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August 7, 2012
I tried all my old tried-and-(mostly)-true methods of breaking a block. I assumed the cause stemmed from some lazy habits I picked up in 2012.
I just needed to crack down on myself, right? Whip myself into shape!
Things I Tried That Failed
I tried. Honestly, I did. I used the Promodoro Method of writing for 25 minutes and resting 5 minutes. I tried changing locations, cutting distractions by writing in the library study where I had no access to the Internet or TV.
I worked in the mornings, my optimal writing time. I got back on the treadmill, exercising to clear my foggy brain. I made elaborate spreadsheets of long- and short-term word quota goals to hold myself accountable.
None of these ideas worked. Panic threatened.
How had I ruined my writing discipline in less than a year?
Wrong Diagnosis Equals Wrong Solution
This past year as my health got worse, I tried to diagnose the cause. I ate much better, I exercised, I limited time online, I limited social outings… Nothing worked. Why? None of those things actually addressed my night-time severe headaches, which turned out to be caused by “acute angle glaucoma.” The solution was laser surgery on both eyes to eliminate the pressure. Voila! Problem solved!
What does that have to do with writer’s block? Just this.
Writer’s block creates a similar problem. It has many causes, so a one-size-fits-all solution…doesn’t fit all. (I should have known this! My article “A Block by Any Other Name” deals with this very subject.)
Writer’s Block Outside the Box
One author gives a very interesting twist to the problem. Cec Murphey in Unleash the Writer Within says writer’s block can be your friend. He poses a couple of questions:
• What if writer’s block is a symptom and not a cause of the problem?
• What if writer’s block comes from some wise, inner part of myself that wants to help me?
Writer’s block is a blockage you can’t seem to push past. Cec Murphey suggests that you ask yourself: What is going on inside me that stops me from writing? (Then wait for the answer.)
Think of writer’s block as a gift, Murphey says, a powerful force to help you regulate the creative process. It comes from within and has something to teach you.
Pay attention, wait, and listen.
The “Friendly” Writer’s Block
So how did that idea work for me? Beautifully, actually.
I tried it, and it took a couple days of waiting until I realized the problem. I had done tons of character and theme work on my novel outline, but my plot was thin. And since it is a mystery, the weak plot is a big deal.
There was no point in pushing through the block and forcing myself to write. I had a fully clothed mannequin of a novel outline, but much of the underlying skeleton (structure) was weak.
Right Diagnosis = Right Solution
Once I realized the reason for the block, I knew what to do. It took a week, but additional research provided a great plot twist and another subplot. Writer’s block was my friend, as it turned out.
It’s a new way to look at a writer’s age-old problem. And I think it’s going to be my first line of defense after this.
February 22, 2012
I’ve said it to myself often enough. Students over the years have said that to me countless times. That fear of failure often happens when it is time to set goals or start a new project.
“It is wise to make a plan,” says creativity coach, Eric Maisel, author of Coaching the Artist Within. “However, since we make so many resolutions and break them, set so many goals and fall short of realizing them, and create so many plans without following through on them, we become reluctant to plan. We prefer not to plan so as not to disappoint ourselves one more time.”
I’m at that point this week, looking at two novels I worked on last year that I simply couldn’t make “work.” I started them over several times, trying different angles, but no luck. I still like the ideas a lot, but I find myself leery of making one more stab at them. I’m afraid of wasting my writing time and having nothing to show for it. I’m more than leery. I’m stuck.
One of Maisel’s solutions is to make a simple plan. He says to leave out the complexities that just make things harder. His idea of a simple plan is: I will try to write every day. (No rules or details, no set number of pages, no word count, etc.) Or even better, I plan to write today. But is that enough? Not for me.
A Simple Plan
A simple plan is well and good, but getting started is still the hardest part (for me anyway) when facing a project where fear of failure is high. (It doesn’t have to be writing the Great American Novel either. It can simply be a project I’ve “failed” on before.)
We want to change an action here—get started and keep going. It’s often not as simple as “just do it!” though. We have to back up and change the fearful emotion that drives the writer’s block and procrastination. And to do that we have to back up and change the thought that creates the emotion.
