gone through it myself–that writers often spend the first three or four years of their careers talking about how important it is to be intense and productive, sharing strategies for getting more done and being more efficient, talking about how a professional writer has no choice but to write two, three, four books a year.

Somewhere in the middle of the first decade, though, many writers go quiet–until somewhere around years six to nine writers often admit they’ve been coping with burnout, possibly alongside other career challenges, and they share those struggles. I think it’s hugely useful to do so. It’s all that sharing through the years that’s made me realize how common this is.

The first few years of the first decade of a writing career are often about intensity. The last few years of that decade are often about dealing with burnout in various ways. In between, writers often struggle with either despair or denial, as they realize this writing career thing is a less simple (even less simple) than it first seemed.

Sometime after the first decade, a sort of settling in and settling down happens. An acceptance of both the ongoing cycles and the shifting ground of a writing career. A developing of personal coping strategies for doing this for the long haul.

Well, either that, or the writer stops writing. I don’t mean that lightly–moving on to do something else is a reasonable response to burnout, too.

But one way or another, by roughly the end of the first decade, something often has to give, and something often has to change. That early intensity often can’t be maintained forever, not without, at the very least, allowing for downtime, as well as allowing for the unpredictability of a writing career.

I’ve used the word often a lot, above. Careers vary so much that none of this is going to be true for everyone.

But if this isn’t the only possible cycle for a writing career to follow, it is a common one. And I think that’s worth talking about, so that those who do go through this cycle know they’re not alone with it.

Intensity, burnout, regrouping. Sometimes the cycle repeats after that. Sometimes the strategies developed keep it from repeating. That varies too.

Intensity, burnout, regrouping. If you’re somewhere in the middle of this cycle, you’re not alone. You’re just navigating a perfectly normal writing career.

Mirrored from Janni Lee Simner / Desert Dispatches.

 
 
Janni Lee Simner
26 March 2016 @ 08:39 pm

Katherine Lawrence, December 11 1954 – March 25 2004

This Isn’t a Story

I’m sorry, Katherine,
but dying isn’t a story.
I saw your careful outline,
your well-researched notes:
first the heroine died,
then her adventures began.
You knew every detail:
the ghost town by the river,
when the trains ran,
the reasons why bullets were
better than pills.
You wrote and rewrote
the opening scenes. Nothing more.
Because dying isn’t a story.

We argued about story. We argued
when you stopped writing.
No, edit that. I argued. You said
you’d keep your notes and walked away.
You understood pacing and tension.
You mailed your goodbyes as you drove out of town;
walked down to the river, leaned back, looked up at the sky—

But no. Dying isn’t a story.
The hikers who found you,
that was a story. The police officer
with the half-finished novel;
the county parks manager in cutoff jeans
who told us he was sorry,
who told us he’d done this before.
A story is a long drive home through the dark,
both my hands steady on the wheel.

Your empty apartment was a story,
at least once we opened the door:
The answering machine blinking its silence,
the solstice cards lining the hall.
The borrowed books set on the counter,
labeled with sticky notes, bearing our names.
Nothing left to the reader:
no loose ends, no unresolved threads.
But a story is messier than a body by a river,
a bullet to the head. A story is
your mother packing your dishes
and your silver and a fifth of Scotch,
filling out the paperwork
to transport your gun across state lines.

You had a promising start:
the opening lines, the rising tension,
the chilling sense of things
that couldn’t happen any other way.
But those things aren’t a story,
and dying doesn’t make them one.

You knew how to outline
and you knew how to plot.
So how could you not know
what all writers know,
I still don’t know.
I’m sorry, Katherine.
This poem isn’t a story,
but I’m not driving away.


I could rewrite this now, polish it a little–but I won’t. Sometimes, more polish doesn’t actually make a piece stronger, after all.

And another anniversary: Irvin Simner, August 11, 1936 – March 22, 2014.

Two years after losing my dad, I find I can see much more clearly both the gifts and the weaknesses he’s left to me.

Twelve years after losing Katherine, loss no longer seems a rare outrage. It seems a hard and terrible part of how the world works.

There’ve been other losses between these two, after these two. I’m coming up on the age Katherine had just turned the last time I saw her. That puts me a year out from the birthday she couldn’t bring herself to face.

