Tag Archive for writing

On Writers’ Block

I dropped by a #litchat twitter chat a few days ago and the topic was writer’s block.

Opinions on this topic vary wildly. But I’ve chosen to believe that:

a) it doesn’t exist, you just need to push through, or
b) if it truly does sink in for you, it might be clinical depression and you should see your doctor.

Writing is hard. If it were easy to finish a novel, everyone would do it.

If it were easy to revise a lousy or mediocre novel to make it a good or exciting novel, more of the people who complete the first step (already very few), would do the second and there wouldn’t be as many badly written self-published books out there. I know there are great self-published books out there, before someone yells at me. :) I know that these days self-publishing is a choice, not a last resort. But let’s face it, an awful lot of the stuff out there, especially by writers who were never previously published traditionally, is crap. But back to writer’s block.

Prolific and wildly successful romance author Nora Roberts has been quoted as saying (I’m paraphrasing): There’s no such thing as writer’s block, just lazy writers. She also says something like: You can’t fix a blank page.

And I’ve taken those two quotes to heart on the days when the writing isn’t going well.

I’ve also discovered that, for me, writing can cure writers block. If I’m hating my work, or it seems all wrong or I just can’t think of a good plot twist or a clever way to say what I want to say, I just start typing (or writing in a notebook) about how frustrated I am, or about why I think the book’s not working, or what might work, or ridiculous ideas of things I know won’t work–and almost always (I can’t think of a time that this hasn’t worked) by the time I’m done ranting on the page, I start back into the work again because I’ve thought of a solution to the problem I’m having or I start to realize how to fix it. (That is one long sentence. Is there a prize for that?)

Or somedays, if the right words aren’t coming, but I know what’s going to happen, I’ll just give myself permission to write it badly. Or write detailed outlines of the scenes instead of the actual scenes. Or put in things like “Glory does something that shows she’s happy”, instead of stopping to think of the absolute perfect and specific thing for my character to do. That works too. At least it keeps me moving forward to a point where my momentum and ability to form words into nice sentences might come back to me. I can fix it later. (You can’t fix a blank page.)

I think the important thing is to keep moving. To treat writing as a job, even if you’ve never been paid for it, or even if you’ve been published but also need a day job, or a spouse’s income, to make ends meet (as 99% of us do).

And today I stumbled on this Stephen King quote.

And this really spoke to me, too. Our best work, no matter what style of writer we are, or which genre the industry lumps our work in to, comes from deep inside us and sometimes hurts coming out. But the stuff that hurts, the stuff that’s hard, is also usually our best work.

I also realize that most of these great quotes about not being too precious about your work, and being professional, and just getting it done, come from so-called genre fiction authors, who are often looked down upon by writers deemed more literary.

Well, okay. I get that it might take longer to write a truly great literary novel. I get that each scene might take more time and more revision might be required when you’re writing a book where the words count more than the story. (I don’t know if I actually believe this. Story is hard too. Great characters are hard too. Writing emotion is hard too… But whatever. I’m conceding for a moment that literary fiction might take longer.)

And my point is, no matter what you’re writing, ultimately it comes down to “butt in chair, hands on keyboard” at some point.

I think too many creative people use the word muse as an excuse.

NB.  This doesn’t mean I don’t get to stare out the window, or play Bejeweled and call it work. Sometimes we need that, too. To let the subconscious do it’s thing. Okay.
Just don’t whine and call it writer’s block.

Top Ten Tuesday: 10 Very Rewarding Experiences

Okay, so Nadine Dajani tagged me (on a Wednesday, I must point out) to participate in a Top Ten Tuesday blog… I hoped that meant I could think about it until next Tuesday… But then thought, hey, why not post it early on a Thursday instead. (I’m nothing if not a rule-breaker.)

So, Top Ten Very Rewarding Experiences…

1. Finishing my first book. Actually, finishing the first chapter of my first book was pretty damned rewarding. So was finishing my latest book. So is getting even one good page done some days.

2. Being present at the birth of my niece. I will be forever grateful to my sister for allowing me to be part of that day.

3. Watching my nephew, who has autism, learn to play with other kids. The few times he’s genuinely hugged me have been pretty special, too. (He normally reserves that for his parents or his sister.)

4. Jumping out of an airplane. It was a tandem jump. But that just made it more cool because I got tossed out at 13,000 feet and got to do a free fall. (And it was easier to land with a pro on my back.)

5. Being a “Foster Parent” to a young boy in Burkina Faso. I’m not as good about writing letters and all that stuff as I should be… But I feel good knowing my small contribution is making life in his village just a little bit easier.

6. Serving on Boards of not-for-profit organizations. (Although this would also make my top 10 frustrating things list.)

7. Climbing to the top of Half Dome in Yosemite. I did this just a year after I had a ruptured Achilles tendon repaired and the last however-many-feet up (the part using chains) was the most challenging thing I’d ever done at that point of my life.