Sometimes changing your thoughts is enough to get you going. But repeating “thoughts” or “affirmations” that some articles suggest (like “I am the country’s best writer, and agents are fighting to represent me”) are just absurd to me. My brain, anyway, kicks something like that right back out. I simply don’t believe it. If I did, I wouldn’t be stuck.
What’s the Answer?
We need to back up one additional step. Your automatic thoughts come from your beliefs about yourself as a writer. The beliefs need to change before you will think healthy thoughts, that flow into healthy writing emotions, and then produce good actions (writing). I think beliefs need to be true, though, for them to be of immediate use to you.
If you are believing a pack of lies (like “I’ll never write any better” and “You have to know someone in publishing to sell a novel”) then start with the lies you are believing and replace them with truth. One good source for this is another of Maisel’s books, Write Mind: 299 Things Writers Should Never Say to Themselves (and What They Should Say Instead).
Facing a blank page or facing a revision can cause fear. We may not know what to do, or we may know what needs to be done, yet fear that we don’t have the skill to pull it off. When facing something fearful, the thoughts that automatically spring forth have to do with what we believe about staying safe and getting our needs met.
As I look at the novels I want to tackle again this year, the automatic thoughts that spring to mind include: “I’ve already wasted months of writing time on these novels, so why waste more?” and “I need to be doing work-for-hire projects instead and make money during my writing time” and “I don’t want to spend months on something just to fail again” and “I’ll never get this novel done” and “This project is above my skill level, and I’ll never be that good.”
All those thoughts have to do with staying safe (I don’t want to fail again) and getting needs met (income from writing and feeling like the writing will matter.)
Writer’s Block Smashed: Replace Lies with Truth
Last week I made a long list of truths to replace my automatic thoughts (those “lies in disguise.”) Some of them are faith-based which wouldn’t maybe apply to everyone. But some of them apply to all writers. (I’ll list a few below.) Just the act of writing down these truths and re-reading them before my writing time in the morning is already changing my ability to tackle the first novel.
My fifty or so new truths include:
- I can have my novel written in a year. (vs. “I’ll never get this novel done.”)
- Writing is at the top of my To-Do list. (vs. “I’m too busy to write.”)
- I learn to write better by writing, and daily if possible. (vs. “I’ll never be good enough to write this book.”)
- Since I want to increase my output, I’m going to institute a new writing routine. (vs. “People make too many demands so I never have time to write.”)
- I can write anywhere and under any conditions. (vs. “I can’t write unless I have hours of quiet time alone.”)
- I don’t need to read another book on writing first—I need to write! (vs. “There must be a magic key out there, and I’ll keep buying writing books until I find it.”)
As I’ve said countless times here, and in both Writer’s First Aid and the new More Writer’s First Aid, we’re all in this together. Writers have always dealt with these issues. But instead of feeling the fear and inadequacy (and then buying a box of Krispie Kremes and turning on the TV), take the time to figure out what lies you are believing about your writing.
Replace them with truth—and see how that changes your emotions and subsequent action. You’ll write more. You’ll write better. You’ll enjoy your daily writing time. Publication will most likely eventually follow, but it will become less important than your daily experience of enjoying the writing.
Just for reference, here are the Eric Maisel books on my own writing shelf that I have found very helpful over the years:
- Fearless Creating
- Deep Writing
- Write Mind
- Coaching the Artist Within
- Living the Writer’s Life
- Affirmations for Artists
- Creativity for Life
- A Life in the Arts
February 15, 2012
“A writer must feel comfortable expressing herself in words, letting them flow before critiquing them or subjecting them to examination,” say Linda Metcalf and Tobin Simon in Writing the Mind Alive. “Many people who have an ambition to write are held back at the starting gate by some form of this [cognophobia] condition.”
Judgments From Within
Is silencing those premature judgments a problem for you? Do you sit frozen at the keyboard, considering and then tossing out ideas and sentences that sound “dumb” or “trite” or ”silly” or void of any literary content at all?
I do it–every time I try something new or try to write on a more difficult level or subject. Like this month.
I took a work-for-hire assignment a couple of weeks ago that is giving me fits. It’s for an age group new to me, and it’s a form of writing I’ve never tried before. After my first effort, the editor very kindly asked me to go back to the drawing board and try again. (He was right to ask.) If I don’t snatch myself bald before I’m done, it will be a miracle.
