52 Weeks of Writing: Week 34—When the thing you need to write suddenly won't work for you

A desert canyon at sunset with hazy blue shades and a dragon soaring in the distance.
Amin Duum at Sunset (Art by Dream/WOMBO)

This week has been a crisis, climax, recovery type of week in my writing world.

In order to understand this, you need to know that I write on a site called 4TheWords. It's an RPG game that's also about writing. I discovered it by accident back in March and it very quickly took over my writing life. I write everything on it. Journal entries, diaries, abstracts, notes.

And Amnar, of course.

This is how the site works. You are a character in a fantasy RPG world on a quest. Like other RPG games, you battle monsters, collect materials and objects, wear clothing, and do other exciting things. All of this is achieved by writing words. Specifically, you battle monsters by writing words. Mostly alone, sometimes with others.

The art is sweet and delightful and the whole site has a great inclusive vibe. Special events run throughout the year for the three Nanowrimo months of April, July, and November, with other sprinklings in between for winter, Halloween, and other big festivals.

After being nervous to start with, I quickly became obsessed. This is an autistic trait. I'm either all for a thing or not at all for a thing and once something is the former, essentially I can't live without it. From March until now, 4TheWords has become where I spend approximately ninety-nine percent of my time.

This has been a characteristic of my life. I find somewhere to be, either the real world or online (admittedly, mostly online), and that's where I spend all my time. I camp out, I make a home for myself, and that's where I stay.

Which is great. It's a safe space. There's a forum. I've met lovely people on there and had great online conversations. I find the art charming and the combination of new things and basic familiarity is great. My brain is attuned to making the focus about fighting a monster (although the monsters are so cute I have to tell myself at the end of every battle they're actually just released and are fine). It means that when it's a struggle to get through writer's block, it's less of a struggle because I can put the emphasis on "I need to fight this monster for this quest."

That got me back into writing Amnar earlier this year and I'm very grateful for it. Now, that's the end of this R. A. Salvatore-length prologue, we can progress to the main event.

On Thursday last week, a message popped up from the devs that the site was going to go down for maintenance. That would be five hours on Friday. I took that on board, promptly forgot, and carried on as though everything was normal. I did write on Friday morning, so I got my Friday writing streak covered.

But then I came online to write Friday evening and... the site was still down.

All right, I told myself, I forgot about the server maintenance. All is well. I'll just not write. I couldn't go elsewhere because my brain is a lonely little train on a track through the wilderness, and once I'm in a place, virtual or otherwise, I can't just shift elsewhere.

So I didn't write for the evening, assuming I would just be able to write the next day. I got up the next day, fully ready to write. I launched the site and... nothing.

A polite message saying the website was down and to check Twitter* for updates. I logged on to Twitter and all I could see was a single update apologising and saying it wouldn't be long.

Well, that's okay, I thought. I can wait. T and I were going out to visit a local ghost town anyway, so it was a good distraction. Off we went.

On my phone, of course, I kept the website on Safari, occasionally pulling to refresh. I don't have Twitter on my phone, so I couldn't see if there were any more updates. I could see that the website kept refusing to be back.

By now, I was getting increasingly concerned. My brain is set up for monster fights and word count wars. Of course, there are alternatives. I could write Scrivener, or Write or Die, or any one of a number of similar sites. But they aren't 4TheWords and this was starting to feel terrible.

No shade to the devs, here. This is the kind of thing that happens all the time, so this isn't on them. T works in IT and I've done my time working on databases, so I know what can happen when big server migrations, upgrades, and patches take place.

But it was hard.

I was already a member of the Discord, where we huddled like penguins against the harsh Antarctic winds of 404 errors, hoping for an update. Saturday came and went with barely a sign. Not even much of a peep on Twitter, which is where we were all suddenly hobbling for our updates.

A lone straggler would return from the wilderness of the Musk Nation to inform us that no, the site wasn't up yet, the devs were still working on it. We were divided, of course, and I had my own private battle going on. Are we annoyed we can't fight monsters? Are we worried about losing our streaks?

Of course! But then there's a community feel to 4TheWords I haven't felt online in any other place for a very long time (except maybe Threads, but that's another story). And we know it's a small team working to overcome battles. I thought of my partner during a major outage years ago, working twelve hours straight on a Saturday—the day before I had surgery, too—to get a problem fixed.

