Sepia picture of an old-fashioned typewriter with its ribbon unspooled for Writer by Malin JamesThings have been interesting lately – lots of things in lots of ways. The changes are fundamental and long overdue. Not easy stuff, but good all the same.

It’s a strange thing, feeling your internal landscape shift like stop-motion film. If history were anything to go by, I’d say that this should be a creatively exciting time. In the past, periods of violent transition have always led to a surge in my creative energy. But for the first time in my life, change and transition are affecting my ability to write.

Writing has always been my way in. It’s how I process everything, from emotional nuance to the world around me. It is, quite literally, how I make sense of things. Unfortunately, “things”, both internal and external, have shifted enough that writing taking a hit.  I feel dull and mentally paralyzed in a way that is vaguely terrifying. And, in the end, that’s probably good.

This has happened before – I hit a place of maximum pressure and catharsis becomes inevitable. The energy released by the catharsis usually channels right back into my work, which as been a pretty great silver-lining, especially as rabid creative focus has, more than once, given me the mental and emotional space I needed to deal with whatever I was dealing with.

This time was different though. This time, rather than helping me through a difficult period, writing was part of what ushered in the difficult period (and I can tell you right now that this was one hell of a motherfucking difficult period).

It’s funny – I didn’t see that connection until I wrote it out just now (oh, writing, you clever, wily beast). The story that rocked me (through a combination of timing and my masochistically gleeful tendency to myself for material) was called “Alice in the Attic” and it drew heavily on a trauma (and the resulting experiences) that have shaped nearly all aspects of my life.

Writing “Alice” was difficult, but it poured out of me in a sort of fevered rush. Sitting down at my desk to work on it was, in and of itself, so cathartic that it emptied me out and left me hollow by the end.

That said, I don’t want to misrepresent the situation. This particular pressure had been building for years and the writing of that story was just one of many things that ended up twisting the valves. And yet…I haven’t been able to settle into a larger project since November when it was published.

I am gun-shy like I’ve never been and I’ll be honest – it’s pretty galling. Shorter pieces still come fairly easily (the shorter the better), but I’ve got several longer projects that I just can’s sink into. In fact, I seem to freeze at the prospect of writing anything longer than 1000 words. I think I might be afraid. I wish I knew what of…

I suppose that it, right there. I’m afraid of something, and writing is connected to whatever it is. Maybe I’m afraid of triggering myself again; maybe I’m afraid to trust myself again; maybe I’m afraid of something else. I don’t know. And, in the end, I’m not sure I need to know.

I suspect all I really need to do is acknowledge that I’m scared and write anyway. Because fuck it. I’m a writer. That’s what I do. I’m good at it (sorry – not a humble moment) and I love it and no amount of difficulty is going to keep me from doing what I fucking love.


  1. You are most definitely a very talented writer, Malin, and I hope that the inner turmoils that are preventing you from writing your longer stories fade away with time. The trauma from your past that triggered the panic attack and all that came with it, can sometimes lie dormant for half a lifetime. But if they are not dealt with, can come back at any time. You may well be suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but you may know that already and be seeking help. I’m not qualified to offer any serious advice, but I just hope that you are able to lay your demons to rest and re-discover your ability to move people with your incredible writing skills. x

  2. Stay defiant Malin. We have infinite capacity for fear (and for downright terror to be honest). You’re right that it can be paralysing. You may just need more time to process what you’re feeling… I often think this happens at night, when the unconscious mind has the chance to unravel our emotions.

    Above all, don’t feel that you are failing or slacking in any way.
    Perhaps keep a scribble notebook for a while, and jot down whatever crosses your mind. It’s just for you, so there’s no pressure. You may begin to see repeating themes/images, which could shed light on what’s eating you… and show you the path forward.

    If you can identify what’s causing you such anxiety, it may be an invaluable source of writing inspiration (there’s always a silver lining!).

  3. Maybe, and this really is very much a maybe, you poured so much of yourself into that story that you have literally stripped the cupboard bare. You still are the most exquisitely skilled writer but you always reach into the wells of your soul when you write. Stop reaching and focus on refilling your wells. There is a theory that I respect that your energy is best when you have reserves in all of the five wells of emotional, creative, physical, spiritual and cognitive. If writing is scary right now, focus on one or more of the others. They will come back into balance and you will feel ready again.

    I am always ready to lend an ear if you want one.

    1. Oh, Honey…trust you to drill down right to the heart of it and hit the essential thing. Yes, I think you’re right. “Alice” did strip my cupboard bare. I knew it even as I was writing it and in the months taht have followed, I haven’t given myself much chance to restock the stores. I’d never heard of the “wells” analogy, but it resonates very deeply. Thank you – you’ve given me the key to shifting my perspective on this. I suspect it will end up making the difference. You are wonderful. There aren’t words for how wonderful you are. Xxx

  4. Aren’t longer works the product of a number of shorter works, weaved together when might fit with each other? I’m not a creative writer, so I hope this isn’t a presumptuous question. But I’m ADD, and this is how I must do everything.

    1. Not a presumptuous question at all! It’s different for every writer. For me, each work, regardless of length, emerges intuitively as an organic whole, so a composite approach doesn’t work for me. That said, I know many writers of both fiction and nonfiction who work in that more composited way. For me, it’s a great deal of listening to my gut, so when my gut hesitates, it stymies the works. I’m okay with that. I’m just ready to get moving again 🙂

  5. You will find your inspiration like you always do (based on my reading of your work). A movie, a good book, a beautiful painting. Stress can be just a fear of the unknown. A wise person once told me that “without fear there is no growth”. Maybe start by reading your own blog from the very beginning to the end. There is some great material there! Best wishes.

    1. Ah, thank you, Glen. Those are lovely words and I’m happy to hear them. It’s not so much a lack of inspiration as feeling more as if I’m hesitating to jump off a cliff. I’ll jump – I know I will, because I always do – but in the meantime reading through my blog is a lovely idea and I really appreciate your thinking of it! 🙂

    1. That’s exactly it – “a huge triumphant cathartic joy and a horrifying fragile terror”. I suspect it means that things are changing in a good way, but it’s a *really* uncomfortable feeling, creatively speaking. Thank you, Tabitha. Your work gets under my skin, regardless of the medium you’re working in. For what it’s worth, the cathartic joy is everywhere on the page. xx

Leave a Reply