Self-Absorbed Musings About My Writing; Feel Free To Skip

I’ve been thinking a lot about writing for the past twenty plus years (I started in 1991). I’ve been thinking about it a lot more since I started teaching the publishing class at McDaniel three weeks ago (there’s the blind leading the blind). One of the things I forced my hapless students to do was examine what they wanted from a writing career and beyond that, lurking in the subtext, why they wrote. It’s a big question for me because I was not born to write novels. I think I was born to sit on a bed with one or more rescued dachshunds and read novels; at least that’s what comes naturally to me. And yet there are these stories in my head. The problem is, I’m having a helluva time writing them.

My closest friend is a natural storyteller. She got her first publication at eight–just ask her, she’ll tell you–and never stopped. She’s been going through hell the last ten years or so but she never stopped writing. She can’t stop writing. She writes the way I eat pizza, because it’s there. If they stopped paying her tomorrow, she’d still write. It’s in her blood, it’s part of who she is. I admire that, I envy that, I don’t have that.

I think I became a writer because I read so much. I loved what Georgette Heyer and Mary Stewart and Margery Allingham and Michael Gilbert and Rex Stout and Emma Lathen and all the rest did for me. No matter how awful things were as I was growing up, there were books and they had worlds in them. My favorite book of all time is a YA called Green As Spring that I read so many times that its language is part of my writer DNA. It was a romance novel about Frannie Gay, a high school student in the fifties (forties?), a much more innocent time, who one day realizes that she’s in love with her best friend. I loved that realization scene: she’s in a swimming pool with all of her friends (great community in that book), treading water, her nose just above the surface, when she realizes what’s happening and almost drowns from the shock. I loved the pairing of the thought and action, the shock of the thought and the water up her nose, drowning in emotion and chlorine. And there was all this wonderful dialogue because everybody got the best lines. I loved that world, those people, I wanted to be Frannie Gay who after many trials and tribulations gets the boy at the Big Dance, telling him that she’ll be dating a college guy, too, and then smiling as he bends to kiss her. At some point in one of many re-reads, I realized that I didn’t just want to read Green as Spring, I wanted to write it.

And with that realization, I got water up my nose. Because much like Frannie knows it’s impossible that she’ll ever have Michael, I knew it was impossible that I could become a published writer. I wasn’t smart enough, I didn’t have enough worldly experience, I was all hat and no cattle (all talk and no plot?), it was never going to happen. If you’ve ever read Sizzle, my first book (although not the first one published), you’ll know how right I was. Or at least how clueless. I think what saved me was the need to win. I don’t need to defeat other people; what other people are doing has nothing to do with me. But I sure as hell need not to fail. Add a good dose of hypomania into that, and I became an absolute fanatic about learning to write fiction. I read books, I took classes, I made people who were good readers read my stuff and tell me brutally what wasn’t working, I slaved at my craft. That part was all right, that made sense, that was controllable. But that was only half of it. The other half was the voices in my head.

It always sounds so cute: I have voices in my head. Well, they’re cute because they’re not telling me to save France or blow up Congress, they just chat away. Sometimes they talk dirty to each other. Sometimes they have big fights. They do a LOT of wisecracking. But they start talking and I write them down and then, somewhere along the way, I find a story in the chat, and I start thinking about antagonists and all the craft stuff and about eighteen months later there’s a book. Which I then revise twenty times, but hey, it’s a book. It’s what I call my truck draft; I give it to Jen and tell her that it’s not where I want it to be, but if I get hit by a truck, she can publish it. That worked really well until I hit menopause, and something happened to my brain chemistry, and the voices went away.

I can’t begin to tell you how lonely that was. And terrifying because by that point, the voices in my head were paying my electric bill, but mostly just lonely. An entire inner life full of people in my brain just went away. Every now and then a crumpled ball of paper would blow across the dusty floor up there, but mostly it was just silence. And silence for me meant failure. And I do not fail. Cue small mental breakdown.

It was about that time that I started collaborating. For those of you who’ve wondered: I had to. I couldn’t write on my own. If you’ve read my parts of Don’t Look Down, you can see my problem. I’m there, I’m trying, I’ve got the craft down, but aside from the Wonder Woman scene and a couple of others, the voices never came back. (And a big thank you to Bob Mayer for carrying me on that book.) Writing with Eileen and Krissie in The Unfortunate Miss Fortunes was a little better; Mare was a gift as soon as she showed up in full battle gear, and she’s still one of my top fave heroines. And then came Agnes. Agnes didn’t just talk in my head, she snarled; I had to type faster than I ever had before just to get it all down before the silence came back. Because that was the problem, the silence kept coming back. I’d think, “Now I have it again!” and it would disappear like mist in the sun, just gone.

I stuck with collaborations and loved both of the next ones, but I knew I had to write alone again, just for my own mental health. And then the universe sent me a gift: two little girls who came as a package deal with a friend who moved in with me. Two incredibly smart, incredibly emotional, incredibly vocal little girls who made me look at everything in a different way. And because of them, one day, a book I’d been working on and getting nowhere suddenly came to life because there was Alice in my head, and when Alice started talking, Andie answered, and then North entered the conversation, and Southie and May and Carter and Lydia and Flo and Isolde and Dennis and pretty soon, I was typing fast again because they all had so much to say. And then I finished the book, and the voices went away, and that crumpled paper skittered across the dust in my brain again.

At this point I’m getting boring because I haven’t made my point, so I’ll get to it. Because I wasn’t born to be a writer, because I don’t think in story, because I cannot write fiction unless I can hear the damn voices, I don’t have a lot of control over what I write. I have friends who plan stories, who say, “This is what I’m going to do next and after that I’ll do this,” and then–this is the part that astounds me–they write those stories. They get the idea, they develop it into a story, they send it to their editors. They’re born writers. Meanwhile, I have readers who are annoyed because I haven’t written a sequel to Bet Me. Aside from the fact that there can’t be a sequel to Bet Me because of the last chapter, I would so write a sequel to that book if I could. I would do it in a New York minute. Bet Me Again. Bet You. Bet Me in Space. Bet Me with Zombies. Hell yes, I’d write those. I just can’t hear the voices. (Although Bet Me with Zombies has huge potential . . .)

Worse than that, I get partial voices. I have scenes that are so vivid in my head that I have to write them down. I love these people. I love where these stories could go. I have an entire world built for a fantasy series. But the damn voices don’t stay. So I try to write without the voices and seriously, it’s very bad. So I have You Again, the reboot with some lovely scenes between Zelda and a ghost out on the terrace. I have two short stories started in that fairy tale world I built, love them, love the characters, they’ve stopped talking. I have a great novella about Alice in middle school started; Alice is evidently now sulking in her room. I have another novella I like, great premise, love the angry heroine, she threw her fit and now, as Pink Martini sings, she’s gone.

Those of you thinking that real writers don’t wait for inspiration are right. As I have mentioned before, I’m not a Real Writer. Every book I’ve written has been a mixture of voices because my brain chemistry is a little off and a helluva lot of craft building. You just-put-your-butt-in-the-chair people would not like what happens when I just put my butt in my chair. Proof: I tried to finish You Again after the voices went away, and my editor rejected it even though it was under contract. I found that manuscript a couple of weeks ago and tried to read it, and it was incoherent. When a book is so bad that Jen Enderlin can’t fix it, a writer has a problem.

So this is an interesting stage in my career. (May you live in interesting times.) I have the stories I want to write. I know how to write them thanks to a million years of studying craft. I have contracts for them. They’re marketable as all hell. And yet . . .

I tell myself it’s because my life has been so chaotic and awful for the past three years. I tell myself that now that I’m in a great place emotionally and physically, that the voices will come back, especially once I get this cottage out of derelict stage which should be by August (not finished, just not tripping over lumber and looking at the basement through the hole in my kitchen floor). I want to write You Again, I want to write the Liz books, I want to write the Fairy Tale Lies stories, I want to write the “Cold Hearts” and “Spooky Alice” novellas. Beyond that, I want to write Haunting Alice and Stealing Nadine. I know how to write all of those stories. All I need now is the voices.


So I’m thinking of moving to non-fiction. I don’t need no stinkin’ voices for that. But still, deep down inside, there’s one last little voice that I think belongs to Frannie Gay saying, “I didn’t give up, why the hell are you?” So maybe I’ll try again. The voices used to come at night. I could get candles. Sacrifice a chicken. There must be a way.

Apologizing if you made it this far. It really was all about me, nothing entertaining in there, but it feels good to verbalize it. I’d try to write something entertaining to make up for all this navel-gazing, but it’s finally dark, so I’m going to take my laptop and go sit in the bed with the lights off and wait. I don’t have a chicken, so it’ll just have to be dumb luck. Which come to think of it, is how I got this far. It could work.

I hope.

188 thoughts on “Self-Absorbed Musings About My Writing; Feel Free To Skip

  1. Hi Jennifer, sorry to hear that the voices have stopped. I am a huge fan of your stories, one of my favorites is Agnes and the Hitman…hope the voices come back soon. If this is the joy that menopause brings… I can wait!

      1. That’s easy: no more bleeding (or tampons, or worrying about when your period falls in relation to your planned beach vacation…not that most of us get beach vacations, but you know what I mean).

    1. I stepped on a light bulb in my bare feet last Monday. Is that close enough? (All healed up now, no worries, but at the time, I thought, “Must clean more often. How the hell did a light bulb get on the floor?”

  2. Now, I know you don’t drink alcohol, but here’s an idea.
    Wine loosens the tongue. If it loosens the tongue wouldn’t it also loosen the voices in the head…I mean it’s worth a try? Maybe when we try so hard to do it–to hear the voices, to put those voices into the written word–a part of our brain freezes up. There can’t be control. We have to let go of the control and just be. We need to be uninhibited. Let the voices come. Write the words in a stream of intoxicated (mildly) stream of consciousness and see what happens.
    I know. Smack my hand. Encouraging a non-drinker to drink. I am guilty. I am soooooo bad. I’ll go sit in the corner now. ; )
    Oh, but BTW, I adore this post. Absolutely love it!

    1. Totally, Robena. I can write most of my stories clear minded, but when I have to get down and dirty with the sex (well, that’s what Ellora’s Cave readers like, right?) then it’s red wine and fountain pen and yellow pad time.

    2. Can’t drink alcohol. No caffeine, no alcohol, no crowds, or I get manic, and then it all goes to hell. Also, I don’t like the way it tastes.
      If only Diet Coke had that effect . . .

      1. Try copious amounts of Mtn Dew and Sour Cream and Onion chips. For some reason the combination results in crazy bordering on DUI intoxication levels. Or get a terrible bout of insomnia, the other day I swear the couch spoke to me. Seriously, I am a fan, was a cherry, and miss your stuff. The voices in my head keep me sane-ish, I will send good juju your way in the hope they return.

  3. It could work. Honestly, (I’m not trying to be an apologist here) I think the teaching has zapped it for you. It does for me. You were not only coming up with lesson plans and grading, you were coming up with all your own materials too. And moving. And life.

    Yes, I know you’ve taught before, but I would also guess that you weren’t starting from scratch all the time, and that you’d had some things you knew would work and go back to. And you didn’t have to create your own textbooks – at least not entirely.

    Teaching is draining. This is why I’m seriously considering leaving. A lot of work, and now even fewer classes while gas prices go higher, all to make sure that I don’t get any benefits. God forbid the adjunct faculty gets treated like real people… (Yeah, I know, bitter much here?)

    But I think even if you do the academy again, it will be easier this time, and maybe your voices will have a chance to clear their throats some.

    Best wishes.

    1. I’ll agree that teaching is draining. As is lots of blog writing, especially if you have to work at writing. That’s me. I have to work at writing. It isn’t like breathing for me (as it is for some people.) I have to make myself work. (Or as my husband says…that’s why it’s called WORK and not play!)

    2. The curriculum has been tough, especially on my poor students who have to put up with how disorganized I am, but it’s also been really, really good for me to have to articulate what I know about writing. And I’ve learned so much from them, they’re so damn smart and focused, that I really think the teaching is what’s kept me grounded this last year. Plus the curriculum is almost done. I still have to figure out the best reading list, but that’s just reading a lot of novels. I can do that.

      1. Jenny, don’t you DARE leave teaching yet! I have learned so much from you…from everyone in this program! I can’t even begin to articulate how much more confident I am about my own ability to write, and I promise I owe almost all of it to you. Jeez, it brings tears to my eyes just the THOUGHT of you leaving teaching! I am eagerly looking forward to next year’s workshops. So hang in there for a little while longer, please!

        As for your missing voices, I’m sorry. I hope they return soon. I hope a little less stress coming your way from school and the house will help.

        1. Oh, I’m not leaving next year. I want the workshops with you guys so I can see the finished books.
          I just need to get the curriculum done. And the house livable. I’m getting there.
          No worries about next year. Wouldn’t dream of not finishing with you guys.

          And thank you for saying such nice things about the program, too.

          1. The next time I’m on the east coast visiting my sister (she lives about an hour from you), I will happily make myself available for a day of “whatever Jenny needs to get done around the house.” A) I like doing that kind of stuff and my husband won’t let me tear anything down here, and B) everyone could use an extra hand now and then. Consider it an open offer. 🙂

          2. Well, we should definitely have lunch. It’ll give me an opportunity to quiz you in person.
            “So Jeannine, in Module Three of 524, we discussed metaphor. Using the hamburger in front of you as the vehicle, what is the tenor?”

  4. Jenny – That was such a coherent summary of what has gone on and is now going on in your head. I don’t know how to help you change that. I do know, when you write again, I will read it. And I know, writing or not writing, I adore you.