It took less time to forgive my father than Katherine. I wouldn’t have expected that.

I don’t know how long it took to forgive Katherine, only that it was less than twelve years.

Mirrored from Janni Lee Simner / Desert Dispatches.

 
 
 
Janni Lee Simner
11 March 2016 @ 02:55 pm

I’ll be at the Tucson Festival of Books from 1-5 Saturday (tomorrow!) at the Pima County Public Library’s Bookmobile near the Flandrau Science Center and Planetarium on the UA Mall.

I’ll be talking about the Writer-in-Residence program and its upcoming workshops, and I’ll also be holding my office hours right there on the Mall–so come on by, and bring your writing questions with you!

Mirrored from Janni Lee Simner / Desert Dispatches.

 
 
Janni Lee Simner
02 March 2016 @ 08:01 am

As part of the new Writer-in-Residence program in Arizona’s libraries, I’ll have office hours at Tucson’s Main (Joel Valdez) library! In March those hours will be:

Tuesdays: 10 am – noon
Saturdays: 2 pm – 5 pm (no hours March 12/Book Festival weekend)

For now, signups will be on a drop-in basis.

I’m happy to talk about most writing subjects, whether craft or business related, whether at a beginner or advanced level or somewhere in between. I’m also happy to look at a few pages of a work-in-progress, though there won’t be time enough for in-depth critiques.

So come by! Let’s show that there’s a demand in Tucson for this program and help encourage Arizona to continue bringing writers into libraries throughout our state.

And if you’re up in Phoenix, check locally for writers holding office hours at libraries in Glendale, Mesa, and Avondale.

Mirrored from Janni Lee Simner / Desert Dispatches.

 
 
Janni Lee Simner
23 February 2016 @ 09:52 am

I’m honored to announce that I’ll be the Pima County Library‘s first Writer-in-Residence this March through May! This means, among other things, that I’ll have regular office hours a couple days a week when you can come to me with your writing questions, that I’ll be offering several free workshops this spring, and that the downtown Joel D. Valdez Library will become one of my writing homes away from home for the next few months.

The Writer-in-Residence program is a project of the Arizona State Library and includes writers-in-residence in several locations in Phoenix as well, all of whom will also have office hours and be running workshops:

– Avondale Library: Susan Pohlman
– Glendale Library: Amy Nichols
– Mesa Library: Bill Konigsberg

More details and my specific schedule to come soon!

Mirrored from Janni Lee Simner / Desert Dispatches.

 
 
Janni Lee Simner
15 December 2015 @ 08:31 am

How you know you live in the desert: when your child sees frost on the car in the morning and proclaims, “Snow!”

In other news, what decidious leaves we have are falling from the trees.

A good December to you all, whatever your own seasonal signs may be.

Mirrored from Janni Lee Simner / Desert Dispatches.

 
 
Janni Lee Simner
14 December 2015 @ 09:27 am

… and then another, and another, and another after that.

On this final day (and after the final night) of Hanukkah:

Light one candle for the strength we all need
To never become our own foe
And light one candle for those who are suffering
The pain we learned so long ago

Here’s to lighting candles in the dark, and believing in miracles, and all the ways we all have in us to continue spreading light in this world now that the candles have burned down.

Mirrored from Janni Lee Simner / Desert Dispatches.

 
 
Janni Lee Simner
20 November 2015 @ 09:17 am

And so it happened that a darkness came over the land. Some were consumed by the dark, and some were destroyed by the dark, and some fled the dark at great cost, escaping to tell the tale.

Some too watched the darkness approach. “We must fight the dark,” these people said, but they did not know how. Darkness is not easily captured and destroyed. A sword will not slay it. An arrow will not pierce it. Iron bars cannot hold it, no more than they can hold light. And so they were greatly afraid.

Until one saw the people fleeing the dark. “Swords can slay them,” he thought. “Arrows can pierce them. Iron bars can hold them, though they cannot hold darkness or light.”

This one turned to those around him and said, “Look! Those people who are fleeing the dark, they have been touched by the dark. The darkness is within them now. We need only keep them away, and we will keep the darkness away, too. We need only keep them away, and we will be safe.”

