Treading Water: When the work seems futile

Perhaps it is the artist’s temperament, but I sometimes feel down for no real reason. Not depressed, just as if I am performing exercises in futility—like I’m treading water.

There are days, sometimes weeks, when I feel simultaneously overwhelmed and like nothing is happening. I tried to explain this to my husband the other day, and the best analogy I could come up with was treading water. I’m not drowning, but I’m not moving forward, either.

Usually this suspended feeling happens when I combine too little sleep with too many projects, with a healthy dose of my-daughter-is-giving-me-a-stroke-itis. Almost always, this feeling grabs me when I am working on many projects that have no immediate payoff, such as working on social media stuff or blogging or at the beginning of a long novel. When these things happen all at once, it creates that feeling of working hard and getting nowhere fast.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not the type of person who insists on instant gratification. But sometimes I wonder why I’m doing all this. I start to wonder why I blog. Or write a short story. Or even work on my current Work-In-Progress. I work so hard and then wonder, so what? I mean, who cares, really? And what does it matter, really? Who is ever going to notice if I just stop it all right now? And sometimes it gets so overwhelming that I actually do think about walking away.

But I know I won’t.

Because people have told me that they read my blog and it helps them. Because I learn so much from the blogs I write for. Because people have told me that they read my latest short story and it moved them. Because I am excited about my current WIP. Because I know I will not always be exhausted and have a preschooler underfoot to make writing time a guilty pleasure. Because I have my debut novel coming out next year and am crazy excited about it.

Because I will never stop writing until I am dead. It is who I am, not what I do. And if even one thing I write helps one person, then I have changed the world.

That is no small thing.

Do you ever feel like this? How do you shake out of your funk when it seems like all your work is futile?

GoosesQuill FB


  1. I know what you mean, Kerry. I guess the bottom line for me is to keep going because it’s a passion. If just one person is encouraged, then it was all worth it.

    • Yes, we go on because we can’t stop. I would write even if no one read it–I always have, since I was in grade school. After you add publishing to the equation, though, sometimes it feels like you’re doing everything BUT writing, and not getting anything done. But I know it all makes a difference.

  2. I think every writer has felt this at some point. What’s important to keep in mind is that every “overnight success,” every “big name,” toiled in obscurity for years, feeling the same way. We usually don’t see behind the curtain, so it can be hard to remember that behind every currently successful writer hides years and years of “why am I still doing this when I don’t see any results?” 🙂

    • Yes, Marcy, you’re right. I used to work as stage crew for theater companies, and there was always so much that went on behind the curtains that no one ever saw, yet was vital to the success of the show. So I will continue to toil in obscurity and await my “overnight success”! 🙂

  3. Kerry, a writing teacher once told me “if you can live without writing, you should do that” because we all go through times of feeling “what’s it all for?” and there’s no easy answer. I like teaching adults because I need the appreciative feedback. I know I write for the love of it, but if I didn’t get a pat on the back now and then, I’d need lots of antidepressants. 😉

    • Yes, Linda, I am always so grateful for my critique partners and beta readers. They point out all the flaws, but they also praise the things I do right, and they cheer when I finally get a piece into shape. I don’t think any writer can make it through without some sort of writerly support system.

  4. Very well put. I share a number of these feelings and sometimes it’s just refreshing to look at the comment section and see something! Thanks!

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