Advice from the Greats
Help came from an unexpected source today. As I mentioned last week, I’ve been reading and loving The Literary Ladies: Guide to the Writing Life by Nava Atlas. This morning I remembered some advice from the literary greats that helped me–and might help you too.
We are blessed to have so much written correspondence from writers of the past. I hate to think of all the wonderful material that would have been lost if famous authors e-mailed and texted back then. These quotes particularly struck a chord with me.
Edna Ferber blamed writer’s block on “trying to write better than you can.” Anna Quindlen agreed: “People have writer’s block not because they can’t write, but because they despair of writing eloquently.”
In It Together
Even Margaret Mitchell who wrote Gone With the Wind had this trouble. She said, ”I had believed that established writers, writers who really knew how to write, had no dificulty at all in writing. I had thought that only luckless beginners like myself had to rewrite endlessly, tear up and throw away whole chapters, start afresh, rewrite and throw away again. I knew nothing about other writers and their working habits, and I thought I was the only writer in the world who went through such goings-on.”
But that was Margaret Mitchell on writing a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. What about the rest of us? While none of us may be hoping for a Pulitzer, we are hoping for a book contract, an agent, good reviews, and good sales of our children’s writing.
What’s the Answer?
Nava Atlas in The Literary Ladies says the blocked state is a “self-consciousness that causes you to seize up and shut down… the answer to this is to be where you are with your writing, and not try to write as the Pulitzer Prize-winning fantasy version of yourself. There’s no way to reach soaring heights without taking all the tiny steps to get there.”
And we all have some kind of fantasy writer version that we aspire to. You may not be conscious of it, but you do. Usually it’s helpful, but when that fantasy version of ourselves becomes an inner critic, you have trouble. This judge can kill your words before they ever reach the light of day.
How can we keep this from happening? Anais Nin said this about her own writing: ”The only reason I finally was able to say exactly what I felt was because, like a pianist practicing, I wrote every day. There was no more than that.” She didn’t study writing or go to conferences or take classes. She simply sat down and wrote about her experiences at the end of every day, without fail. She is most famous for her published diaries too.
Our Own Worst Enemies
Perhaps we make things too difficult for ourselves. Maybe our self-induced cognophobia that could be eliminated if we lowered our expectations.
I know that Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life advocates writing sh*^#@ rough drafts instead of holding yourself up to such high inner standards. As one literary lady suggested, we need to stop despairing of writing eloquently–and just write instead. Get the words down, no matter how bad they may sound. The Pulitzer-type writing (no matter who you are) comes in the rewriting.
With that in mind, I return to the work-for-hire project. Like the Literary Ladies of old, I will be content today with just getting some words down.
How about you? Is there a piece of writing that is stopping you cold because you don’t yet write as well as you want to? Would you benefit from the advice of these Literary Ladies?
January 11, 2012
If you want a writing mentor, you need look no further than Cec Murphey’s Unleash the Writer Within. The subtitle calls it ”the essential writers’ companion.”
I would have to agree.
What’s Different About This Book?
It’s honest, it’s transparent, and it comes from the heart. It also made me laugh on more than one occasion because the author had the guts to say some things that need to be said about the writing life, how we market, and so many other topics dear to a writer’s heart.
Before you get stressed out and caught up in all the things “they say” you have to do and be and write about to be successful, I urge you to get a copy of this book. It will help you discover your own personal voice and style so you sound authentic. It will show you how to actually make friends with your inner critic and writer’s block–and eliminate them. And the author deals so honestly with a writer’s fears–and how to use them and learn from them to grow as a writer.
Who Is This Man?
So who is Cecil Murphey? Why should you listen to his advice? Well, he’s a New York Times’ best-selling author who’s written or co-written more than 120 fiction and nonfiction books, including the runaway bestseller 90 Minutes in Heaven (with Don Piper) and Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story. His books have sold millions of copies and have been translated into more than 40 languages.
- “Too many want-to-be-successful authors get the idea that you must write in a certain way to succeed.”
- “Your most honest writing becomes your best writing.”
- “I don’t advocate rigid self-discipline. I tried that. For years, I held to tight schedules, refused to allow deviations, and castigated myself when I failed. I’ve since learned that true self-discipline flows out of gentleness and self-respect.”