Saturday was lost. I knew that, given the nature of the site, that I had the means to repair my streak and find my way back. But I couldn't write. I couldn't journal, or work on my diary. I couldn't do anything at all. I had to allow my WriteTrack to languish. My writing headspace is 4TheWords, and with it gone, I wasn't able to put words to the page.

(Actually, that's a small fib, because I wrote a short journal for my therapist about the outage, but it wasn't the same. Suddenly, getting words out was so much harder, and so much less fun.)

Even worse, the outage happened on day four of a four-day streak I'd been working on to get my first dragon. I've been looking forward to this since I discovered the world of 4TheWords had dragons. I was excited about spending the weekend working up a word count and winning that dragon!

I woke up in the middle of the night and the site was still down. Sunday yawned vast and empty, with only my long run to keep me distracted. I listened to a podcast about Havana Syndrome (another story, for another time) as I ran and had a whole bunch of ideas but I had nowhere to put them.

Deep into Sunday, and T came back from going out to watch the football final. I sat and pressed refresh. Refresh. Refresh. Sadness. No change. I would monitor to see if the wording had changed. I checked Twitter. I slumped.

What if it's not back on Monday? I thought to myself. What do I do if this lasts a week... or more? What will I do?

A long time ago, on a website far, far way, I had a similar experience. This wasn't a writing site so much as it was a diary site. It suffered a few hacking attacks and outages when I wrote there. I had the same deep attachment to that site, the same tendency to spend all my time on there.

I kept thinking of how it'd once, or maybe twice, gone down for over a week. What if that happened to 4TheWords? What if... what if... it never came back?

Words whispered in the dark in the early hours of Monday morning when I woke up. My cat wakes me up at 3am because she's a cat and needs me to let her out to go pretend she's a queen of the darkness. I sneaked onto Safari on my phone. I had no justification for this.

No, I didn't even try to lie to myself that this was reasonable or rational. I just did it. I refreshed. Pause. Wait. The site pops up and asks for my log in details.

The world is saved.

I don't think I've enjoyed a Monday morning as much as I enjoyed this Monday morning, the fresh billing cycle at work, and the opportunity to log in to 4TheWords and take a look around. Like getting a beloved car back from a service. I read through the details of what'd happened. Because, as I say, my partner is a tech DBA lead, he's familiar with the things that can happen when databases are moved between servers.

Now, this was very dramatic and it wiped out a weekend of writing. It doesn't justify why I barely wrote for the rest of the week, though. That I'm going to blame on it being a very intense week, work-wise.

This is the epilogue, and it's possibly a bit long, all things considered. It goes something like this. Because I'm being honest about my writing journey, I'll just tell you about it. Sometimes life refuses to fit Freytag's pyramid, I guess. I got that odd feverishness back again. My therapist thinks it might be burn out.

T has had a cold, and been feeling rough, but I didn't catch that immediately. I do know that after working intensely on a lot of editing for work for several days in a row, I spent each evening barely able to move or think, let alone write. I'm trying to figure something out plot-wise, and I need to identify how I want the next sequence of events to work from an internal and an external point of view.

I've had other, more longstanding emotional things bubbling to the surface as well. Things I'm not yet ready to face. I find when this happens, it's much harder to write fiction. I feel the claws of those things scratching at my consciousness a little too much.

I'm going to end this week's entry with a couple of notes. The first is that the obvious solution to the problem presented in this entry is that of course I need a back up option, so my autistic brain can go do that as an alternative. This is the solution we have to those moments when the one thing I can bear to eat at a restaurant isn't available, or the restaurant itself isn't available.

But it's not so easy in a situation like this. I can't precisely explain to you why, but this is how it is. Sometimes, it's just going to be rough and you have to take the risk. Writing is not the same as a meal out.

My other point about that is that it's okay to be upset by things, to be rocked by things, to not have immediate solutions to problems when they arise. Sometimes, you just have to accept that you're going to hit refresh a bunch of times, be sad about the situation and not get something done.

This is what being human is, after all.

What was the second thing I was going to mention? Oh yes, I'm working on doing some things because a million years ago I teased doing more posts about the necromancy skulls but haven't yet. I wish I had a good excuse but I don't. It is what it is. I think I might plan something for Spooky Season, though.

I'm going to try to do a bunch of posts well in advance and improve on my content strategy a bit. This includes trying to do some work with better graphics and the like. Some consistent graphics for these blog series feels like a smart move, as well as re-vamping the World Anvil site.

All that to come. And I might even manage to write something new about penguins. Who knows?

*Look, I'm not calling it X. It's a dumb name. It's Twitter.