  5. So. Um. It requires a writer to so eloquently assemble the words to make such an emotional, potent blog post. You’ve just captured something all of us run into–that fear that the words won’t come, no matter how good the ideas. As someone who is 37 years old, hearing your concern that menopause drove the voices away gives me the willies.

    But setting that aside, I wonder if you might not be in that place where couples end up when they’re so desperately trying to have children. Their relationship is nothing but ovulation charts and pregnancy tests. They try IVF and home remedies. They nearly destroy their relationship trying so hard to have a child. And then they step back and say, okay, we’ll try to be happy with who we are and what we have and they throw their names into the adoption ring and a year later, when she thinks she’s going into menopause, she finds out she’s pregnant.

    Maybe for you, doing something different for a while is the right thing to do. Maybe this is the time to write nonfiction or paint your house or teach classes. Every blog post you write is a story, whether it’s analyzing a movie or telling us about trying to get your office in order. As long as you feel what you are doing is important and matters, go for it. We’ll still love you and cherish what you share with us.

    1. Thank you. Actually, nobody is pressuring me to write. My daughter/business partner has told me if I never write again, it’s fine, no worries. My editor, who is sitting on four books worth of contracts that are now about three years overdue, has told me that when I’m ready to write again, she’ll be there, absolutely no pressure. My agent, who is ready to sell anything I write, has told me to let her know if I need her for anything and takes me out for lunch whenever I’m in the city and laughs with me. I have to be the least pressured writing in publishing. Also the luckiest.

  6. Well, I’d say the short version is that if YOU have changed (and it sounds like you have) then the logical corollary is that your writing process needs to change.

    I came through years of a very rough career and several more years of a chaotic and stressful life, and reached a safe harbour where suddenly my life calmed down a great deal AND I was under contract to a very good, supportive publisher that really liked my books and paid me well… And I promptly FROZE.

    Got about 60 pages into the next books for them, having had GREAT feedback and enthusiasm for the first one I’d delivered there… And I just froze. I had characters, I had a plot, I could visualize some scenes… But I just could not get off the dime or move the cursor one word forward.

    This went on for months. I reached a point where there was going to be a big blank hole on the bookstands where my next book was supposed to be, my publishers were tearing their hair out, I was jeopardizing (and possibly destroying) the first really good publishing relationship of my career, with a book I really wanted to write… And I didn’t know why. I am no a self-saboteur. But I couldn’t unfreeze.

    At the advice of a very experienced writing friend who’d found her helpful, I consulted writing coach April Kihlstrom, who wrote about 3 dozen novels before becoming a creativity coach. (I was VERY skeptical, because I’d dealt with two creativity coaches before, and it hadn’t been at all helpful. Essentially, I had way too much experience. They were trained to help a timid newcomer find “the courage to write.” I was someone who’d written books while the phone was ringing off the hook with threatening calls from collections agencies, my literary agent was denigrating me as a loser, and I knew I’d have to deliver the finished book to an abusive editor. Burning a candle, getting a massage, or thinking nurturing thoughts about myself wasn’t going to help.)

    And what I learned from working with April, which was TREMENDOUSLY helpful (I finished that book in about 6 weeks, and have finished several others since) was that I had changed along the way, so I needed to change my working habits. I was still doing the exact same things I’d always done, and now that they were no longer working (and I don’t know why; the reasons aren’t important, so I haven’t fretted about it)… I was the definition of insanty: doing the same things over and over, and expecting a different result. And since I had gone months and months with my old processes no longer working for me to produce a book, I had by then turned my keyboard and a MS where I failed, and failed, and failed, which dug my psychological pit deeper and deeper.

    So we talked about changing various work habits. Some of the things we tried worked so well, it’s still the way I worked now. Other habits did not work, and I quickly stopped trying them. Some we discussed I thin might work, but I haven’t got around to trying them, since I found a new pattern, new approach that was working–and I tend not to mess with what works.

    To give just one example, I had spent weeks or months just sitting at the keyboard unable to think of what the write next. That had become my pattern. Opening the MS file or sitting at the keyboard had become my cue to blank out and fail. So my new habit was that, once I started writing again, every time I froze–stopped typing, didn’t know what to type next–I couldn’t sit there and try to think of it. Because that had led to months of failure for me. The moment I went blank, I had to get up and go do something else for 5 minutes. (As a result, I had the best-pruned plants in the world that season.) Then I could come back to my keyboard with my meter reset, and start typing again. The idea was to break the pattern of the keyboard as a place where I sat blanking out and to reset is as a place where I’m productive. And it happens to be one of the new habits that worked for me. For 2-3 weeks, I had to get out of my chair every 100 words… but in the course of doing that, I could write 1500 words a day. Compared to the 0 I had been writing for months.

    Just sitting there until I thought of the next thing had worked for me for 20 years. And when it stopped working… I hadn’t known what to do, I didn’t even realize it HAD stopped working for me. And so I dog my hole deeper and deeper, until I went months without progressing on that book by so much as a sentence. Until a sane person with the tools to help me said, “You know how that used to work for you? Look! Not working anymore. Who knew? Let’s try something else.”

    And that’s just one of abut a dozen things we discussed and tried, about 4 of which worked really well for me as new habits, a new way of dealing with the daily work.

    I also discovered after my eye injury in 2011 (which was so painful and debilitating that I was taking 4-8 Vicodin per day for over 2 months and completely non-functional) that using a narcotic had changed me. (In retrospect, my OB-GYN thinks I was probably also in withdrawal afterwards, which makes sense, though it didn’t occur to me at the time.) It took about 5 months before I could write comedy competently again (so the first 100 pages of POLTERHEIST are version 3.5 of that book–version 1 and 2 have been deleted, lest my enemies ever hack my system and discover just HOW badly I was writing when in narcotic withdrawal). I also really struggled with my usual linear way of writing a book (start to finish). This time, it felt like PUNISHMENT instead of my normal mode of thinking. After struggling for, oh, 2 months… it finally occurred to me to go ahead and try writing whatever scenes I felt like writing. And it worked. Got me productive again. A little nerve-wracking, in terms of pace and continuity, to quilt that book together under deadline (the months I couldn’t function meant I was REALLY close to the drop-dead date for production and printing), but it worked–and I got it done by changing my approach, since -I- had changed.

    Obviously, changes can include not just how you set about the daily work, but also how you think about the work. A friend of mine who’s been writing for 30 years recently said she thinks she may need to starting outlining; she feels like her longtime panster method of writing a book isn’t really working for her anymore. Other people change genres after a life change. And so on.

    If you’ve changed–if, for example, you no longer hear voices reliably… then a method based on hearing voices probably won’t/doesn’t/can’t work now. What’s a method that CAN work? (Since I seldom hear voices and almost never have–writing for me has never been a rush of creativity, it’ almost always been a process of pushing a balking boulder uphill–I am living proof that you can write a lot of good books without hearing voices or relying on creative rushes/flows. I hear voices or get a creative rush one or two days per book, at most.)

    My two cents. From someone for whom this has NEVER been a joy or easy. I love HAVING written but have never been crazy about writing. Yet I’m on roughly my 30th book today.

    1. Wow. Some great advice, Laura. Thank you!

      Jen, I’ve been there waiting for the voices too, and they are still there, just too damned quiet for me to hear them most days. Doesn’t mean I’m not writing, does mean I spend a LOT of time staring at the page. And there’s a lot of incoherent dreck that gets splashed all over my nice neat plot 😉 With all you’ve had going on, including the drive to be healthier and happier and in a better place, I’d say your plate has been over-full with the tasks and stresses of getting through the day-to-day. You’ve made some massive changes, and had some thrust upon you, in the last couple of years. Contracts notwithstanding, the dust of all those shifts is still settling. Whatever else, please don’t beat yourself up for not producing fiction the way you did at one time. Lots of things are different, so your approach needs to be different as well. And as always, I’ll be happy to read your grocery lists, because your voice is still there. Hugs and love.

    2. Laura,
      This was fabulous. And explains a few things that I hadn’t quite articulated 🙂

    3. I went back and counted how many novels I’ve written after I read your last sentence: twenty. Thatsa a lotta books.
      I agree that changing things up is the answer. It’s one of the reasons I write on a laptop; if one place I’m writing isn’t working, I pick up and move. The problem is, I’m a lousy writer without the voices. That’s where all the excitement and emotion comes from for me. Which, come to think of it, is probably why I can still write non-fiction. It’s not writer’s block, it’s writer’s deafness.
      I do think moving to NJ, new house, new life, is helping. I agree absolutely that if what you’re doing isn’t working, don’t do it harder. I’m just not sure how to change that up. I’ve always been a writer who heard her stories, but I know there are people who see them, like movies in their heads. I could try asking the girls for movies instead of radio plays, but it’s like learning another language. Come to think of it, I usually crochet when I watch TV or DVDs so I’m basically listening to radio plays anyway.
      This is food for thought. Hmmmm. Thank you.

      1. ” I’m just not sure how to change that up.”

        I didn’t, either. Which is why I sought outside help. I can remove a splinter from my foot, but not from my butt–since I can’t see it there. So I asked someone else to take a look.

        I’d had problems before–much more self-explanatory. I froze for 18 months on a book once–just FROZE. Very depressed, very BROKE, etc. But in that instance… I didn’t want to be writing that book at that time because it was a book I really didn’t want to be writing at that time, for various reasons, and I was utterly MISERABLE in my professional circumstances (nightmare editor, publisher, -and- agent–the perfect triumvirate of hell). So the problem wasn’t entirely myserious. But on this more recent occasion–a book I wanted to write, a publisher where I was happy, an editor I really liked, in a good place in my life… what I did to get myself writing again in those MISERY days didn’t work here any better than any of my more-typical habits was working. Nothing I’d ever tried before worked. So I needed someone to help sort me out.

        Which doesn’t mean I’m saying, “Hire the coach who helped me!” But, rather, think about looking where you’re not inclined to look. (I was SO -NOT- inclined to consult a “creativity coach.”) Where you have not previously looked. Where it might not have occurred to you yet to look.

        Which is also NOT to say: “you must write more fiction” or “you must write.” If you want to write nonfiction, or you want to stop writing and do something else, I’ve never seen why a career change for a writer should be different than for anyone else: “I’ve done this for years, now I want to do something else entirely.” Why on earth NOT? (I envision someday quitting writing to live a totally different life. Maybe work for an NGO. Maybe run a disreputable inn in some steamy backwater, like the Ava Gardener character in NIGHT OF THE IGUANA.)

        I’ve yammered on at some length here, though, because it sounds in your post as if you’re saying you still want to write fiction, still have fictional characters and stories in your mind, but are at loose ends because the motor won’t run. And that’s something I can yammer about.

    4. Agree about April totally. On my second course with her. The first one produced one book and two spin-offs. She does it all with a sort of innate down-in-the-bowels questioning that doesn’t smack of RULES.

      And boy, I should know. I’ve been stuck for five months which is why, as soon as I saw there was another BIAW with April, I jumped on the wagon. Still not quite there because got a 3 novella contract in the middle of it which threw me for a loop. But Jenny, go see April. Really.

  7. Hi Jenny,
    I understand exactly where you’re coming from, I have the voices to and it is the only time that I can write anything decent. There are pleanty of stories that I have imagined and tried to write but all they ever are is just a storyline, no soul. I find that it is so difficult to write a scene when I am not able to see it play out in my head.
    However the voices have helped me to write a novel and two novellas. So three out of hundreds of ideas isn’t that bad I guess.
    Recently, and mostly because of the reaction from my writer’s group I have been writing stories based purely on personal experiences… the only problem is that I am being a little too truthful and it worries me if I will ever be able to show my mother.
    This actually has been a very comforting post, it makes me feel a little less odd. Thank you.

  8. As one of your “hapless” McDaniel students, feel compelled to pass along some excellent advice a “Real Writer” (yes, you) gave us:

    “[Acknowledge] the good. . . [W]hen you acknowledge something you’ve done that works, the Girls get encouraged and keep going. It’s not enough to stop abusing your creative spirit, you actually have to NURTURE the muse.”

    So go, nurture your creative spirit. If the voices in your head are off on holiday, then paint something or build something or do whatever other creative endeavor you enjoy. If Nadine and Alice aren’t coming alive right now, then why not a non-fiction work? It’s not giving up to try something different. Giving up is saying “I’ll never be able to do this, I quit.” Non-fiction is more like “exploring untapped creative potential.”

    In class, you make us post every week in the “Society for Prevention of Cruelty to the Girls” thread. Apparently you need to post there as well. Go do it. Really, right now. And no more of this “I’m not a Real Writer” malarkey. No wonder the girls don’t want to talk with you.

    1. “Hapless” means “unfortunate,” as in, “Really sorry I’m so disorganized and also crazy.”
      The “Real Writer” thing I didn’t make clear. I know I’m a real writer, I’m just not that “Real Writer” that all the people who give advice talk about, the ones who put their butts in the chairs every day, the ones who tell you sternly that there’s no such thing as writer’s block and if you just pulled yourself together and worked instead of whining, you’d be fine. I know those people are out there, reading this and thinking, “What a crybaby. Shut up and write.” So I put in the stuff about the Real Writer who knows she has a job to do and does it, and said, “That’s not me.” And it came across that I don’t think I’m a real writer. For the record, I think I’m a FABULOUS writer, I’m just not sure I can write fiction well any more, which is something I’ve been struggling with for well over three years now (ten maybe?).
      But Laura’s right. What I’ve been doing isn’t working, so it’s time for a reboot.
      Also, you’re right. I’ll post in the SPCG tonight, I promise. Right after I get that PDF on query letters to you all.