- “How would it affect your writing if you weren’t constantly looking at your faults but focusing on what you can do?”
- “You write best what you know best. The better you know yourself, the higher the quality of your work.”
- What if you follow everyone else’s advice about your writing? “If you heed their words, you may end up trying to be somebody you’re not. To follow that advice not only weakens the power of your words, but the writing doesn’t ring true because it no longer comes from deep within.”
- “If it’s easy or simple to write, it probably isn’t what I’d call poignant or powerful.”
- “You don’t have to be productive every day….for compulsives (like me), it takes a major decision not to be productive and not to feel guilty. I remind myself that the best part of my writing takes place inside my head.”
- “Start within your comfort zone and write from who you are.”
- “I feel afraid when I bare my soul. I run the risk that others will despise me, ridicule me, or ignore me. That’s who I am. That’s all I have to offer.”
When Cec Murphey explained to his agent why he didn’t want to write a book for writers–that he actually dreaded it–this was her response: “Too many writers won’t acknowledge their fear, and when they eventually come to the place where they realize they’re afraid, they freeze. You need to write it for those still behind you on the pathway.” I’m glad he took her advice.
I hope Cec Murphey decides to teach a workshop or lead a writer’s retreat based on his book for writers. I would love to attend! Until then, I’m starting the book over–from the beginning.
November 18, 2011
Before NaNoWriMo started, I took lots of time to think about my novel idea, do character sketches and backgrounds and goals and motives, read about scene structure and plotting, research the setting and background, and write a loose plot line. I was ready!
It was fun for nearly two weeks.
Writer’s Block Re-visited
About Day 12 of National Novel Writing Month, I hit a snag. Something didn’t feel right. I pushed ahead, determined to over-ride resistance and do my allotted daily words. It worked. Each following day, though, it felt worse. I didn’t know what was wrong, but I used every anti-procrastination trick I knew, including Procrastination Tip: Jump In! Although I was able to put down the daily quota of words, I knew I hadn’t fixed what was wrong.
By Day 15 I couldn’t write. Nothing. Calling myself names, eating chocolate, going for walks, moaning to a writer friend–nothing budged the block. I couldn’t get past the insistent feeling that something was wrong.
On my book shelf was a book I’d never read, and so I picked up On Writer’s Block: A New Approach to Creativity by Victoria Nelson. I didn’t feel a lot of hope until I read this in the first few pages: “Writers, when they are not writing, tend to think of themselves in a number of ways, all bad. They are–so they think–lazy, undisciplined shirkers, failures, cowardly frauds…However, properly interpreted, a block is the best thing that can happen to a writer. Resistance is a vital regulator of the creative process because it obliges us to suspend our plans and reconsider.”
Hmmm…maybe instead of pushing myself to keep writing, I should stop calling myself names and “suspend my plan and reconsider.” So that’s what I did. I stopped trying to make my daily quota of new words, backed up so I could see a longer view, and studied the book idea again. I didn’t see the problem right away. In fact, it didn’t dawn on me until I was washing dishes that night.
Mid-way through the book I had changed themes.
How’d That Happen?
This book idea had been on my back burner for a couple of years, and when I first thought of it, my theme was one thing. Last year when I re-worked the book idea, I saw a much better theme that would tie together the plot and two sub-plots. Because I had salvaged some of the first outline, I started out that way, but midway through the novel, my new theme showed up, causing a 90-degree turn in the plot which took the story off in another direction. If I kept going with my outline, I could now see that the story would never hang together. I had started out making one point, but the new ending was going to show something else entirely.
That was the “something wrong” I had sensed. That was the reason I was blocked in NaNo Land. And pushing through the roadblock my writer’s mind had thrown up wasn’t the answer. I needed to stop writing, go back to my outline, and think some more. I needed to “suspend my plans and reconsider.” That’s what I’ve been doing the last few days. I think I see how the problem can be fixed, but I really need to stop, go back, and fix some early chapters to see if it will all hang together by the end.
What To Do?
I hate to do that, because barring some miracle that cancels Thanksgiving and gives November 40 days this year, I won’t make it successfully to the “winner’s circle” in NaNo Land. But that’s okay. Last year I pushed through and kept going and made it to the finish line, but I still have a manuscript that I haven’t been able to revise. I don’t want another story like that.
