Empty Head Syndrome

I’m sad to inform you that I now suffer from what is known as EHS, or “Empty Head Syndrome.” I am a writer who finds herself incapable of writing. Should I feel guilty about my newly developed mental condition? According to my writers’ group, no; they’re happy to point out that I finished writing a novel a month ago, and my mind deserves a break. However, here’s the catch: although my rapidly typing fingers might be taking a break, my nightmares are not.

That’s right; when I do not exercise my mind creatively during the day, my subconscious tortures me at night. I mean, all night long. It’s not that the dreams wake me up necessarily; they are merely disorienting. These dreams usually feature friends I haven’t seen in years. They feature tornados and sharks. In my dreams, friends tell me they are pregnant, and I wake up wondering if friends are really pregnant. Without an outlet for my overly imaginative mind, my dreams have become vivid, horrifying, and downright inappropriate, and I want this to stop.

And yet. And yet. I have nary a tale to tell. Nadda. Zilch.

I am an addicted daydreamer. Usually, when I daydream, I set up elaborate fantasy stories that don’t have good plotlines, but hey, they’re fun for me, and they send me into a state of blissful relaxation. I can’t even do that anymore! What is a daydreamer incapable of a simple daydream? A crazy person, that’s what! A sufferer of EHS, Empty Head Syndrome.

I’ve been doing my best to therapeutically heal my condition by reading. I’ve finished four books in the past two weeks: The Language Police, Felix Palma’s newest release Map of the Sky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower (heart-wrenching), and All Quiet on the Western Front (even more heart-wrenching). Instead of my morning routine of writing, I read. I read and I read and I read, hoping that the creative inspirations of others might inspire something in me. So far, we’re still at zero.

Does this happen to all authors? Does the process of writing a full-length novel so exhaust the psyche that all creative thought is removed for, say, the length of time it took to write the novel? Somebody tell me I’m not alone here, because I’m losing my mind. I think it’s because it has been years since I haven’t had a story in my head. Before I began the recently completed Life without Harry (which is floating around with first readers as I type), I spent two years working on a novel I ended up trashing. Before that, I spent about a year writing short stories. Before that … who knows? I’m getting too old to remember.

What I’m getting at is that it’s been years since I’ve been without a story in my brain, and without my creative outlet, I’m having trouble remembering how to relax—how to fade out when real life gets a little too intense. Because that’s what I’ve realized: writing is and always will be an escape for me. If I am unable to write, where is my escape? Where can my mind go to rest? Sure, reading other people’s work will help for a while. Watching Law and Order has a way of lulling me into a hypnotic trance of TV zombie-land. But how long will my subconscious be sated by these silly distractions? How long before I wake up in a cold sweat, haunted by never ending dreams?

Usually, stories have a way of falling into my lap, so I’m playing the waiting game—waiting for my first readers to have feedback on Life without Harry and waiting to wake up with something new to work on. Jake wants me to write something fantastical with a Halloween theme, and let’s face it—wouldn’t that be fun? Certain songs bring to mind scenes that have no relevance, and yet there are scenes already floating in my head, scenes from some mysterious story as yet undiscovered. But I still have no actual story, and folks, a writer needs a story like a surfer needs the sea. Until the images make sense, until inspiration strikes, I will wallow in this Empty Head Syndrome, waiting for the Fiction Fairy to bop me on the head.

10 thoughts on “Empty Head Syndrome

  1. You should start drinking. Actually, that’s not a bad idea. Grab a beer that you’ve never tried (even in the morning, if that’s when you write). There’s your story material. Pour it into a glass and check it out with your eyes, nose and taste buds.

    Yeah, it’s just beer at the core, but I bet the flavors and aromas will spark some fun ideas and imagination. And if not, have a second.

  2. 1. I know it’s not a story, but you just wrote something that I read and am now commenting on. Little victory!

    2. If you have scenes that are disconnected but vivid, write them! You never know where they may lead. The story of mine you’re reading and critiquing now started with that first scene and progressed into this monster that’s controlling me now. You don’t need to know A to Z to write. Hang out at M for awhile and see if a character takes you for a ride. I rarely know how my stories will end while I’m writing them…In the end, if you don’t like it, throw it out. But you wrote something.

    3. I have fabulous books of prompts that I consult when I’m stuck. They are full of quotes, pictures, suggestions, writing tips. Next time I see you, I’m giving you one.

    4. I totally relate to this whole situation. My brain is violent and crazy at night if I don’t empty it creatively.

    5. A good brew solves all problems. 🙂

  3. Empty Head Syndrome has a few advantages—your mind is filling with thoughts and ideas and you do not even realize it! My creativity seems to work on a monthly cycle and I can feel it slowing down and ramping up at various times. Sometimes the best thing for me is to empty my mind, turn on the radio, and do laundry or dishes and BANG! my mind is relaxed but somehow full of bits and bobs that might one day be something. Another exercise I like to do when mental sparks are not flying is to read (or, better yet, listen to) Stephen King’s On Writing. It’s not what you expect and it always makes my mind spark a little.

    • Oooooooooo I adore “On Writing.” Good suggestion! And you’re so right: ideas always show up at the weirdest, most unexpected times. Kind of like love.

  4. As I was reading your blog entry I thought about the beginning of a potential novel where a character suffers from the exact dilemma you describe… the feeling I had from what you describe reminded me of a reaction I had to the book “Still Alice” … in such a strong character driven book the reader often becomes so immersed that the struggle transcends the plot and the reader becomes transfixed with the dilemma themselves. Your next book has begun……..

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