  9. I’m sorry to hear you’re going through this, Jenny. Definitely give non-fiction a go. I recently picked up a book of essays, reviews and talks that William Gibson has written over the years and it’s fascinating hearing this other voice of his (‘Distrust that Particular Flavor’ if you’re curious). I know I’d be interested in what you’d have to say and of course I’d love a new book by you. But there is also this notion that shaking up your usual processes helps reinforce your brain by forging new pathways and it can be done in small ways, like changing the route you take to go to the store, or big ones – like making a lateral move in your career.

    It’s interesting that having Lani, Sweetness & Light move in with you lead to MTT. Could your voices have needed their voices to encourage them? Maybe a spot of people watching in a coffee shop or park would help?

    1. There’s a fabulous diner about two miles from my house that I love, and I go there a lot. I’ve been thinking about switching the Liz stories to here in NJ, although I know NOTHING about growing up in NJ. I think that’s another aspect of Laura’s “change your process” idea.

      1. The voices stopped for me several years ago. I beat my head and heart up agonizing about the writing I should be doing and feeling like a big fat failure. I stopped and started, tried to rekindle, danced naked under a Supermoon. (Oh wait, with the size of my ass, me dancing naked was a super moon.)
        Enrolling last year in McDaniel was my last ditch effort. I loved the first two courses and then couldn’t get myself in gear to write enough new fiction to make the next courses worthwhile.
        I’m done — and I’m okay with it. If I missed it, I’d be miserable, but I don’t.
        I love my day job. I love my life. I always wanted to say that I wrote and published books and I did.
        My point is that it’s okay to switch to something else if you don’t want to write fiction right now. I write all of the time in my day job so it’s not like I’m not using my ability in a way that fulfills me.
        Go for it.
        If, along the way, you decide you want to write fiction again, you can go for it again, too.
        I grew up and lived most of my life in Jersey if you need some insight. 🙂 I’m very distantly related to both the Jersey Devil and the guy on whom Nucky in Boardwalk Empire is based. If you decide to set Liz’s books in the Garden State, you’ll need to pick a region. They’re all very different.

        One more thing in my rambling reply, for the last couple of weeks I’ve been re-reading your backlist and SEP’s. I needed to reconnect with strong women from my favorite books, preferably those with quick wits and smart aleck tendencies.

      2. I’m still reading all the comments… but…

        If you want information about growing up in New Jersey during the 1980s and 1990s, I’m your girl. I don’t know how old Liz is, but I’m 32, so I might be close in age to her. And I’m a Jersey girl, through and through. =)

        I have more thoughts about the deafness, about the inability to write, about the horrible feeling of having the voices gone, but I’m having trouble articulating them succinctly. One of my best places to figure out what stuff is going to happen in stories/novels is to take very, very, very long showers and just stand under the hot water and let my brain brew.

  10. (-: You and Laura are scaring the baby writers. (I don’t know why I’m smiling — my go-to reaction to paralyzing fear, I suppose.) But I’m glad you both wrote about it.

    The last couple of weeks, I’ve been thinking my true calling may be *reviewing* books because there’s nothing I like better than a book, some cats and a mug of chai and a free afternoon. But, I want to write, so there’s that.

    This may sound crazy, but could it be that you haven’t had enough vocal input to generate voices lately? Writing is a lonely life, and maybe you were running off rich memories for the first part of your career (teaching had to have been great gas for your fuel tank). Have you considered volunteering, or getting a part-time job with real people, or just getting someplace where you hear real voices in a setting with some continuity?

    Yeah, I know, with all the things you’ve got on your plate this year, this suggestion is just insane.

    Life was so much easier for writers in an older age — sacrifice a grilled meal to The Muse, eat well, and write the hell out of that thing. (//tongue from cheek)

    Many sympathies . . . .

    1. Part time job? Sorry, my head exploded. Two full time jobs and a full rehab on the cottage I’m living in while adapting to living in a new state (find a doctor, find a dentist, find a mechanic, find a vet, find a contractor, find a . . . no, another job is not in the picture.
      Also, I’m not lonely. I have darling neighbors, Krissie comes down regularly, and then online I have Argh Nation and the ReFabbers and you all in the McD Program. I am the least isolated writer I know. And one of the happiest, except for the pesky Writer Deafness problem, so no sympathy needed really.
      I just need some kind of creative hearing aid . . .

      1. “I’m living in while adapting to living in a new state””

        Man, I hear THAT. I only moved across the river. I am still in the same metro area, and only about 30 minutes away (by highway, if there’s no traffic) from where I used to live… But I am in a different state, a different city, and the adjustments have been never-ending and time-consuming. The pattern has slowed down a bit by now, but after 8 months here, there’s still something every WEEK that comes up on my To Do or “to sort out” list as a result of having changed states. (What a ridiculous system we live in!)

      2. I’m probably transferring my problems onto yours . . . . I’ve got a definite shortage of rich, raw English. Plenty of Japanese, and tons of *written* English, but written English has been through at least one filter, so I’ve been wondering if it isn’t quite the same. For me.

        I really like the idea of a creative hearing aid . . . .

        1. Yeah, I’m not sure written (especially online interaction) is the same in terms of being the catalyst for voices. I definitely feel much more inclined to write fiction after I’ve spent the afternoon in a diner listening in on people’s conversations. I don’t get that from Facebook.

  11. What everyone else said. Also, you are a writer in that you communicate naturally and very well in writing. You don’t always have to be a novelist or a non-fiction writer or anything. If all you ever do anymore is write blog posts, well then that’s what you do. this could be your “blog post” phase of writing.

    Just because some people need to write like they need to breathe doesn’t make them more of a writer than you are. I am a pantser. I’ve written since I was 7. I tend to write like you do: when the voices in my head tell me to. The voices stopped about 15 years ago.

    I did write a novel last year, but haven’t revised it yet because I’m afraid that it sucks so much and that I am not a writer because I haven’t written in so long, because while writing makes me mentally healthier, I am capable of not writing for very long times. That means I’m not a “real” writer, right? Nope. Anymore than you are not a “real” writer.

    So the voices have only been coming and going sporadically since menopause. Maybe you can find a new way to write, or a new way to coax the voices to return. Or not. But it doesn’t mean you aren’t a writer, because you are. You just aren’t writing novels right now.

    And thank you for writing this post. Not only do I love you even more, I actually feel a bit better about my own struggles with writing.

    1. Skye–Since I was lucky enough to read last year’s novel, I can tell you that yes, it needs some work (what first draft doesn’t?), but it isn’t as bad as you think it might be. Go revise that bitch already.

    2. Yeah, I didn’t explain that “real writer” bit very well. Ignore that.
      And yes, non-fiction is looking really good right now. I have two books I really want to write, and Mollie keeps telling me to compile my essays, but since they’re all available for free on the website, that seems like a rip-off unless I write mostly new ones which I could do if I had anything valuable to say. Any more, everything I write sounds like Andy Rooney.

      1. “Mollie keeps telling me to compile my essays, but since they’re all available for free on the website, that seems like a rip-off ”

        I used to think this, but what I have learned about this from other writers’ experiences over the past year or two is that… Readers like to own their own personal copies. Even if it’s available for free on the web, if it’s something they value, they like to own their own copy, so they’re willing to pay a fair price to do so–and appreciate having that option offered in ebook form.

      2. Also, those of us who read and write blogs tend to forget, but there are still people who don’t spend any/much time on the internet, or only use it for the day job, mostly for email and other industry-specific software, not for actual reading, which they save for paper copies or even e-readers, rather than internet-accessible readers. Having a print copy of the essays would tap into that market. The only time people get upset is if you’re not up-front about the fact that it consists mostly of reprints that are available in assorted places on-line, but you would of course be up-front about it. Just having them compiled into a “best of” grouping (which could be electronic OR paper) would be valuable. If you want to see how another author has done it, take a look at John Scalzi’s blog ( — he’s got several anthologies in paper that contain reprints of essays that are all (or mostly) available on-line for free. I believe he’s got one coming out soon (or it came out recently) — the Mallet of Loving Correction, I think.

        Mollie is wise.

      3. Compiling your essays would be great. Much easier to be able to read them together in one ebook than scattered on a website.

        Best wishes.

      4. I’ve read all the essays on your site. I would purchase them in a collection, especially with a forward or afterward about how things have changed since you first wrote them (or not). I’d love to carry that on my Kindle and have it available. I had a few I had printed out and kept in a binder when I was working on my thesis senior year of college. It sounds odd, but they helped a lot.

  12. I just want to give you a big hug, and give you chocolate (or whatever your make-you-feel-better-even-though-it’s-bad-for-you poison is).

    I totally get where you’re coming from. Lately, I’ve been writing complete stories in my head while I’m nursing the babe, or while I’m trying to sleep at night. But I can’t sleep (because I can’t stop writing in my head), so I sit at the computer, and it all seems so hard to write down. It’s like the brain-to-hand filter is too fine a mesh or something.

    So then I check my email. Sometimes I go on Facebook (but not every day because I can’t read the five million posts about what one person did today too often before I want to groan. That and scrolling down past them all is giving me carpal tunnel). I check out a few blogs. Like now, at ten to midnight, I should be sleeping (or writing) but instead I’m rambling and I don’t even remember where my thought train was going.

    Right. Writing (or not). I personally don’t care what you write, whether it’s another novel, or something non-fiction, or a column in a newspaper or if you just blog. I’d read it because it would probably be funny, it would definitely be well-written, and it would be always be interesting.

    I found this blog entry to be an awesome bit of writing even though the subject matter sucks for you. It reads like it comes from the heart, so it flows. It’s YOU. Maybe you need to write a first-person. And, maybe the main character is some snarky lady who’s frustrated with everyone/thing in her life so she has some little adventures while raising hell for the people around her. And it’s first person because she doesn’t give a damn about what anyone else is thinking. (Might not fit in to the romance genre…)

    Hey, you could even change your name and write something completely different like a murder-mystery or a horror set on the planet Gorg (leave the romance behind–they’re probably asexual anyway, but I’ve never met any folks from Gorg, so I wouldn’t really know).

    Just please let us know if you do that, so that we can read it. Because we all would want to. Because we all love you.

    1. I’ll never write under another name, so you’re good there.
      Trying to write with a newborn or any kid under twelve boggles my mind. I started when my daughter was sixteen and didn’t even tell her I was writing until I sold the first book because at sixteen, the last thing any girl wants to do is discuss what her mother is doing with her life. Don’t be hard on yourself about not getting a lot done; it sounds like you’re doing great.

  13. I’m so sorry you are feeling this way but I hope writing about it has helped a little. I don’t have anything useful to add to the excellent advice already given, but I do hope you’ll be a little kinder to yourself. You’ve had a hell of a time, and you’re still under enormous pressure. On a selfish note, thank you for describing your struggles with writing – it makes me feel less hopeless and alone. For what it’s worth, you are my heroine and that won’t change even if you never write another word.

    1. It really has helped. I think just articulating the problem is a good first step, and then discussing helps, too. Lots of good suggestions, and even the ones that won’t work for me will work for somebody else, so it’s all good.

  14. I’ve said this before but it’s worth repeating: I think you’d make a brilliant columnist. Non-fiction rants are writing too. And you’re definitely a real writer. You’ve written some of the best stuff I’ve read. That makes you a Real Writer, no matter what your writing process has and will be.

    1. I think I’d be a good columnist, too. The problem is, they’d expect me to write columns every week. I have a hard time writing if I don’t have something to say, and I don’t have something to say every week. (For proof, go back through some of the old Argh posts. Jeez.) But non-fiction might be a very good thing. I like writing non-fiction.

  15. Ah, the “I’m a hack” moment. I think as writers, we all think this regularly because we don’t get the daily pats on the back we do at our day jobs. Because we all work in that perfect workplace during the day, right?

    By your definition, I’m a born writer. I plot, I have notecards, a spreadsheet. It’s all color-coded. And sometimes it doesn’t work. I’ve replotted the book I’m writing three times. It’s killing me. The characters kept fighting the spreadsheets and the color-coding. So finally, I said, “Fine, we’ll do it your way!”

    That’s led to me having some turning points I’m aiming towards, and when I get lost, I call a friend I trust, who’s first words are, “You’re not a hack,” and I sit down and try again. Needless to say, any deadline I had for this book, was toast a year or two ago. But the words are coming. Slowly.

    These days, I use a trick from The Artist’s Journey. I write as soon as I get up. Actually, I just roll over and grab the computer. In TAJ, she says you need to journal to get the crap out of your head for 30 minutes and it will free up your creativity. And she’s right, but my life is so boring, instead of journaling, I started writing things about my characters, issues I was having with writing them. Why are they doing this? What would make her react like that… And now I sit down and write the book instead.

    I think because I’m not fully coherent yet, the Bad Wolf is still asleep somewhere, and I can get some words on the page before the internal editor wakes up. And the voices are there. In fact, Amy, my heroine, is currently tapping her toe and wondering why the hell I’m not in the grocery store with her right now.

    So, I’m with Laura. Try a new schedule. And try writing in small spurts. “I’m not writing a book, just a blog entry. Any fool can write 200 words.” It’s much less daunting than “And now I will write a book.”

    Good luck, and know we’re all with you on this, because although we are all being selfish and just want your words any way we can get them (I’m happy to come up and bake gluten-free yet awesome chocolate chip cookies if that will help), we also want you to be happy.

    1. I don’t think I’m a hack. I think I’m BRILLIANT. I’m just having trouble hearing the voices.
      I should never have put that bit about the “Real Writer” in there because I wrote that part badly. ARGH.

      And I should make clear, I am happy. I’m the luckiest woman I know. I just want the damn voices back.

      1. “And I should make clear, I am happy. I’m the luckiest woman I know. I just want the damn voices back.”

        Not to keep butting in, but… but to butt in again:
        I said above, maybe seek some outside help or resource or new process to learn to write without the voices, if they’re gone.