8. While I’m on physical achievements… Doing the Solvang Century (100 miles with a lot of steep hills) bike ride. Sure, it took nearly 9 hours. But I finished.

9. Helping writers less experienced than me.

10. Meeting any personal goal I set for myself.

To agent, or not to agent

A funny thing happened to me yesterday and while I normally try to save my writer-heavy blogs for the Drunk Writer Talk blog… I just needed to share.

First, the back story. (I know, I know. But this isn’t a novel.)

In January, 2005, with a very rough first draft completed, I pitched my ms THE MISEDUCATION OF APRIL HILLSON to an editor at Publisher X at a conference. She actually read the first 10 pages at the conference (different kind of pitch meeting) and asked to see more, which I immediately sent to her. Let’s say in the first week of February, 2005. I also pitched to a few agents at that same conference, one of whom asked to see the full about a week after I’d sent her the partial in February 2005. (Ack! Remember the very rough first draft line?)

I went mad, worked 12 hour days and got a completed ms to that agent in April, 2005. Sometime during 2005, I found out that the editor at Publisher X I’d pitched to, and who had my partial, had changed to another publisher, so I wrote that editor submission off and concentrated on getting an agent. In July 2005, I pitched to Deidre Knight at the RWA National conference in Reno. She asked for a partial. In November, she asked for the full. And in early Feb, 2006, another agent at TKA, Pamela Harty, offered me representation. (Yippee!)

I sent a rejection letter to the agent who’d had my full by then for almost 10 months. (We had corresponded via e-mail a couple of times and she’d had a baby some time during those 10 months, slowing her down.) But that’s not really the point of this post.

My new agent sent my ms to a number of editors in March 2006 and within a week we heard from one editor (at publisher X, coincidentally) that she loved it and was passing it around to other editors at the house to read. About a week later, we heard that 4 other editors at publisher X had all read the ms all the way through, also enjoyed it, but wondered about the structure and could I make some changes. I made the changes and to make this getting-to-be-a-long-story shorter, publisher X ultimately passed on the project in September 2006. (An aside. the editor then moved on to another house, asked for it again, but couldn’t get it past all the hurdles at that house either. It’s a tough market right now. Sigh.)

So, back to what happened yesterday? I got a package (via fed-ex no less) from publisher X rejecting the partial I’d sent more than 2 years ago. Not only did it take 2 years for them to respond, it was on a book that they’d seriously considered buying a year ago.

Bottom line? With an agent, my full ms was read in less than a week. Without an agent, a partial on the same ms took 2 years to be read. (and frankly, I don’t think it was read at all.)

Done done done done done

I finally did it. I finally finished my latest manuscript. Let’s call it project #2. (We don’t talk about the category romances I did before Project #1. I guess they’re projects -1 and -2.) I have no idea what made project #2 take so freakin’ long. Okay, I have some ideas, but still. I’m shocked when I realize it’s been a year since I signed with my agent and I had yet to send her anything beyond that first project.

What really, really freaked me out recently was realizing that it’s been TWO YEARS since I got my first request for the full on project #1. TWO YEARS. Okay, the book wasn’t finished yet when I got my first request (I’m a bad girl) but I did have a first draft done and managed to do my revisions in about 6 weeks. So, although I did more revisions after that first request, (that agent had it for 10 months before I got offered representation from someone else), it’s been a long time since I finished a book.

It’s not like I haven’t been writing… I just had a few false starts with projects I wasn’t confident enough in. And the project I just finished got temporarily stalled when an editor who almost bought project #1 told me she didn’t think project #2 would be a good second book for me — that I needed to follow project #1 up with something more similar. (See why I thought I’d sold it?)

But I should realize by now, that questioning my projects is part of my process. I hate just about everything I write at some point, so I need to remember to just keep going instead of floundering, stopping, floundering again and starting work on a whole new idea.

If I want a career in mainstream fiction — which I do. Then I need to be able to produce books more quickly. Funny thing is I feel like I do write fast — all evidence to the contrary.

This time I promise not to get too caught up in the various and sundry things that made this one take so long.

Which piece of wisdom to believe?

We’ve been talking about what kind of writer we want to be over on DWT… and I realized the real answer for me, many days, is simply PUBLISHED. I want to be the published kind. The kind who can tell her friends where to buy her books. The kind who actually gets paid (even if it’s only a pittance compared to the effort expended). But my urgency some days is admittedly wrapped up in wanting better answers for my family and friends, when they ask, “How’s the writing going?” with increasing trepidation and pity in their eyes. I’m a proud person. I hate that.