Next week I will get going again, but if I don’t make it to the 50,000 word mark November 30, I will let myself off the hook. When I’m done, I would much rather have a book I like and can revise–even if my National Novel Writing Month finishes at Christmas!
October 17, 2011
Is your writing project bogged down? What happened to your inspiration? Things aren’t “going well”? It may sound too dramatic to call it “writer’s block,” but it is.
When I’m stuck, I tend to think that I’ve tried everything, but nothing has worked. That is always a wrong assumption. There’s always an angle I haven’t yet considered. There is always other (or new) information that I haven’t factored into the equation. A writer’s block is often a mental rut.
What to do then? If the writing task you’re working on right now is going badly or at a standstill, just stop.
Writer’s Block Revisited
Get up and walk away. Do some jumping jacks. Take some deep breaths and stretch. Move to another place in the house to write. Do what is necessary to wake up your brain. And then…think about your writing project again.
BUT instead of starting where you left off, pick up the work in a completely different spot. If you’re stuck in the middle, skip to the end (or vice versa). If you’re bogged down in the middle, go back to your original notes and character sketches and the opening to get re-inspired. Do some background research for your characters. Interview your characters and ask them what they think the problem is! (This actually worked for me to get unstuck.)
Your brain may feel frazzled and dried up, but in reality, you’re using many fewer brain cells at any given time than you have available to you. So dig a bit deeper and engage a few more brain cells. Look at your writing problem from another angle. Come at it from another direction.
Our brains are fascinating things. They will often serve up to us exactly what we expect. If we expect to stay blocked, we will–and quit for the day. If we understand that we just need to look at the problem another way–upside down, reversed order–there’s an answer.
When writer’s block attacks you, don’t grit your teeth and keep pushing ahead like a bull dozer. Stop. Back up. Walk around the problem a few times. Find another port of entry: move to another place on your time line, describe a different character, add more depth to descriptions of places or characters, or brainstorm on paper about the worst thing that could happen in a scene.
Use more brain cells. Think again.
If you need more ideas for dealing with writer’s block, try these places:
And never fear that you’re alone with this writerly disease. There is even a Writer’s Block Festival, which was held this past weekend!
June 8, 2011
Back in high school, I watched people try to be more social and outgoing instead of shy wallflowers by drinking.
They got talkative, and yes, they certainly tried things they would never have done sober. They looked and sounded silly–or worse–to me. Being under the influence (of anything) didn’t help them.
It doesn’t help writers either. [And that includes quite a few things we're dependent on.]
Over the weekend I was re-reading one of the very best books on writing that I own. If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland is a classic. In one chapter she was talking about how words and our really good ideas come slowly–and how impatient writers get and the unproductive, artificial ways they try to “hurry” the words.
“…good thoughts come slowly. And so it is nothing for you to worry about or to be afraid of, and it is even a bad plan to hurry them artificially. For when you do so, there may be suddenly many thoughts, but that does not mean that they are specialy good ones or interesting. It is just as when you give a thoughtful, slightly tired person a stiff drink. Before the drink he says nothing but what seems to him interesting and important. He mentally discards the thoughts that are not important enough to make up for the fatigue of saying them. But after the drink, all his thoughts come out head over heels, whatever crosses his mind. There are suddenly many thoughts; but they are just like the flutter of thoughts that come out of one of those unfortunate people who cannot keep from talking all the time. This kind of talking [or writing, I might add] is not creation. It is just mental evacuation.”
Drug of Choice
While I never drank, I had my own stimulants to get my mind going. While never a coffee drinker or smoker, I had my four-candy-bar-a-day habit, and my day started with two Diet Cokes. When I got bogged down and blocked and didn’t know what to write next, a sugar rush and caffeine jolt could get me producing again and keep me going. But it took me years to see that the quality of the writing suffered.