        Well, here’s another: Seek some help or resource to start hearing the voices again. No, -I- don’t know who or who–which is precisely why this advice is FREE! But maybe that’s what to search for–what person, process, resource, or change and reintroduce those voices into your head?

      2. And, if we are all being honest, we really want you to get them back. Crusie nonfiction will be invaluable and wonderful…but it won’t be the drug-of-choice that a Crusie novel is. Just sayin’.

  16. After reading your blog for this long, I seriously thought you analyzed the voices away. That was how I’ve been seeing it for a while now. You’ve been more and more about structure, and what does this scene DO, and the joy if writing seemed to disappear bit by bit under the weight of How It’s Supposed to Work. And it’s been a bit heartbreaking for me, because you’re my favorite, and I’ve just wanted to shout “WRITE! Write NaNo, just write, keep writing until structure and meaning and push back and acts and whatever can take a flying leap!” But it’s not my place, as a fan. Still, as you opened the door with this post, I thought I’d mention it, see if it bounces off of you or sticks a little.

    1. Next week, if I can get my act together, I’m doing a five-day series on what happens when I just write, and then what happens when I try to make it better, which I really enjoy. The problem is, when I try to “just write” and the voices aren’t there, it’s really, really bad. Unfixable bad. I can fix juicy writing, I can’t fix dead-as-lox writing. So the whole “just write” thing doesn’t work for me.

  17. I don’t know why, but when I got to the last paragraph of this, I had tears in my eyes. If I could send my voices to your head, I would. Since I can’t, I’ll just try to coax my voices into coaxing your voices into talking again. But maybe you could also kneel down in the kitchen and holler through that hole in the floor to reach the girls in the basement. Would be less messy than sacrificing that chicken.

    Took me three months to get this current book going because the characters weren’t talking. I realize three months is nothing compared to three years, but it still felt scary. I know when I declutter my house a bit, clean up the mess around me, the voices get clearer. Louder. Once you get that house where you want it, I bet they come back. I’m sure of it.

    1. I’m thinking that may be it. I’m in a new bedroom now and it’s amazing, small, full of light, really comfortable, big bed, power cord for the computer, love it. And about eight feet away is a great work table if I want to sit in a good chair and write. And by Monday, about ten feet from that will be my wonderful couch where I can stretch out and write. All new spaces and all great places to stare out at the tree tops in the quiet and write. Plus in a couple of weeks I’ll have a back door and I’ll be able to go down some steps to really comfy outdoor furniture and work.
      Fingers crossed, that will help.

  18. All your blog posts are examples of fantastic writing, but I get what you mean with “Real Writer.” I have stories and scenes and characters waiting for me to finish revising the first damn book, which languishes in my recently resuscitated computer. Real life banished that sucker to the phantom zone, and no amount of people asking, “How’s the book going?” is going to bring it back. My ass was good and rightfully kicked this year and I am unable to separate my writing from my life.

    However, I have managed to sporadically blog, which I consider writing, although I often start with one idea and end up with something completely different. I’m thinking about starting a business which would let my other creative talents take center stage for a bit. I’ve nursed my Five back from a mental breakdown so I’m feeling more powerful than powerless. All of these things nurse the writing part of my brain.

    I don’t have any suggestions for you, just gratitude. You are the reason I became a writer, real or not. But I don’t think that’s your only identity. You’re one of the most creative people I know and I think you can share that with the world however you choose: fiction, non-fiction, blogs, columns, teaching, crocheting, DIY inspiration–the list goes on and on.

    Unfortunately, you have to figure out how to pay the bills, too. I have a fortune cookie saying taped to my mirror that says “If you can imagine it, you can do it.” I think we just have to change that to “If you can do it, you can monetize it.” Because I would have paid money just to read this post.

    1. Thank you, Megan, that’s a wonderful thing to hear. I was at booksigning once and one of my ex-high-school-students came up, all grown up, and said, “I became a teacher because of you,” and I cried right there in the book store. Your post made me feel the same way.

  19. Not a real writer Jenny? To paraphrase His Girl Friday,

    Can that girl write….
    She’ll do ’til one comes along.

    But I get it. You probably don’t need a Poor Baby from us, telling you how really really good you are. So I’ll just say, whatever you decide to do, write romance or mystery or ad copy for spark plugs, or read with the animals, you go girl.

  20. I’m sorry. I only recently discovered the blog. And I’m really enjoying it. You are a write. Regardless of what you write – blogs, non fiction, fiction (of any sort), whatever. I am not a writer. I lack the grammar skills to write. I lack the ability to create characters. I lack the ability to plot. And I lack the creativity to do more than make up 1 scene for the characters I steal/borrow.

    I have no advice for you on getting beyond this but YOU ARE A WRITER.

  21. You might think that you are not a “real writer”.

    I, however, am a “real reader”. I read all of the time. Romance, mystery, thrillers, a little science fiction. Realistically, and probably sadly, I’ve read thousands and thousands of books.

    _Manhunting_ is the first book of yours that I read. It was a game changer for me. Here was a regular woman dealing with everyday issues falling in love with a regular guy dealing with everyday issues. But they were smart, fun, funny, nice people who had friends and made new friends and became part of a new family of their own. I was hooked and began hunting your books. At the time, the older ones had not been re-released and the internet was not what it is now. I have actually stolen (yes stolen!) some from the honor section at the library – how horrible is that? I did give them a lot of other books as a trade, but I’m not giving yours back. I have read and reread all of your books and have parts of them memorized – not because I set out to memorize them, but because they resonated so strongly with me that they have just stuck.

    The voices in your head translate so beautifully into your writing. Your characters come alive for me and stay with me. I’ve read many books by “real writers”, sometimes more than once. Not on purpose, like I reread yours, but because I’m halfway into the book before I realize that I’ve read it before. Their stories may be well thought out and well crafted, but very few have the life that your writing has.

    I’m so sorry that the voices have left your head. Menopause is stressful, bad health is stressful, sick pets are stressful. Don’t let your bad wolf compare you to “real writers”. You may not work the way they do, but your work is beautiful and special and memorable and it has had such a wonderful impact on me (you know, besides the whole turning me into a thief part). It seems like you are on the right track – focusing on getting yourself healthy and happy. Remember that the voices came back when you had Sweetness and Light. They’re probably not dead, just resting and they’ll come back when they’re ready. In the meantime, relax and enjoy. Take some time, enjoy your life, paint your bedroom, teach some classes, get out of your house and make new friends, relieve some of the financial stress, maybe get a job as a temp or a smart-assed waitress or have hot, creative sex with the mayor. Whatever works for you! Good luck.

  22. One more suggestion…Follow the lead of James Patterson, Janet Evanovitch, et al. Team up with someone less well known. Let THEM write the book, you “edit” and give feedback and then the book is Jennifer Crusie and “less well known author” or with “less known author” As I understand MOST of those deals, the “less well known author” gets a set fee (say 10K) and the well known author (i.e. Patterson, Evanovitch, Crusie) would get the royalties.

    It becomes a win-win for both of you. You get $$ and the less well known author get tons of sales and maybe even a NYT or USA best selling author title for herself/himself.

    1. I can’t do it. If my name is on the book, I wrote it. If somebody else was part of the writing, their names are on the book, too, so people know. I actually went through a huge uproar about this when I started writing with Bob because everybody, Bob included, wanted just my name on the book. Bob especially; he really pushed it for it to be just “Jennifer Crusie.” I finally had hysterics in an NYC office because I could not make them see that to me, that’s dishonest. It’s not considered dishonest in publishing at all, lots of good people do it, but I CAN’T. Once I started to scream, literally, people backed away slowly and didn’t mention it again. They were all good people who wanted to help me get the best deal possible, and once I lost it, I finally got them to see that to me, it was like lying, beyond the pale, absolutely un-doable. I said, “It’s immoral,” at which point, one of the guys in the room said, “Oh, that’s right. You’re from Ohio.” It’s a miracle he’s still alive.
      So anyway, short version, I know it’s standard practice and a lot of people do it, but I can’t.

      1. And that could have so backfired on you if/when your fans found out about it. It does sound like cheating. Plus, no one can copy your voice. It’s too you. Bob’s a fantastic writer and I loved your collaborations but I could tell a Bob scene from a Jenny scene easily. You voice is too unique.

      2. Also, co-writing with the wrong person can be detrimental. I love Janet Evanovich. I laughed out loud through One for the Money while in a restaurant and promptly went and bought the next few books (I was working in the middle of nowhere at the time and had nothing else to do but read). Then I bought one of her first collaborations. It was horrible (in my opinion, anyway). It just wasn’t up to the same standard of writing.
        So, when I saw that you’d collaborated with someone named Bob Mayer, of whom I’d never heard, well, I remember standing in the store with the book in my hand and I almost cried. I was freaking out but I bought the book anyway, and all I can say is thank god BM can write!
        I’ve also since read a James Patterson collaboration that my mother-in-law gave me (I’ll be honest here–I haven’t yet read one of his solos, but there is one in the pile of yet-to-reads sitting on the piano, so I’m hoping that he’s good on his own), and oh, how I lost brain cells. It was painful.
        So glad that when you collaborate you do so with great writers!

    2. Late for the party, I know. I just wanted to read the comments but I couldn’t just let this pass. I don’t like those books of Evanovich + less known artist and I won’t buy them because they’re not the real thing. So I’d say, don’t do it.

  23. As to being a “real” writer, I think someone wise once said: “There are many roads to Oz.”

    Not every writer is compelled in the same way. If voices beg you to write them down, then that’s your writer “juice” imho. Some writers are plot driven and some are character driven. Sounds like you might be the character-driven type. And that’s no small thing.

    Okay, so the voices going quiet, that’s another issue. But not one that has to stay that way.

    I’m a big believer in the meaning of to teach being “to bring out.” And I believe that’s the birthing process of all creativity. It’s one of the reasons I limited my son’s exposure to too much media and technology when he was growing up–it would be impossible for him to access that well deep inside himself if he was constantly stuffing it with external noise.

    This might be what’s happening to you. Maybe what might help is to “starve” yourself of external stories (tv, movies, books). Then the voices may come back. It’s possible you just can’t hear them from deep down in your well with all the stories by others that have been stuffed into the top. Or it’s possible they’ll come back simply out of sheer boredom.

    I bet if you try it, it won’t take long for your “voice juice” to come back. And I bet there is a sequel to “Bet Me” rattling around in there too–maybe one that focusses on the sister or friend more as the M/C, but a connected story. Or maybe there are some brand new characters waiting to be birthed from your well. I know, I for one, will be happy to meet them:)

    1. There will never be a sequel to Bet Me. It’s a fairy tale. Fairy tales don’t have sequels. Plus I already said what happened to everybody in the last chapter.
      Spin-offs of non-fairy-tales are a different matter. I’m deeply in love with Alice. And I miss Nadine. I’d write Mare again in heartbeat but she’s someplace in Italy with a five-year-old now, so I doubt she has time to talk to me.

      1. but what if that last chapter was just poof. Like you just told us everything we wanted to hear. But it was NOT quiiiiite everything. Because someone (like your editor who happens to be HEA driven) said Lie To Me

      2. Alice? You mean from MTT? That’s the story I’ve been hoping for. And since you cleverly set it years ago (thinking 1982 but that could be wrong–end of a long week), you could age her as much as you want & jump into her life.

        Bet Me was a fun read, though. Especially loved the cat. And I could see more coming from the Fast Women crew (almost typed Fast Woman there–now that may have been a different story entirely). But as I said before, I’d welcome new characters in brand new stories, too. What was that old tv ad about “when so & so talks, people listen”?–that’s the thing about your characters, when they talk, lots of us like to listen:)

  24. 1) What makes you think we would skip this?
    2) You are NOT boring. Ever.

    I’m very, very sorry you’re having such problems, but this was a fascinating look at process. I think you have helped me very much. Of course I feel guilty about finding help in your misery, but I’m still grateful. And looking forward to whatever you write–fiction, non-fiction, lectures, whining…whatever. All on my must-buy list.

    Fingers crossed and good wishes winging your way.

    1. I always feel that I have to say, “Look, there’s nothing of value here, this is just me venting in public so that I can get this stuff out of my head.” I really do feel that most of the posts on Argh have to be something that at least will be fun to read, and this one is really long and consists of “Me, me, me, more me, another thing about me, me, me, and oh, yeah, before I forget, ME.” Hence the suggestion to skip.

      1. That’s the thing, though: If I read something like “Don’t Read This” or “Consider Skipping,” I have to read it and find out why someone tried to scare me off. I consider that one of the characteristics of a Real Reader. Not, by the way, to nag someone to tell something they don’t want to tell — that’s a very different matter. But if someone puts something on the table, so to speak, and tells me it won’t be very interesting, don’t bother, and so on… or even forbids me to read it … then my interest is piqued.

        1. Well, there’s that, but I do think I have to warn people when I’m doing some public navel-gazing. I try to make most of the Argh posts outward–here’s an idea, here’s what I think, what do you think?–but I was to the point where I had to do a confessional if only to shame myself into paying attention to the problem.

          My next post will be “Don’t Push This Button” with a big red button in the middle . . .

  25. “I have friends who plan stories, who say, “This is what I’m going to do next and after that I’ll do this,” and then–this is the part that astounds me–they write those stories. They get the idea, they develop it into a story, they send it to their editors. They’re born writers”

    Huh. I’m not sure I agree that they are born to be writers. They may be born to plot stories, but a timeline of events is not what pulls me into a story. What pulls me in is a connection to the characters, usually through great dialog that shows me who they are. Which is why it angers me a bit, Jenny, that you are putting yourself down this way. Why do you assume that their way is the right way? Because you totally rock at the kind of dialog I inhale like my next breath, and I don’t much care what happens with your plot as long as I can visit that world you have created. And that’s something that plotting and technique can’t replace. But I can see that the characters have to be there for the writer first before they can be shared with the reader. I’m very sorry that you feel the muse has left. But, and I say this having just read your Glee essay, if Jenny Crusie decides to publish her grocery list it will still be danged good entertainment and I’ll buy it. And just maybe the muses will come back, rested and raring to go.