The people looked to the ones fleeing the dark, and they saw at last something that swords could slay, and arrows pierce, and iron bars hold. “We can fight that,” they said, feeling their courage return. “We will fight that. Those who are touched by the dark, are the dark, and must be kept away.”

And so, at last, they felt safe.

But they were not safe.

And they are not the heroes of this story.

They are never the heroes of this story.

Mirrored from Janni Lee Simner / Desert Dispatches.

 
 
Janni Lee Simner
16 November 2015 @ 12:10 pm

“What do you do about writers block?” It’s a question writers get asked often.

It’s also a subject on which writers are tempted to go the hard truths route on when they answer.

When I was asked this question, I used to say something like, “Well, I don’t really get writer’s block. I just keep writing.” Maybe I’d throw in some helpful words about how it’s okay to write a crappy rough draft, as if all that stood between a–any writer–and writing was the fear of producing some bad words that they’d need to figure out how to revise later. The truth was, in my earliest writing days, I didn’t believe in writers block, and I did believe in simple truths. Writers write, right?

As time went on, I began to allow as how I did at least know what burnout was–both as a writer and in other fields–and that maybe that was what writers really meant, when they talked about writers block.

I still think I was right that the phrase, “writer’s block,” might be problematic, if only because it carries a lot of almost-mystical weight among writers, and that naming the specific reasons for not writing–of which burnout is only one of many–can sometimes give being stuck a little less power. But beyond that, when asked what I do about writer’s block now, I no longer have a quick, simple answer. There are so many reasons writers stop writing, as many reasons as there are writers.

But if asked to break it down, and given the time for a long answer rather than a short one, now I’d say there are three main things I do when I get writer’s block–or whatever we want to call it–things that, like all writing advice, are right for me, but may or may not be right for anyone else.

1) Sometimes I need to push through.

Sometimes what feels like writer’s block really is just a case of the I-Don’t-Want-Tos or the I’m-Scared-Tos. And sometimes even something more complicated than a case of the I-Don’t-Want-Tos or I’m-Scared-Tos can be fought and pushed through. Sometimes, the advice my younger self gave still holds, and I just need to keep writing, keep my butt in my chair, and get those words on the page by brute force.

2) Sometimes I need to step back.

Sometimes when writing just isn’t happening, something in the story isn’t working, or I need to figure something out before I can move forward. When that’s true, going for a walk, going to a movie, even just taking a shower or grabbing lunch and giving myself some thinking time may be the break I need to figure out what that something is. Once I figure it out, often the words will start flowing again, no brute force required.

Sometimes taking a break just re-energizes me, too, even if it doesn’t lead to any profound story realizations, and that can help my words to flow more freely, too. Writers like to talk about how we can’t afford to take breaks, but sometimes, I think we can’t afford not to.

3) Sometimes I need to step away.

Sometimes there are real, legitimate stresses, positive and negative, that take away our focus or our writing time or our writing brain and leave us in a place where we can’t push through, for a short time or a long one, and a shower or a walk or all the writing pep talks in the world just aren’t going to change that. That’s when we need to forgive ourselves for not writing for a time, allow ourselves some grace, and stop beating ourselves up and making ourselves feel worse about something that just isn’t going to happen right now.

The truth is that I remain, really, really bad at this. And to be fair, I don’t think I’ve ever been wrong to try responses 1 and 2 first–more often than not, they do work. But not always, and that’s okay.

Or maybe it’s not okay. It’s terribly hard, actually, especially when one is also trying to make a living, especially when writing is part of one’s identity and one’s way of being and expressing and existing in the world. I don’t have easy answers to what to do about any of that. (Or even, as Terri Windling says, any difficult ones.) But it’s going to happen to many of us, maybe most of us, at one point or another, if we keep at this writing thing long enough.

Most of us will also, at one point or another, find our way back, though we may stop believing that and it may take longer than we expect. I now believe that if we can learn to treat ourselves with compassion during these times, rather than with anger and self-hate, if we can find a way to be gentle with ourselves, this can actually help us through and provide comfort–something that’s especially important at times when writing isn’t there to do these things for us.

Mirrored from Janni Lee Simner / Desert Dispatches.