Ueland quotes Tolstoy (Anna Karenina, War and Peace) on this subject of being quiet and thinking, and waiting for the words and “tiny, tiny alterations of consciousness” to come:
“It is at such times that one needs the greatest clearness to decide correctly the questions that have arisen, and it is just then that one glass of beer, or one cigarette [or candy bar or donut or Coke, I might add] may prevent the solution of the question, may postpone the decision, stifle the voice …”
A Quiet Patience
We get in such a hurry to write, to revise, to submit. When the words don’t come quickly, we use stimulants to force the issue, and often end up with something (Ueland calls) “superficial and automatic, like children yelling at a birthday party,” not something tried and tested and true.
I know I’ve been guilty of this “hurry” habit with my writing in the past, but yesterday I made a conscious effort NOT to do so. I gave it time, and when the words didn’t come readily, I waited (instead of making my usual trip to the fridge.) It was uncomfortable at times. But I ended up writing for over two solid hours without interruption, and I’m excited about what I wrote. It may not be War and Peace, but it’s not “superficial and automatic” either.
Is it harder for you to write without artificial help? Does it affect your writing–or had you thought about it? Try writing “with” and “without,” and see if it makes a difference.
May 20, 2011
After a couple months this spring of unexpected work and lack of sleep, I’ve found myself battling severe procrastination the past few weeks. I’m getting rested up, but I’m so out of the writing habit that getting started has become a big issue.
Luckily I can usually find a resource on my own shelves!
A Different Take on Procrastination
One such resource is a book Kurt Vonnegut called “as well researched and helpful a book on writing as I’ve ever read.” It’s Write: 10 Days to Overcome Writer’s Block. Period. by Karen E. Peterson, Ph.D. [See Amazon's great used prices for this book!]
From the author’s website: “Writers want to write, but often find themselves whirling through cyberspace, glued to HBO with a box of doughnuts, careening off to the nearest Starbuck’s, and/or carving out last week’s fossilized spaghetti from the kitchen table.”
Sound familiar? This is what Dr. Karen E. Peterson— who has overcome writer’s block herself—calls ‘the write-or-flight response.’
Write? Or Flight?
In this revolutionary book, a psychologist and novelist presents an effective way to outwit writer’s block. Based on “new brain research and sound psychological principles,” this innovative program shows writers how to conquer writer’s block using:
- Exercises to conquer the “write-or-flight” response
- Techniques to create that elusive “writing mood”
- Parallel monologue and interior dialogue to jumpstart the writing process
- Checklists to see which side of the brain is blocking you
I fully recommend that little book because it worked for me. (I realize that it doesn’t mean it will work for you, but I think it’s worth a try if procrastination is an issue for you.) It explained the actual physical reasons why certain types of blocks occur–and what to do about them.
(Now, off to read “A Block by Any Other Name…” )
Before you go though, do YOU have a favorite block buster you could share?
January 31, 2011
Yesterday on a long Skype call, I talked with a writer friend about what fuels our writing.
For me, my favorite books (both in terms of the writing and how well they did after publication) were often fueled by some kind of pain or wound. Something difficult that I was going through (or one of my children) would spark an idea for a book, and the drive to solve the problem provided the passion and energy to see the story through to completion.
Negatives to Positives
Energy from hurts and wounds and pain can be very useful to you as a writer. But, if you’re just wounded, does that automatically translate into books others will want to read? No.
As Bill O’Hanlon says in Write is a Verb, “in order to have your wound fuel your writing process, the hurt or negative energy needs to be turned into creative energy, informing or driving your writing. It’s not enough to be wounded; you must find a way to turn that wound into energy for your writing.”
Pain = Energy for Writing
He quoted many authors (some quite famous) who had tragedies befall them, but they took the pain and turned around to write some of the most gripping books of our time on the very subject that nearly destroyed them.
It doesn’t have to be a wound the size of the Grand Canyon either (a child being kidnapped, losing your home in a hurricane, both parents dying from cancer the same month). It isn’t the size of the wound–it’s what you do with it that counts.
Just Let It All Hang Out?
In order for your pain to be useful to you as a writer, you’ll need to step back a bit and distance yourself from it. Otherwise you won’t be able to see the story possibilities in it. You’ll be too hung up on the facts. (“But it really HAPPENED this way!” you protest.) Yes, but facts need to be shaped a lot if you’re going to create a story or article or book from those facts. (The truth of your experience can shine through, despite changing some facts.)