    1. That’s a good point. They’re born storytellers, and that’s what I’m missing. It’s not even the stories, I can plot out a story, but stories are nothing without great characters, and that’s the piece I’m missing. Huh, that’s a VERY good point. Must cogitate.

      1. So work on a character who has hysterics in a NY office when someone suggests something she considers immoral. Use you as the voice. God knows I’d buy it.

        And I think you’re missing the point. A lot of people can craft a timeline (I can’t, but we’ve established that I’m not a writer…) but that doesn’t make it something I want to read and re-read and must keep forever on my bookshelves.

        Someone talked about Evanovich’s joint books. And they’re not on my bookshelves. Actually, a lot of Evanovich’s books aren’t on my shelves. She’s got a nice formula going with Stephanie and Lula but it’s not something I need to own. Your books I do need to own, all of them. Kinda like Dorothy Sayers.

  26. I read this with sympathy and empathy. I am in a career I have loved for 14 years. I worked hard to get here, it’s what I’ve always wanted to do and it is a disgustingly nice way to make a living (not much but it pays the bills). And about 6 months ago, I came into the office and realized I didn’t care about anything here. I hate that. It makes me sad. I want a new job, a new career, a new place to be. But mostly I want my passion back.

    1. That happened to me with public school teaching. I loved what I was teaching, loved the kids, loved the school where I worked, and in year fifteen I looked around and thought, “I’m tired of this. I’m really good at it, but I’m burned out, and I’m going to start taking it out on the kids, and these kids are too great to do that to.” So I went in and told my principal that it was my last year, and he said, “You can’t quit now, you’ve only got fifteen more years to go to retirement. The first fifteen went fast, right?” I said, “Really, I’m gone, I’m going to write romance novels now,” and he laughed. And the next August I got my first contract. So HA.

    2. Find your passion and get a new job. It can be very scary but it can also work out amazingly (sometimes both). I left government contracting for animal welfare and although there were some bumpy parts, it’s amazing and I’m so much happier than I used to be (even with the fact that when I first left govt contracting I took a major paycut, then walked dogs for pennies and almost depleted my savings account paying DC rent when that job didn’t work, then worked my butt off to get my literal dream job).

      Leave and find your passion.

  27. I’m in a boulders-pushing-uphill mode right now and have been for quite a while. My theory is that I’m in exactly the wrong knowledge space–instead of just telling the damn story, I’m caught up in the rules and the characters arcs and the beats and the strong verbs and on and on and on. I was doing better when I just let the movie in my head play out across the keyboard.

    But I wonder if for you it’s the need for the story to be “right” — to be a romance novel, to meet the expectations of your readers, to have characters doing the things that you think they’re supposed to do instead of whatever they want to do. If you didn’t have an idea in your head of what the voices had to accomplish, maybe they’d come back? But since you need to earn a living, too, I think it’s a great idea to turn to non-fiction. Write a book about writing, write a memoir about teaching — ooh, or write a crafts book. You could include lots of photos in a craft book and you obviously really enjoy crafts.

    I also wonder if it would be good for your creativity if you decided not to use your own name on some stuff. Right now, you’re caught up in anything you need to write needing to be by “Jennifer Cruisie” and needing to meet those standards. Those high standards. If you decided to become JC Ruis, self-published author of science fiction short stories about a snarky, sarcastic time-traveling detective, I bet you could have fun. And with a relaxed approach, self-publishing is ridiculously easy and efficient. The short story I wrote at Christmas was a “just for fun” for me. I spent $10 on a photo for the cover, and posted it to Amazon pretty much the day after I finished writing it. It’s earned me about $150, and has 20 four-and-five star reviews on Amazon, so it’s given a few people some pleasure. And no negative reviews, so no one has felt like their 99 cent investment was a rip-off. If you were writing just for fun, no rules, no expectations, no plans except that you’ll share it and if people like it, great, and if not, oh, well, those voices might start chattering up a storm.

    1. You know, I torpedoed the Jennifer Crusie brand so completely by collaborating and then following that up with a ghost story that I am completely out from under the weight of the Crusie name. A lot of people said they’d never read me again after the collabs, and that was a relief because it meant that the people who only wanted one thing from me would stop bitching about my books. I’m really fine with people not liking my stuff, it’s the ones who say, “I’ve read every one of her books and they’re not very good.” It’s kind of a “Doctor, it hurts when I do this” thing. Okay, stop doing that. (I actually had a woman at a talk I gave once stand up and says, “I’ve really tried to like your books, I’ve read all of them, and I just can’t.” I said, “For God’s sake, stop trying.”) I figure anybody who’s reading me now knows it’s going to be a real grab bag opening one of my books.

      It really isn’t that it needs to be right; I can make it right. I can fix ANYTHING. It’s getting the juice on the page. I need the voices for the juice.

      So now I’m cogitating on how to get the juice back.

      1. See, and I’m the opposite–I’ve read everything you ever wrote (except that first one, which when they rereleased it, you said PLEASE DON’T, so I didn’t, even though I wanted to), all of them multiple times, and I love each and every one. And I LIKE that they’re different, some of them, because every book you write is like a masterpiece painted with words, and why would I want the same exact painting on every wall?

        1. Me too. I have no problems with the collabs either. I do agree that Bob’s name needed to be on those books, though–his style of dude is different enough from yours that I would have been thinking, “What the hell?” upon reading it as a you-only.

  28. I read and went back and re-read, and while I’m not qualified to give any advice, I have an observation. The collaborations with Bob Mayer are books I’ve read and read again, listened to, and loved. I do the same thing with the stand-alones, too, where your voice is fully there, but I have no trouble finding it in the collaborations. The things I love best about Don’t Look Down are your words. I know they are. You’re Pepper and Daisy and Moot, Gloom and, at least part of Bryce and J.T. It doesn’t have to be a whole scene. I can still hear you. You’re not just Agnes, you’re Maria and the M&M’s. (I thought the first time I read that – look how I can understand years of the relationship between Agnes and Maria, with just a few words about M&M’s.) You’re Cerise and Hot Pink. I can hear you in Carpenter and Taylor. There’s a hundred other things in these and other books, but I know your voice when I read it. The books are still seamless, but I believe just about every time I’m tickled when reading them, it comes from you.

    1. Thank you.
      That voice is both a blessing and a curse. I understand that I’m hard to glom because it’s so strong. Which may be why I’m depending on voices; maybe that’s where my voice comes from. Although I think it’s evident in the non-fiction, too. The big trick is not making every Crusie heroine and hero sound alike, although at the moment, that’s not my problem obviously.
      Voice. Maybe I’m relying too much on my voice. More cogitation.

  29. I love you. I love your non-fiction. I love your fiction; your books are on the “Georgette” shelf of books I re-read to visit people I want to spend time with.

    I suggest doing the things that give you more joy in life. If I were a voice, that’s what would coax me back. If it doesn’t work, well, at least you got some joy out of it.

    1. I love you, too, baby.
      And pretty much everything I’m doing right now brings me joy. If it doesn’t, I don’t do it. There’s just too damn much of it.

  30. I’m not a writer, although I am such an avid reader that I fantasize about being able to do what writers do. And I don’t read romance-you, Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer are my only exceptions. So, given that company, to this reader you are a real writer. (Because once I have a Jennifer Crusie in my hands and I am reading, I am callous enough to just not care if it got there from you hearing voices, or collaborating, or sacrificing chickens.) So now we’ve established that you are a “real writer,” see above posts to establish that you are incredibly creative in many ways, a brilliant teacher, incredibly generous, etc. So your bad wolf really needs to stuff it.

    But maybe you just have to formally say goodbye to the voices. Tell them you loved having them and that they are welcome back anytime but for now you understand that they on off to other things and you are too. I believe it has been mentioned more than once in the past that we would happily read your grocery lists. Your blog posts are wonderful. So, to repeat what someone else said, what about a newspaper column or newspaper column style blog posts. Then compile them into a book. Lisa Scottoline writes (wrote?) a column for a Philadelphia paper and they have been published as a collection in a couple books now. Just a thought.

    Anyway, thar ain’t nobody who is going to believe that you aren’t a “real writer.”

    1. I really screwed up communicating what I meant on the Real Writer thing. Sorry. Also, thank you for the company on that shelf; that’s heady stuff.

      Funny thing about reading your comment: I got to the “give up the voices” part and thought, “NO!” So evidently, if I’m retired from fiction, they’re going to drag me out kicking and screaming. Thanks for that moment (g).

  31. You’ve written twenty successful books. If that doesn’t mean ‘real writer’ then Harper Lee and Margaret Mitchell aren’t real writers either. Or John Kennedy Toole. So there. :p

    I’m a craft and structure wonk and let me tell you, too much of it is a bad thing. I can’t get the story out in my head and into my computer because I want to get the structure right first and then drape the story on it. Tent poles and turning points and no prologues and hooks, and on and on. Honestly, if I could jump in the Tardis and go back in time I would have never studied craft. Instead I would have just read more and more great authors and let it soak into my brain subconsciously. Structure is my 666 tattooed on my forehead. No matter how many years go by, I can’t unlearn or forget it. I can’t find my car keys half the time but I can remember All The Craft. I don’t think my Girls like it. I think they like being Ms. Independent and doing their own thing in their own way. Then I can take what they give me and revise and revise and revise. Well, that’s my theory of why my fertile imagination turned into a desert. I was so busy studying All The Craft that when I was ready to write I never noticed that the Girls had packed up and left.

    And I want to know what happened to Nadine and Alice and if Zelda ever gets her act together. So fingers crossed that this is just part of your journey and when you get to where you’re comfortable, when the cottage is finished, maybe your Girls will come back for a long visit.

    1. You know, I don’t let craft in when I’m doing Don’t Look Down drafts, I really don’t. I know it’s there whenever I need it, and it actually gives me more freedom. I can write a really bad first draft (I’m posting one on Monday) and not worry because I know how to fix damn near anything. So for me, having those skills, those writer tools, frees me to make as many mistakes as I need to.

  32. I don’t have any answers, but I know reading your posts here and your ones on Cottage Saturdays are more entertaining than most of us can be in books we write. And that they can make their readers laugh and ache and sometimes cry better than many of us can in books we write. And that when many of us need something to read that will fill the well for us, we re-read a Jenny Crusie book and we won’t know if she heard the voices or not simply because HER voice is so damn good. I know I’m a fan girl nearly to the point of idiocy, but I hate that you feel your fiction is somehow less now than it used to be. Because I know it’s not. I know that.

    1. Thank you.
      I’m not sure I think my fiction is less now. I know I’m not happy with what I’m producing, but it’s all early draft, and my early drafts always suck (which is fine, I can fix that). I’m missing the juice, I think; trying to force things gives me flat stories. So I need to figure that out . . .

  33. Jenny, I know what you’re going through and I sympathize. I want to cheer you up with my story, which is kinda worse.
    I’m also menopausal. I’ve heard voices in my head since I was a toddler, but lately, they… became shorter. Before, I’d have a whole TV series in my head. Now, the voices come in Twitter snippets. They still come, to you too – you said so yourself. Maybe you should write short stories and publish a collection?
    One of the differences between us is that you’re a writer with a Name. I’m a beginner. I started writing only 10 years ago. My first novel was published this year. For my next novels, I’m milking the voices that had come before, during my long life as a non-writer. I was a computer programmer for 25 years before I wrote my first word.
    But that is not the worst. The worst is that I’m a foreigner. I write in a second language. I immigrated from Russian when I was 38. I still speak with an accent. No one who knows me personally think my writing is serious. People ask: “Do you write in English?” So I do the only possible thing: I hide who I am. My editor at the publishing house that published my novel doesn’t know that English is not my first language. We only met online. No magazine that published my short stories knew about my Russian roots either. I have another novel under contract now – and again, neither my publisher nor my editor know. I can’t ever meet with them, because if I do, instead of seeing my writing voice they would see an immigrant’s grammar mistakes. It’s happened before.
    For the same reason, I don’t have a writing group anymore. I was a member once, but as soon as I started getting publications, the members of my group started getting upset: an immigrant dared to succeed in their own mother tongue! I had to leave the group.
    Still, I persevere. And you do too. I hope you succeed in fighting off you problems. I’m a huge fan of your books and I hope the new ones are coming. Don’t give up on your voices! They are part of you. They’re just aging with you; maybe they’ve got arthritis, so they’re not as nimble anymore. 🙂
    Note: I’m one of your blog subscribers, a regular here, but because I don’t want my immigrant identity known, I write this comment as Anonymous. Sorry about that.

    1. I love it that your editor doesn’t know you’re Russian. Absolutely love it.
      As for critique groups, even if you weren’t an immigrant, they’d have dumped you; that kind of toxic jealousy is unfortunately common and it’s happened to just about every published writer I know.
      Also, you’re not nearly as anonymous as you think. Your e-mail address shows up on my dashboard (but not here evidently) so I’ve got your name. It’s okay, I’ll forget it, I’m Old.

    2. I love that you shared this. You have a beautiful voice. And, there are other immigrants who have written in English and done well — Nabokov, Joseph Conrad spring to mind.

      I could never, never write in my second language, and so I am in awe when people do. So brave.

  34. Thanks for writing this. I hit a wall with menopause too. (Not right away…it took a couple of years to happen, but believe me, it was menopause. That and an agent who didn’t like anything I sent to her for a year. That didn’t help either. Of course, it is possible that everything I sent her was crap.) I honestly thought I might be done. No more writing in me. It just didn’t flow anymore. Gah.