In the publishing world, it’s sometimes hard to sort out the “truth” amongst the many myths and slices of wisdom and rules and archaic business practices… And two conflicting “pieces of wisdom” I’ve been thinking about a lot lately are these:

1. If a book is good enough, it will find a home.

2. Even really great books don’t get published and not all books published deserve to be.

Somehow, I’ve managed to exist believing both of these things, even though, they contradict each other on the surface. One of the writing instructors I had when I started writing novels, told me that it takes Talent, Persistence and Luck to get published. (I’ve also seen this listed as Talent, Timing and Tenacity… but you get the idea.) But my instructor said that, in his opinion, 2 of the 3 is enough.

This, to me, explains the really great books not finding homes (talent, but either no luck or no persistence) and the mediocre or even crappy books getting published (no talent, but luck and persistence combining.)

I, and a few other writing friends, have recently suffered a few disappointing setbacks… situations where it looked like good things were about to happen and then they didn’t. At times like those, it’s so easy to assume we suck. That our writing just isn’t good enough. If it was, our books would find homes, right? We’ve been persistent, after all! But I’m still fighting not to get trapped by that self-doubt, however strong it may pull some days. My books, some day, will find a home.

That said, I’m also still fighting to not start house-hunting for my book in neighborhoods I don’t think it belongs in. (That sounded snobby or like I’m pro-segregation.) But, my point is that there are lots of neighborhoods for people to live in, many kinds of houses. Some people want a big yard in the suburbs, some people want to walk to work — and similarily, there are lots of publishing neighborhoods. I think I know which one I want my books to live in, which one would best serve the books, my career aspirations, etc. and I don’t see the point in setting up home, taking the time to decorate etc., in the wrong location, just so I can say I’m published. (Although I concede I may find myself eating these words some day. Perhaps soon.)

Jenny Crusie, in her great inaugural PRO-retreat keynote a few years ago, likened getting your first publishing contract (or, if you’re already published, a book really taking off) to getting struck by lightning. As much as I hate this idea, (too much given over to luck, with super-low odds) it’s also what I live by.

I just need to keep putting more lightning rods out there.

Brain hurts. Head about to explode

Why? I just spent 36 of the last 60 hours at the Robert McKee Story seminar.

I went into the weekend with fairly low expectations for at least four reasons. (One may well question why, then, I paid the exorbitant entry fee… but that’s a whole other topic…)

The reasons for my lowish expectations…

1. I don’t have the time right now to spend 36 hours in a classroom, so I thought I’d spend the whole time chomping at the bit to get out of there and actually write, rather than hearing about writing.

2. I’ve been to so many conferences this year, I thought I was “craft workshopped out”.
Not that I think you can ever learn too much about writing, or stop learning… But I do think that once you hit a certain limit over a period of time, you need a chance to absorb, to apply what you’ve learned to your work, to see if those lightbulbs will stay on or burn out, to grow as a writer, to develop new problems that you might work out if you go to a great workshop.

3. I own McKee’s book and while I admit I’ve only skimmed most of it, I’ve read the first third (maybe quarter) quite thoroughly, and based on that, I didn’t think he’d have anything to say I hadn’t heard or read in one way or another from someone else.

4. I have this theory that McKee’s popularity has more to do with cult induction techniques than what he actually has to say. In other words, when you put a large group of people in a room for 12 hours a day, 3 days in a row, with breaks so short that you barely have time to pee or eat. And Oh! Something I didn’t realize until I got there the first morning. Twelve hours a day. One food break. That’s right. One. We got 3 fifteen minute breaks (each barely long enough to pee, because of the lines for the toilets) and a single one hour break (barely long enough to eat, because there’s no place to eat close by, so you spend most of the time, using the toilet, running somewhere to get food, waiting for your food, and paying for your food, leaving only maybe 3 minutes to actually eat it…)

But I’m a convert. Yes, the man is an arrogant, misogynistic, uncouth dinosaur who thinks his opinions (including many which have nothing to do with writing) are fact. But he’s brilliant.

Or maybe I’m just under the cult spell….

I expect the drunk writer talk blog will be dedicated to McKee talk this week…

Must sleep now….

The verb "to see" — a grammar rant

I’m not a picky grammarian–especially not in spoken English, but nothing makes me cringe more than “I seen”. I actually have a pretty good friend who says it with some regularity, but I must admit I don’t think I would have given him the chance to be a friend if he hadn’t been the partner of another good friend. (I suppose that says more about me than him, doesn’t it. Too quick to judge at times.)

The other night I heard someone being interviewed on TV say, “I have saw.”

Okay, in speech we all make mistakes, (hey, we make them in written english, too), but this person did it more than once making it seem like she thought it was correct.

People. It’s not that hard.

Of course, this is from someone who co-founded a weblog called Drunk Writer Talk… But really, Drunken Writer Talk doesn’t sound as good, does it? Besides, my dictionary lists both words as adjectives :-)