For more than a year, I lived in some dark times creatively. The fire that fueled my writing had petered out to little more than a weak ember, something that wouldn't even burn your foot if you accidentally stepped on it. I kept writing, I had regular gigs, but the fun was gone. Getting up and heading to the computer in the morning had that same, dungeon-y feel as waking up for my old day job, trudging into the office. After a lifetime of writing for business and pleasure, I started to seriously worry that all my ideas were used up, the words fading away, and it was time to fill out an application at Wal-Mart.
I tried to rally, I really did. 'C'mon,' I'd say to myself (and drawing oh-so-strange-looks from passerby) 'You can beat this, and then you can write an article about it.' But my muse wasn't tempted; she had dried up, resembling those pitiful sea monkeys kids used to order from comic books. I isolated myself this summer, reading tons of books, and taking walks. It resulted in a few book ideas, but nothing spurred me to get up and actually start writing.
Then, a few weeks ago, the universe tilted. My neighbor's son, who is 13, started writing stories. They weren't too bad, and I wanted to encourage him to keep going, keep striving for success. I told him that if he wanted to keep writing, I would help him find markets. Problem was, what he really loved to write was scary stuff, horror for the YA set. I took my quest to the folks at Absolute Write horror board, and they were so kind in their responses, ideas, and suggestions. Basically, there wasn't much between writing kid stuff, and writing for regular horror publications. It got me thinking.
I am working on creating a new horror writing contest for kids, with the help and guidance of other writers. I plan to have it all worked out by early next year, so winners can be announced on Halloween 2008. It's been a blast, I'm putting up the prize money myself, and it has inspired me to do more for young writers, like contact area schools and get them interested in the Young Writers Program at NaNoWriMo (I'm an ML for my region) and also sponsor a local youth writing contest in conjunction with a local festival for next year. I want every young writer to have the opportunity to see their work in print, or win a contest, or be critiqued, or just be recognized. I want them to hear, 'that's great, keep going!' because those opportunities just weren't around when I was their age.
After I started working on the horror contest, I felt something. At first I thought it was heartburn, or acid reflux, or just the previous night's pizza catching up to me.
Then it dawned on me.
The muse was back.
I was back.
Ideas were bouncing around in my head like mutant jumping beans, demanding to be written down. (Write catchy slogans! Write about thrifty gift-giving! Start a blog!) Every time I look at a market newsletter, I'm filled with query ideas. Every end of the spectrum interests me (but can I really write quizzes for kids' magazines and light erotica for lingerie websites?). It's like having no appetite, then suddenly, you're hungry again, and there's yummy food all around you.
I had tried all the advice in the magazines to get my mojo back: write somewhere different, don't write at all, make deals with yourself, set a timer, just do it, etc., etc., etc. Now I realize that all those bits were about me; once I focused on someone else, helping others, the writer's depression lifted. It wasn't about me, it was about everyone else.
Helping others ended up helping me the most, a very happy byproduct of the process. I recommend it to anyone who's in the dark, struggling. Get out of your own head, and make a difference in another's life.
BTW, watch for the 2008 FangMuse Horror Contest for Young Writers next spring.