    One of the things that helped me was a different technique. Instead of sitting in front of the computer and trying to compose (because nothing came out), or writing up a nice detailed outline (ditto), I got a general idea of the book and then wrote it scene by scene. The “trick” part was that initially, I didn’t write the scene on paper or on the screen. I’d lie down to take a nap (or be lying awake at night…thanks for that too, menopause), and start thinking about the story. Eventually, I ended up writing the entire next scene in my head. (Interestingly, the best stuff seems to happen when I’m on the acupuncture table, full of needles.) THEN I’d get up and actually type it up. It never came out exactly the same, of course; bits of dialogue changed, and imagery got fleshed out. But being able to “write” it in my head first saved me. Maybe it was because I was half asleep 🙂

    I hope that cleaning up the mess and getting your house in order helps. If not, I will happily supply you with a chicken.

    1. I put a talking chicken in a story I’m working on (actually, Lani put a talking chicken in the world we created for Fairy Tale Lies and he walked into my story) so now every time I think about sacrificing a chicken, I think of Geoffrey and feel guilty. Which hasn’t stopped me from ordering the chicken dinner at Kathy’s diner, so evidently it’s not a deep-seated guilt.

  35. Firstly, (((((hug))))).

    Secondly, it’ll be ok. You kinda sound like Sherlock Holmes who needs his 1/6 solution in-between cases because he deflates between them. Not that I’m advocating narcotic use. 😀 Your thing seems to be that you haven’t had anything to initiate the creativity. Maybe make your heroine a new home buyer … 😉 (More house than Quinn was buying.)

    Thirdly, feel free to publish a popcorn dialogues book. “Analysis of film in the category: Romance.” (I don’t like the word genre, dunno why.) Weeding through the analyses you want published might spark something.

    And spend time enjoying people. You enjoyed the girls living with you, so your voices started chatting away and some solid slog later, you had a novel that you can totally be proud of.

    1. I am seriously thinking about doing a Popcorn Monologues book (and then Lani can write a sequel). I haven’t heard those podcasts since we did them, and I think it would be fun to go back and listen to some of them and write “25 things I learned about writing romance by watching a romantic comedy a week for nine months.” Although by the end of the nine months, Lani and I were both ready to watch anything but romcom.

  36. Ok, I’m laughing. Not AT you! Honestly, I’m not. It’s more one of those “oh I resemble that remark” laughs.

    Let’s see if I can be concise and still convey my points. Unlikely, but I’ll try.

    1) So you’re not a natural storyteller? Huh. Well, whatever. I’m not going to argue about how your brain conjures stories and whether or not it’s a natural part of who you are. It’s your brain. But have you ever considered that you may just be a different kind of natural storyteller? There are many different kinds of storytelling, yes? The way men traditionally tell them, the way the way woman traditionally tell them, etc. You know more about this than I do. Anyway, something to think about.

    2) So you’re not a Real Writer? Specifically, you said:

    Those of you thinking that real writers don’t wait for inspiration are right. As I have mentioned before, I’m not a Real Writer.

    Ok, now that I am going to argue with you about and also mock you for a bit because it’s both absurd and a bit self-pitying (which is certainly allowed—the situation you described sounds like it really, really sucks, and it’s one that I can relate to).

    Real Writer, Real Writer, blah blah blah blah. I’m sorry, what the hell exactly is a Real Writer? Could you give a specific definition please? Is there only ONE way to be a Real Writer? Must you be published? Must you be able conjure a complete story at the drop of a hat? Oh, I know, Real Writers only write Serious Literature! All those others who write that genre dreck, not Real Writers. Am I coming close?

    Ppppttttthhhhbbbb. Yes, I’m blowing a raspberry at you. I’m 99.999% certain that you don’t believe any of the sarcasm I just spewed above. Seriously, would you tell any of your McDaniels’ students that they are not Real Writers? I thought not. Harper Lee only wrote one book. Are you going to say that she isn’t a Real Writer? Are you holding yourself to a different Real Writer standard than you do for everyone else? Just maybe? Something else to think about.

    3) People’s brains work differently. (This is my real point, which 1 & 2 get at indirectly.) People’s brains work differently. People’s brains work differently. People’s brains work differently! It’s funny, because this is something that most of us know….and yet we don’t take it into consideration nearly as often as we should.

    It’s also something that I’ve been thinking about A LOT in the past year as I’ve tried to figure out how my own brain works. How to summarize quickly the gradual crumbling of my life? Hmm, how about this.
    – Theresa in High School: Smart, High-Achiever!
    – Theresa in College: Smart, High-Achiever (Except for that senior thesis thing, what the hell happened there?)
    – Theresa in Grad School: Somewhat Smart and Passing; until she finds awesome Ph.D. advisor and topic that really interests her, then hey, suddenly Smart again and Doing OK, even if it takes forever for her to finish
    – Theresa as Post Doc: Occasionally Smart, Mediocre Worker
    – Theresa as Independent Researcher: Incapable of Thought or Focus and FailerFailerFailer
    – Theresa at 40: Severe Depression, Research Career in Shambles

    And then in December I was diagnosed with ADHD. And over Christmas I read the book Women with Attention Deficit Disorder by Sari Solden, and proceeded to bookmark about half-the pages in the book because they rang so true. Reading and learning and paying attention to how my ADHD brain works has helped SO MUCH. As has medication. As has the decision to take my career in a different direction that should be a much better fit.

    And actually, I do have a point here, other than everyone’s brain is different. One thing I learned is that estrogen functions as a neurotransmitter (, which really helped explain why I felt like I was falling off a mental cliff every month when my period started. (Also, the Menopause = Mental Pause analogy)

    In short (heh), it seems that you have run into the limits of how your brain works, as I did, although for you it was the whole estrogen stoppage thing rather than specifically ADHD. The result can be the same, though. For me, it took the diagnosis of ADHD before I really started to be creative with strategies and solutions to help me organize myself, and I’m still a work in progress. Without external prompts of some kind or another, I have an extremely, extremely hard time with activating (starting a task). I’m currently experimenting with visual prompts. In fact, I made a small collage in powerpoint to use to see if it could trigger activation for a particular project. I actually thought of you and your collages as I was making it. (Seriously, I did.)

    It does sound like you still have choices still to make. Do something else other than writing? Keep banging your head against the usual door that the voices are hiding behind in hopes that they decide to cooperate? Or maybe brainstorm and try some wild and crazy routes that you’ve never tried before to make the connection again to the voices?

    I realize I sound a bit callous above, so I wanted to end by saying how sucky it is when our brians and/or bodies let us down by not working as we expect/want them too. Sucky! Personally, I’m rooting for the last choice above, because I think your voice (and voices) are hugely entertaining and make great stories together!

    1. Yeah, I really screwed up communicating what I meant by “Real Writer,” that it was a construct of those people who say “Real Writers don’t wait for inspiration.” I know I’m a real writer, I’m not completely batshit.

  37. my first thought is – I got nothing for ya. What the heck do I know, anyway? Who am I to give advice to someone famous, who has written 20 kick ass successful books, who can, no sweat, run with the big dawgs? Yeah, I get the pain. If it ain’t men, it’s menopause. I can’t concentrate, I can’t stay on task, my brain is misfiring like dirty pistons: flash of characters, choice bits of dialogue, a setting, a villain with panache, all of which I can’t reorder into a coherent story. I can’t finish a thought let alone a whole book. I just might not make it to published. I have to read my horoscope to figure out how my day will go. It’s like, I’m stuck on the infamous Chapter 5 of The Artist’s Way. That’s the chapter where Julia Cameron says you’re NOT allowed to write. No, you have to clean house, finish every hanging over your head project, leave nothing undone until there’s nothing left but the writing. Except Julia forgot to tell me what to do if I can’t get all that crap done. For instance, the other day I ordered ink cartridges for my printer – online. So the form is asking me for the model etc. so we can figure out the ink for my printer and I had to go into my pigpen of an office (I’m now working on my couch because my office is too messed up to work in) and I’m on my hands and knees trying to find the darn door to open to get the model number (the door I’ve opened before so I do know it’s there somewhere) so then I knock something behind the computer table so I pull it out and there’s SO much dust behind it that I start to sneeze and so I add dusting to my LIST of things to finish before I can ‘move on’ – oh my gosh! I am reading this shame filled thing and it brings me back to the beginning again – I don’t have anything for you. I should probably just delete this note, but I won’t because I need you to know that I know that you aren’t alone. All I know is that when I get really stuck, I make a decision and do one action. And I keep pushing to ‘one thing’ myself out of the hole I’m in. Sort of like Annie LaMott – you do it bird by bird. I do think if anyone can be beat the system, it’s you.

    1. I feel your pain. I have to crawl over boxes to get to my printer, and there have been days when I’ve thought, “How badly do I really need to print that out?” and decided, not so much.
      There’s a chapter in The Writer’s Way that tells you not to write until you’ve cleaned house? No wonder I never finished that book.
      Bird by bird, however, is a mantra around here.

  38. I’m more like your friend–I’d write if I never got published again. But writer’s block is a killer. Makes me feel like someone’s cut off my arm. Very inspiring post and heartfelt. Thanks so much for sharing your struggles. It makes me feel less alone and fills me hope that maybe one, I’ll make it to where you are. Here’s hoping your voices come back. 🙂

  39. I don’t know if anyone’s told you this but you are kicking butt on your cottage renovations. I know I couldn’t keep up with you and I’m a wee bit younger. You get more done in a week than I have in a year when it comes to improving your home. Maybe once all of it is finally done and you’ve put away your drills and saws, when it’s quiet and peaceful and you have the whole day ahead of you, the voices will return.

      1. Wow! Great and beautiful comments. Venting is good. I love all your stories, they’re keepers on my shelf, but I also understand how menopause can fuck with your brain. It’s shitful. My early morning gifts of interesting, half asleep half awake dreaming, is basically gone. I pull in help from wherever I can. Thankfully family are all avid readers and intelligent people 🙂 I can’t advise. All I know is, You Are A Writer!!!
        Hugs x

  40. Hey, Jenny–thanks for a wonderful post.. And can I remind you…it is writing and it is very entertaining. So there! 😛 to the WB. I have read almost everything you’ve written and still have several on my keeper shelf despite all my efforts to downsize my collection. You have always been a great source of inspiration to me. I studied your books, your humor and how you would make a certain scene just *work.* But I had to turn my writing efforts to a whole new genre in order to be successful. Something to ponder in the dark with your computer. I’m sending good thoughts your way, it was there once before, it’ll be there again. 🙂

  41. I’m sorry you’re suffering through this. I’m pretty new to your work and have read only Bet Me and Maybe This Time, so far, but I heart, heart, heart your style and am pacing myself so I don’t burn through all your stuff in, like, a month, which would be le suck.

    I’m fascinated that your writerly juice comes from The Voices. I totally get what you mean but have no comparable experience, not really, though I like to write. I feel like when I sit my arse down to do it, I tap into stuff, and that’s pretty groovy. I wish I could think of something brilliant and not wiseass-ish on how to coax The Voices back, but all I can come up with is, don’t folks pay good money for meds to make The Voices go away? 😉 Actually, is it possible any new/current meds you’re taking could be responsible for The Voices being MIA? (You’ve probably already explored this angel, eh?)

    Well, since They’re being coy, it seems pretty smart to do something else for a while. What kinda non-fic you interested in writing at this point? Stuff on the craft of writing and whatnot? If not that, I could totally see you taking a Mary Roach-like approach to a subject matter, like “Bonk” or “Spook” or some such.

    Good luck figuring it all out.

  42. I read many of the comments (LOVED Laura Resnick’s comments!) but not all. So I will say this, at the risk of repetition – have you tried talking out, or acting out a scene? When I’m driving, or cleaning, I’ll start a conversation between two characters, just to see where it goes. Not always, but definitely when I’m stuck. Then – voom! the scene takes off (or I get an entirely different idea for a different scene) and I’m back at the keyboard.

    I just thought – since you hear the voices – maybe hearing your own voice will allow the voices in your head to rise up and maybe say, no, you’re doing it wrong. THIS is how it should go – and off they chatter.

    At any rate – sending love and hugs…

    1. I used to drive because the voices were always loud in the car. Then I rear-ended somebody and did $7K worth of damage to my car (which was still not totaled, go Prius) and now I pay very strict attention to the road.
      But when my foot heals, I’m thinking about walking. Milton would LOVE it if we walked.

      1. I will always encourage dog walking 🙂 Seriously. I can point you toward a whole bunch of stuff showing the beneficial effect of dogs on brain processes if you want. 🙂

        1. I’m already convinced of the value of dogs.
          It’s people I’m not sure about. (The Supreme Court on voting rights and the Republican House on immigration at the moment. Very fond of Wendy Davis, though.)

          1. I may have to use “I’m already convinced of the value of dogs” for a meme at work if that’s alright 🙂

  43. Just random thoughts…because I can imagine how frustrating it is to wait for the voices to come back.

    Perhaps writer’s hearing aids would help. That would work if the voices are still talking but you just can’t hear them anymore. Menopause shakes all sorts of stuff up. I’m there with you. And, although I’ve made the suggestion, I’m not exactly sure how you could find writer’s hearing aids. But, both of my kids wear hearing aids and it made a huge difference in *our* ability to communicate. At the very least, you could ask the voices to SPEAK UP. Or maybe that isn’t it, but the voices are talking in another room and you need to find and open the right door. My last thought on this…do you think they’d come back if you offered them a cookie? Or maybe a nice tea in good china with finger sandwiches on the side? And no, as silly as my suggestions might seem, I’m not actually kidding with any of them, and neither are the voices in my head that suggested them.