Facts will need to change in order to create well-rounded characters, and the plot still needs a beginning, middle, climax and ending. Things will be added–and subtracted–from your experience to make a better story. If you can’t do that, you’re probably still too wounded to turn the experience into a viable story.
“Make no mistake. I have seen writing full of anger, self-pity, or hate that I think will never (and should never) be published,” says O’Hanlon. “They are simply expressions of the author’s pain, more like a journal entry than a book. They are self-indulgent and should be kept private… In order to turn that pain and anger into a book, the writing needs to somehow turn the personal into the universal.” In other words, the book needs to speak to other readers in a way that helps or nourishes them.
Identify Your Writing Energy
How can you tell if your pain and wounds might be energy for your writing? Here are four questions to ask yourself, suggested by the author. They can pinpoint sources of writing energy in your life just waiting to be tapped into.
- What do you care about so deeply or get so excited about that you talk about it to anyone who will listen?
- What upsets you so much that you are compelled to write about it or include the theme in your book?
- What are you afraid to write but know is a deep truth?
- Who are you afraid will disapprove of your writing or be upset by it?
- What fears could you write and perhaps work through by writing?
Take some time this weekend with those questions and a journal. Or write them on a card and take a long walk while you think about the answers. You may not be as blocked or depressed as you fear. You may simply be sitting over a deep pool of writing energy that’s just waiting for you.
December 17, 2010
Busyness is very deceptive. We may feel productive–but often we’re just busy. Despite the fact that my children are grown and out of the house, I lament to myself that I never have time to just think anymore.
These days, with the emphasis on marketing, a writer’s day can be full of busy work that won’t improve your actual writing one bit. Why does that matter? Time to think (to ponder, to ruminate) is absolutely critical to your writing life–especially if you write fiction. What can be done about this?
What’s the Problem?
I have been puzzling over this for about ten years, and I had an ah-ha! moment yesterday as to the real cause–and some remedies.
I was at my daughter’s home. They had returned from a trip to Alaska with their seven-week-old daughter (to see relatives), and my daughter had been up roughly 36 hours. I spent the night so she and her husband could sleep without interruption.
My granddaughter slept for four hours, but then was up for quite a while in the night before going back down. We walked, we talked, we sang, we read books–but mostly I thought. The next day I held her while she was sleeping for a couple hours–what joy!–and was thinking. Sometimes I took her outside to the swing (we’re in Texas), or we just sat by the Christmas tree and looked at lights. Lots of time to think…
I wasn’t thinking about my novel on purpose at all. It just came to mind fairly often. And I noticed that by the time I returned home, my mind had worked out three knotty plot and character problems I was having.
I Remember This!
This was my ah-ha! moment. I remembered this happening a long time ago. I had started writing when I had three children: a baby (ten days old), a toddler (two), and a preschooler. I had lots of non-writing “think time” back then: while folding diapers, nursing, pushing kids on swings, weeding a huge vegetable garden, quilting, and walking a colicy baby (or a dog or the horse).
It’s no wonder that when I had fifteen minutes to write that I could whip out a page or two. I had it thoroughly “digested” before I ever sat down.
How Things Changed!
Despite being alone during the day now, my life is busy (mentally) all day and most evenings. I no longer garden, quilt, fold diapers, walk a dog, or have hours of non-thinking child care duties every day. That formerly empty head space is filled with study, blogging, teaching, critiquing, reading newsletters, tons of email, taking classes, and a dozen other daily jobs.
I love most of it too. BUT there is precious little down time, or “think time,” in my life anymore. It’s now no longer a mystery to me why, when I sit down to work on my novel, I spend so much time stuck and staring at the screen with a blank mind.
A Paradigm Shift
Thinking is NOT wasting time! We need to get over thinking we’re doing anyone a favor by being so busy all the time–even with good things. If you, as a writer, don’t have enough thinking time in your lifestyle, build some in. I intend to!
I’m going to walk without head phones. I’m going to dig up a flower bed. (Yes, flowers grow in Texas in the winter.) I’m not getting a dog, but I sure intend to put the grandbaby in a stoller more often and hit the road! And I refuse to feel guilty about any of it. I refuse to be too busy to think anymore.
That’s my first New Year’s resolution! Take a moment and share one of yours!Newer Posts »