  44. Sometimes the Voice is very present with me, and sometimes it’s not. It is very painful to achieve and lose this state of grace, but, that’s life, right? I feel I can make the problem worse if I am trying to force too big of a project, or trying to mandate an arbitrary structure on something that needs to grow (and I don’t know what direction it needs to grow in). What usually works for me in these times is to start small. To write little things and finish them and allow them to be bad. On some level I’m trying to court the Voice, you know, Hi! I’m here, so, if you want to come out and play, lemme know. Eventually, I hit on something that surprises me. Then I just try to keep surprising myself and sooner or later I begin to hear the Voice again.

    Why not go back to the beginning? Why not write some short stories and see if you can catch a Voice for ten pages? It’s less pressure. Less commitment. The stories don’t have to be connected to each other. You’re just asking the Voices for some casual fun, if they want to come along.

    1. I am writing shorter things that link, like episodes in a TV series. And the Liz books are very short novels (50,000 words, in theory) that together make one big romance novel (200,000 words, in theory). I’m just really fascinate by TV now; having so many series available to stream means that I’m watching TV seasons like novels. Speaking of which the second season of Person of Interest is now available on Prime. And I have to work. As god is my witness, my reward for getting the back porch done and the TV hooked up out here is going to be a PoI marathon. I may even start at the beginning of the first season again.

      1. Speaking of tv series… Have you been able to try Orphan Black? It’s a BBC America/Bell Media (aka Canadian) series about a Canadian grifter who discovers she’s a clone. Same actress, many different people. The acting, writing and plotting are amazing.

  45. There are days I’d rather scour a dumpster with my husband’s toothbrush than write another scene. When one of my close friends says, “I need to write to feel right,” I look at her and think, “You’re kidding.” I write because I want Hedi’s story to be finished–all the way to the end. I’m lucky. She’s both loud and persistent. But I am not a REAL writer either.

    Hugs to you, Jenny. May the voices return soon:-)

  46. Glad you cleared up that “real writer” nonsense. Saves me some time here. (What the hell were you even thinking, saying something like that? Geez, woman.)

    I’ve been reading this blog for a very long time, although I’ve pretty much stopped commenting. And I remember several years ago when people started scrutinizing your work and writing literary papers about it. I totally freaked out, wondering what kind of pressure that would put on you. People shouldn’t be allowed to do that to someone until they’ve been dead for a few decades. But then I reassured myself that you were a pro and probably that kind of thing wouldn’t bother you at all. And maybe it doesn’t. Maybe that doesn’t factor into this at all. But I wonder whether maybe the collaborations were easier not just because other people were helping with the heavy lifting, but also because you didn’t have to take full credit/blame for them if/when the literary crowd started analyzing them.

    I’ve noticed that much of your more recent stuff has been “re-imaginings” of other classic works. Maybe This Time was Taming of the Shrew, right? And You Again was . . . something. Agatha Christie? And the Liz books were your version of— hell, I’m so bad with names and I’m not a fan of the genre, but some kind of tribute to mystery? And even the “fun” stories you’re doing are a re-telling of classic fairy tales. Have you always done that, or is it new? Has it occurred to you that The Girls might be fed up with trying to fit into someone else’s mold? That maybe they just want to tell a story in their own way? Maybe they’re not as literary as you are.

    Do you remember the post you wrote, long ago, about realizing you had stopped having fun? That might be the wrong word. Maybe it was more about playfulness. I tried to find it but instead got caught up in re-reading old posts and lost a couple hours. Damn good stuff, those archives. Anyway, in it you resolved not to forget again how important that is. I haven’t heard any playfulness in your posts for a very long time. Until you started attacking things with a sledge hammer. That was fun. That made me laugh and feel hopeful for you. I know life hasn’t given you much reason to laugh lately, and I hope that changes. I know my creativity is tied pretty tightly to my sense of humour and the need for laughter and play. I wouldn’t be surprised if yours (and other people’s) is too.

    Have you seen this TED talk from Ken Robinson? He talks about how schools are designed to kill creativity, but in the process he says some very interesting things about creativity. And the necessity of being willing to make mistakes. Not an easy concept for perfectionists. [I love his description of professors and how it mirrors what you’ve said about your body being mere transportation for your (very impressive) brain.] Plus he’s funny in that dry Brit way and it’s not a hardship to listen to the accent.

    I don’t know, these are random thoughts I had while reading your post and trying not to cry. Just throwing stuff out there as part of the discussion. Maybe helpful, maybe not. Sorry to ramble on so long.

    Jenny, your voices need you as much as you need them. Once they’re done sulking and running around seeing whether some other less demanding writer might take them in, they’ll come back, desperate for attention. I don’t doubt that at all.

    1. I will definitely check out the TED talks. There’s amazing stuff coming out of that program.

      Nope, the academic criticism doesn’t hamper me, any more than reviews do at this point. For one thing, I know that academic analysts will see things in there that I’m not aware of (and they’ll be right), but it doesn’t have anything to do with the process of writing. That comes from having started as an academic and then in the middle, after my coursework for the PhD was done, starting to write fiction. One of my committee profs said he could tell exactly when I started to write stories because my criticism changed. It’s just a completely different world in much the same way that people writing reviews are writing from a completely different world view. It’s not that criticism, academic or popular, can’t be helpful to a writer, it’s just that it’s always about something that’s already been published which means it’s at least one book behind what I’m working on. They’re analyzing a child that’s left the nest and I’m trying to give birth. That kid’s okay, he made it out alive and he’s functioning in the real world; I’m back here with labor pains.

      I do think that the past three hard years had a chilling effect on my writing that piled on top of the slow recovery I was making from menopause. There was just so much damn noise in my life that couldn’t be ignored. And aside from Milton who is currently barking at something out front, probably a bear, it’s pretty quiet here now. So fingers crossed, once I shovel the rest of this stuff out of the way, something might come back.

      Definitely will watch the TED talk. Thanks.

  47. Oh for godsakes. Not Taming of the Shrew. Turn of the Screw. I KNOW these things, my brain just refuses to cooperate sometimes.

    1. Oh, yeah, I forgot about that. I actually wanted to write my own version of The Turn of the Screw long before I became a writer. It was one of those, “I love this book, but if I were writing it . . .” kind of things. I kept putting it off because I couldn’t find a way in. And then there was Alice . . .
      The Fairy Tale Lies stories are the ones that have the most juice for me right now. I think about them all the time. If the voices come back, I bet they’re going to come back as alternate world fantasy with my versions of fairy tales, linked stories that make a novel. I already know the story titles: “Zo White and the Five Orphants,” “Hansel and Gleep,” “The Frog Principle,” “The Goose Guy,” “The Twelve Missing Princesses” . . .

      Although now I kind of want to write The Taming of the Screw. And its sequel, The Turn of the Shrew. That’s brilliant.

  48. I’ve written and [virtually] torn up three or four posts. They all sounded stupid as all get out.

    The gist of what I want to say is that I think you should try something really radically new to get the subconscious speaking to you again. Could be a matter of writing early, since late isn’t doing the same trick. Or writing in crowded places so that you can use the distraction to push yourself into the stuff you’re writing. Or writing with your left hand or upside down or figuring out something in your own past life that you really haven’t worked through to your own satisfaction, and weaving that into the mix.

    Everybody that knows you will have some partial but potentially accurate observation about what’s getting in the Voices’ way. Maybe you can write their viewpoints all down and then strike out in some weird direction just to prove them all wrong.

    I don’t know. I just know that you’re one of the most inspiring writers I know of, because at the bottom of every tale I’ve heard you tell (well…. not heard, actually…. obviously I mean “read,” but I think this Voices thing is getting to me) there is somebody who is pushing herself and other people towards Telling Truth, and that is a wonderful thing.

    Tell nonfiction truth if you have to, but whip those Voices out of the subterranean caverns they’re hiding in and get them onto their truth-telling toes.

  49. For the record, I don’t think you did the Real Writer explanation badly. But part of that may be because I have absolute faith in your writing skills and the idea you wouldn’t think you wrote well boggles the mind. But anyway. Voices. I know you hate flying, but have you considered planning a big trip somewhere new? I know you have a lot of commitments right now (teaching, renovating, dog worshiping…) but maybe an even more strange and new experience than moving to NJ would kick start things.
    I would have suggested alcohol too, like a couple others (hi guys!). The advice my mom gave me, that she got from her graduate adviser, was to have a drink before you start writing a paper. Or have three and then edit very carefully the next morning. Maybe binge eating chocolate could help? Or tiramisu? There could be enough alcohol in there to help the voices come back. Though if the manic part is too bad, tiramisu is probably not a good idea. Caffeine, sugar, and alcohol, all in one…
    I hope the voices come back soon, and if they don’t I’m sorry because it sucks to be lonely in your own head. But if you start doing non-fiction, I will be very happy. One of my favorite things is the essay you wrote on Buffy and Spike/Why Riley Was Wrong. So yes. Hoping for the best for you, but please don’t let it stress you out!

    Also, do you binge-watch Netflix? Because there’s this wonderful Canadian show called Lost Girl…

    1. I binge watch Amazon Prime which has Lost Girl (although not free on Prime) so I added it to my watchlist. Thank you!
      No alcohol: hypomania.
      No sugar: diabetes.
      No trips: I LOVE where I am now and want to wallow in it.
      But yes on the non-fiction. I’m definitely feeling the draw there.

  50. Okay, so I am posting after everyone else is done, oh well. But I hear you on Real Writer. I am not a born fiction writer and everyone’s always expected that I am, or have to be because I can write at all. Except hell, I don’t even hear voices and my plots are lame and literally all characters sound like me, so what’s the point of pretending I write fiction? Especially when my best friend has plots and characters streaming through her head constantly at all times, which I have come to understand is what the Real Fiction Writers do or have going on, at least. I do not live up to that.

    Yeah, I need to stick to nonfiction. I can snark it up about reality just fine, but making it up from scratch is sadly kind of beyond me. Though these days I am stumped on writing about real life when the subjects I want to write about are about events that haven’t had a decent ending yet or I am just not “finished” enough IRL to pull them off. Blech. At least with fiction you can make it up (I guess), when you write down real life stuff that doesn’t come off so well when you get outed.

    In your case…well, do whatever you can do, I think. If the nonfiction works, then it works, and we’ll all read it.

  51. Heartfelt condolences, and best hopes going forward. I offer the following, in the spirit of, “You are not alone,” from a blog I wrote a few weeks ago:
    Truly creative people, the kind who are successful enough to get asked how they do it, are generally too steeped in creative impulses to realize the level of magic involved; they are fish trying to think about water, or humans trying to think about air (which can be done, obviously, but it took genius to do it the first time).

    Non-creative people just shrug and go about their business. The rest of us, the unhappy fragment who have been hit by lightning just often enough to know that it is real, that we want more, and that we will probably only ever get enough to keep us hungry, are the ones who spend time and effort worrying about what creativity is and how to get it.

    My own experience with creativity and time management is that, if you are able to procrastinate, you should, because the story or poem will force itself out of your fingertips when IT is ready. Sitting down at the keyboard and trying to force the issue produces suicide-inducing drek. But then I am not a COMMERCIAL writer, and have long since given up hope of becoming one.

  52. Oh for Crying Out Loud (harsh, I know, but said with love).

    If ‘not a Real Writer’ is a bad choice of phrase, what do you mean? No, scratch that, because that train of thought doesn’t seem to be getting you anywhere.

    I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it, despite the whole travel -induced blood clot thingy: I don’t think you’ll write You Again til you are surrounded by English accents. Get thee to Devon and tap in to your Inner Christie. Isn’t there a Cherry who can sail you across the Atlantic in a little boat?

    As you are so audio-orientated, what are you hearing? Are you going to concerts so you can hear music at the same time as feeling the emotion of the crowd? Also, there’s something about how listening to music helps with brain re-wiring. How do audio books work for you? Singers?

    Now here’s an awesome woman who has worked out a new way of being: She’s a wheelchair user who scuba dives whilst still in her chair. She was on BBC Breakfast this morning, so a new piece may go up on the BBC site soon.

    Good luck honey.

    1. Strop, I would come visit you in a heartbeat except for (a) no flying and (b) up to my ass in alligators here.
      Hate audio books, hate to be read to.
      Music is good, I have playlists, but again, alligators ass-high at the moment.

  53. I think you should go ahead an sacrifice a chicken. Call it putting faith into the universe.

    I have a friend who had some health issues that kept on sending her back to the doctor and hospital. With health issues, there’s a lot of waiting on doctors and labs and medication, but not always a lot the patient can do proactively. I decided we needed to take alternate measures, and rounded up a group of her close friends, and the following supplies:

    – One chicken pinata (actually a penguin with a whirligig beanie), filled with feathers and candy.
    – A new broom stick
    – Four bottles of bubbles in four colors

    We saluted the four cardinal directions by blowing bubbles, and then handed my friend the new broom stick, and told her to take all her anger and fear out on the chicken pinata. When the head popped off, we tied the rope to the pinata’s feet. When the feet pulled off, we just laid that sucker down on the porch and told her to think mad and keep whacking. Took a lot to break that pinata apart, but it felt like a job well down.

    Then we had a take-out Peruvian chicken dinner, to complete the ritual.

    Must have worked (or the medicine finally kicked in), because she didn’t need to go back to the hospital!

  54. Thanks so much for your post Jenny. I’ve been going through the menopause for two years (or more) and it’s only now when I’m beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel that I realise how bad it’s been. I don’t have voices but I do get fully formed stories – in a dream a lot of the time – and that’s just not been happening for me. All of these replies are helpful, Laura’s particularly so for me – why did I never think to just mix things up a bit? I’m going to try that. Thanks everyone.

  55. First of all, I’m sorry to hear of the career tumult. I’m glad you are surrounded by supportive people, which can’t be remotely a coincidence, but still. Nice to not have to fight that battle on top of the very real and frustrating health and silent-voices troubles.

    Second, thank you for your honesty. I have “issues” about my writing a creativity. Because of your willingness to be vulnerable and honest, and because that was mirrored by the generosity of the commenters, I have concrete ideas about how to address them. See? You’re a born teacher. Even when aspects of your life suck, you create the conditions to make it better for other people.

    Lastly, I left an unnatural-for-me career after years of soul-searching and it felt like ripping out my fingernails at the time. I’d invested so much of myself into that job. But it had grown impossible to conquer the troubles through willpower . All these years later, in a whole other mental and physical place, I’m surprised at how much I still use the skillset of that other world. I’m still reaping the benefits. What I’m trying to say is that I sincerely hope you find your way through the silent void. I think that will happen. But if the future holds different wonderful things, from my perspective, I don’t believe this struggle will be wasted.

    1. Thank you, Jan. I don’t think it’s wasted, either. Everything I learned as an art teacher, I’ve used in writing. Everything becomes a part of who we are.
      So glad you’re in a good place now.

  56. Jenny,
    Would you ever write an autobiography? After I read Madeleine L’Engle’s, I re-read all her novels just to see the personal context. Yours would be funnier and just as interesting. From the blog post responses, it seems like the book would be well received from pretty big fan base. Gosh, I would even read a picture book of your pets with captions. The way you’ve already written them as complete characters in your blog has been so much fun to read.

    Best wishes that your voices come back (especially without animal sacrifice).

    1. Mollie wants me to but the problem is, my life is not that interesting. Actually, what she wants is not a full autobiography, she wants me to write about my years in publishing. But as the McD students will tell you, I don’t know that much about publishing, so I’m not sure what I’d write.

      1. Write about your experiences. I loved the story you told in the comments about demanding that both your name and Bob’s name be on the covers of your collaborations. That was a GREAT story. I’d love to read a book on your experiences in the industry. That’s something that I’d pay money for. For whatever that’s worth. 🙂

      2. I think it would be great if you did an autobiography like Tina Fey’s or Mindy Kaling’s where you don’t feel obligated to detail every part of your life, but just the stories that you think are worth telling. E.g. I was especially interested to read Fey’s book because she went to my alma mater and I wanted to see what she’d say about it (Tina Fey’s take on the Greek system and Jefferson-worship and Foxfields and…). Her college chapter was entirely about going on a hike with a guy she’d had a crush on. And it was still awesome. She very deliberately does not get into the story of how she got a scar, even though it’s something people are curious about. The book is itself exemplary of her attitude: she’s the boss here.

        In fact I think an autobiog like Fey’s would satisfy what Mollie wants too, because so much of Fey’s book is about her life in entertainment, starting with community theater when she was a kid. I don’t think Fey would set herself up claiming to be some general expert about working in comedy (theater, TV, movies), but what she had to say about her own experiences was still fascinating because of how she wrote it.

        And neither Fey nor Kaling has had a particularly interesting life, aside from what they do for a living. They both had super conventional childhoods raised by Republican parents, they were smart girls who went to good colleges and never did drugs or crashed a car, and then they diligently worked their way up in comedy. What makes the books are their voices. Frankly from the bits I’ve seen through this blog and when I followed the Cherry listserv on Yahoo, your life is more interesting than theirs put together, so I wouldn’t assume that an autobiography is only worth writing if you’ve had some ridiculous Keith Richards-type life.

        I think my mother-in-law’s memoir would be really interesting, even though I’m sure she’d protest that she’s had a totally boring life. To me it’s like an almost Forrest-Gump kind of walk through the post WWII era, but without the CGI-ed interactions with famous people — just what a normal woman dealt with in terms of disability and loss of family, reproductive choice and going into the workplace and then being a mother and surviving breast cancer. But to me it’s like something on TV. Having Catholic military doctors refuse to abort a pregnancy even though the fetus won’t survive birth and your husband is in Vietnam — that is some Mad Men craziness.

      3. “The Time the Voices Left Me and it Drove Me Crazy: Jenny Crusie, the Menopause Years.” I would love to read that, as would every other fan girl here.

        And let’s face it – your life like everyone’s has been a series of challenges, bold choices, success and now, some struggle to recapture the Voices. In the right hands, that’s epic stuff.

  57. I have faith in you and will wait as long as it takes for your next book. Until then, I lurk here and read your blog!

    It’s also nice to know I’m not alone in my creative dry spells, especially knowing my favorite author has them 🙂

  58. Thank you for writing this. I used to write fiction. I never felt I was ready for publication, but that was my goal. One day, the voices went away, the stories went away, the ideas were all gone. I’ve felt like a failure since then, because I just. could. not. write. anymore. I feel less alone now. Good luck putting your feet on the path again.

  59. I hope the voices come back for you – it sounds lonely. But I have to say, I’m glad you had your water-up-the-nose moment about writing – reading about Agnes and Min and Daisy and Tilda remind me about the kind of life I want to have with the big families that just happen and the crazy pets and weird neighbors and baked goods.

  60. You know… I’ve always wondered how it all starts. You sharing how it’s the voices that drives you to write is what in a way I can relate to. You are driven by inspiration or an inner power (because it is powerful and wonderful!) I’m not an artist, but when I want to draw or paint something I look at the final product and I’m surprised by the results. But, If you ask me right now to draw something- forget it, I’m not in the mood and it won’t come out right. The same goes with writing, if I have to fill a birthday card to a very special person, sometimes I can’t find the words because I’m not in the mood, maybe that person wasn’t so nice to me at the moment and that could be the reason for not finding the right words. Yet an author friend had a birthday and I made her cry, it was so touching and special. So, I understand about the voices. I hope they’re just on vacation and you didn’t get the memo, and they’ll pop in and say, We’re back! Did you you miss us? Have we got some stories for you! and then you can write it to us. When I’m stressed there are so many voices in my head, I can’t read. They just take over and don’t shut up. A friend recommended I read a book and it’s about inner voices. Check it out, because according to this book we always have voices in our minds. It’s called The Untethered Soul; the journey beyond yourself. by Michael A Singer. I haven’t finished reading it, but it caught my attention. Maybe you’ll find those voices. Oh, and who is the author of Green as Spring? I’d love to read it.

  61. Just like everyone else here, I hope the voices come back. Even more, I hope they bring you a project that fills you with joy.

    I think BET ME is the greatest contemporary romance novel ever written. I wish I could come up with something that is a fraction as funny and wonderful. I will keep trying. Even more than humor, you brought the genre real-life heroines, instead of 27-year-old PHd cover models. There’s nothing wrong with 27-year-old PHd cover models, but I can’t relate to them.

    My skin feels too small if I can’t write.

    And, also: Menopause sucks. I’m still dealing with it. I don’t miss periods and cramps. I don’t like being told 100 times a day by media and others that I don’t matter anymore.

  62. Thank you, thank you, thank you. My voices stopped too. And yes, I also attribute it at least partly to menopause – which is mightily annoying since there are many writers like A.S. Byatt who seem to have just started hearing those voices AFTER menopause.

    I’ve been writing for decades – mostly for newspapers, as a humble reporter, which I loved. It’s a pretty comatose business now, though. And writing uncompensated blog posts as a “citizen journalist” just isn’t the same – and not just because of the total lack of money, although that doesn’t help. It just doesn’t feel like that kind of writing matters. So I turned to fiction. I’d written many a short story in my youth, a few even published, so I decided to write novels. My brain was full of plots and characters and scenes – how hard could it be?

    Wrote two novels that made about $25 each with an obscure indie publisher. Then I got the rights back and self-published the two books and lo and behold – they sold pretty well! they got good reviews! they even made a nice little profit for me!

    “When’s the next book coming out?” friends and neighbors asked. And asked. And asked. I used to wake up in the middle of the night jotting scenes down. I kept a notebook in the car for jotting scenes down. I carried index cards in my purse for jotting scenes down. Now I have a blank notebook in the car, blank index cards in the purse and a blank space in the part of my brain where the novelist used to live. I’m trying to write that third novel, but it has turned into a ridiculously agonizing struggle. I mean, geez, it’s just chick lit, for God’s sake. It’s not like I’m trying to be freakin’ Marcel Proust, here. How hard can this be? Turns out the answer is – Hard. Very hard.

    I’m considering teaching some noncredit writing and self-publishing workshops – maybe I would be happier just passing my knowledge on to the “next generation.” Like you, I’m also considering trying to write something in a completely different genre. But still, the crushing silence persists, making the whole process miserable. I do hope you find your voice again – it’s a wonderful, witty voice and I do love it so. But I have to confess, knowing that you are struggling too makes me feel a little less ashamed of my own massive writer’s block. Thank you for sharing so honestly with all of us. I hope talking about it helps you as much as it has helped me to hear about it.

    [Also – Sorry to be so verbose. It occurs to me that maybe I’m using up my daily quota of words with too many blog posts and comments.]

  63. I can’t find the book Green as Spring anywhere! Who is the author? Maybe it’s published with a different title? Do share…

    1. It’s Rosemary Something. I know, I’m awful. I have it somewhere, but most of my books are still packed. I will find it. Sorry.

  64. Okay. I am very late to the party. I used to dream stuff. Or daydream it. Then it quit. I never made a connection to menopause. Sheesh. I had been writing on the computer so finally I got this idea of going back to when things worked for me. I hauled out the fine point black ink pen and yellow legal pad. And I wrote a whole first draft!! It is weird and awful, but I still loved it. Then I started revising. Then last August my mom died. Complete halt. Nothing. I thought about NaNo. No. I did manage to write a haiku a day for a month. Really, really, really bad haiku. Had to go they all my mom’s stuff with the family. Pack my stuff ( I was living with her so she didn’t have to go to a home Everytime she came out if the hospital.) and move in with my son. I am not organized here yet. I am not dreaming. I am not revising. But I am getting antsy. So maybe that is a good sign. But truly. I thank you for this post. Menopause. I just thought I’d lost it. My only true talent. Okay so I did lose it, but there’s a REASON. It some how helps. So maybe I get beyond this stuff and settle in…. Maybe?

    1. I think for me it’s been a combination of menopause followed by three very bad years when I was pretty much holding on by my fingernails. Sounds like it’s the same for you. Hope you’re in a good place now.

      1. I’d cross my fingers but that would a) make it even harder to hang on and b) make it harder to write if/WHEN I get it back. 🙂

  65. Very late compared to everyone else but just wanted to add that I’m sorry your voices left and left you struggling. That sucks. Secondly, the fact that you’re someone who sometimes have scenes that are vivid makes me feel so much better about the folder of not at all related scenes I’ve typed in frenzies that I’ve built up over the years but have no idea what to do with and always feel slightly guilty about.

    Finally, just thought you should know that you, not just as a writer but as a kind, honest and funny blogger have had a big impact on many lives, especially mine. Your books have helped me cope with weight gain, deciding to break up with an emotionally abusive nitwit, insist on someone who was worthy of me, and stand up to my fears. When I had the worst day I’d ever had at my old animal shelter (I worked at an open-access shelter, I won’t say more than that) and had to leave early because I couldn’t stop crying, your books were the ones my boyfriend brought to me with a bottle of wine to remind me that the world was better than it seemed at that moment and that sometimes pets find the people who will love them forever, screw evil. I hope that you enjoy painting and remodeling and playing with pups because you deserve so much happiness for putting so much goodness into the world.

    I hope the voices return — not so much because I want more of your books to read (I do) but because you’re unhappy to not have them.

    1. Thank you so much, Bethany.
      And thank you for working with rescues, too. I know how heartbreaking it must be; I can’t even watch Animal Planet. It’s good we have people like you on the front lines.

  66. Oh, Jenny. I don’t know if you will read this, as your blog is so old, but I’m haunted by your loss of the voices. I, too, lost mine after achieving great success in publishing. Remember “The Sensuous Woman”? That was me. The frustration, fear and guilt became overwhelming. I shook my head over the many suggestions from your blog readers on how to bring the voices back. I tried most of them – not sacrificing the chicken though – and nothing worked. I finally went into talk radio as I still had my verbal skills. Writing was over for me. The loss was hard and puzzling. Where did the voices go? And why? I couldn’t even write a decent letter. I have biochemical depression, which was fixed pretty much with antidepressants, but no medication brought back the voices. Then a miracle happened two years ago. My doctor put me on a trial run of Abilify and ten days later the voices were back! It’s amazing. One day I’m struggling over a note to a neighbor and the next characters and dialogue were spilling out on the pages. I’ve now written a chick lit book and am on a second draft of a romance novel. I’m alive agian. Writing isn’t glorious every day but the written word spigot remains open. I know it sounds like my experience couldn’t relate to yours, but would it hurt to try a two week round of five milligrams of Abilify and see if it works for you?The chicken would appreciate that. I know it is a big step to think of a mediciation when you aren’t sick, but brain chemistry wiring is fragile and sometimes it needs a boost. Meanwhile, I mourn the loss of your voices and long for a new prickly Crusie heroine. One fighting menopause and the pull of gravity on the body and a great hero who loves her anyway?

    1. They’re coming back, at least in part. I’m in a new place now so I have to get a new GP and a new therapist. I’ll ask about it. Thank you.

  67. First, let me share that my password for was argh. Symptomatic of my entire high school experience. Second, thank you for the lovely warm characters that have kept me company on paper and now on my kindle throughout many sleepless nights. I hope the voice fairy, who brings the voices to minds like yours, slips some more under your pillow, along with some peace of mind and the health that goes with it. We need hopeful romantics like you.


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