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Archive for the ‘Writer’s Block’ Category

Are You Writing Still?

It seems like a simple question.  A flutter in conversation to see if my interests have stayed the same since the last time I ran into an old friend.  There’s not a tone, a smirk, or anything to lead me to the blabber which fell out of my mouth in the answer.  “Uh, yeah. I write.”  Followed by the avalanche of excuses, “When I have time. When I’m not baking.  Life is so busy, yanno?”  My poor friend waded through the insecurity vomit until she could get to the simple closing, “Oh good.”

What brought out this three-headed beast?  Why did I crumple into a hunched over gremlin like the thing on the Lord of the Rings acting like writing is “my precious”?  Stupid doubt.  Crippling fear brought on by almost two years of silence in my writing life.  You may have noticed with the blog having sporadic updates even though I resolved to do a book review a month.  That’s only a piece of it.  I can’t even scribble out a couple words to describe a cake on a regular basis.  This doesn’t even start to cover the fact my characters from my current novel and the potential one I’ve been dreaming about are stuck in ice. Frozen until I can break through my writer’s block.

I’m not sure how it happened.  A tragedy that rocked my world?  Being overwhelmed by the distractions I set up for myself to heal?  I don’t really know if it matters why.  All I know is that I punish myself on a daily basis for not getting back on the horse.  For instead letting it trample over my body and shit huge turds on my head.  Even this paragraph relies on a clichéd image because I’ve been out of practice for so long.

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This is what writers do, right? And yes, that’s me being writerly, of course.

Why are you still readying this pity party?  Because I’m finally doing something about it.  I’m putting words on this page.  I’m signed up for the writers’ conference, I’m reading again, and I plan to finish the works I want to write.  However, this doesn’t help the sinking feeling that overtakes my mind when someone asks me the question, if I’m still writing.  I add the implication they’re saying I should give up.  That it’s never going to happen.  I’m wasting my time.  Even though the person never thought that at all.

What I need to realize (and hopefully you will too when dealing with your own insecurity) is the person asks because they’re interested.  Maybe even jealous you had the courage to try the impossible.  They want to live the experience through you.  If they didn’t, they wouldn’t have wasted the breath.  So how can I hate on myself when someone is praising me for trying?  The answer is I shouldn’t.  Instead I should do their question proud.  And keep writing.

(And maybe drinking…)

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I read many blogs from the writing community.  A common theme weaves into their accounts when they talk about writing.  They each say they have to write because the characters in their heads make them do it.  A recent comment, “If your characters want you to write the story, they will haunt you until you do write the story,” caught my attention.  Actually, it stopped me dead in my tracks.  These authors live to write and write to live.  They’re dedicated.  Focused.  If they didn’t have writing, they wouldn’t have anything.  I look at these sentences trying to find myself in them.  Instead,  I’m left doubting  if I’m actually a writer.

I think about my stories.  There are times where I think about them a lot.  It comes when I’m avoiding 8-5 work, drowning out fighting children, or in between choruses on my drive home.  I play out scenes.  I act out dialogue.  Try out a couple jokes on myself.  But I can turn it off.  In fact, I can easily distract myself with the other million things I like to do.  There are kids, concerts, and cookies to fill in the seconds I choose not to think about writing.

I went to the lemon drop self-portrait vault and found this ol' thing.

I went to the lemon drop self-portrait vault and found this ol’ thing.

I don’t have a compulsion.  When I take a break from the book to give a fresh eye before an edit, I have no regrets.  I enjoy living the non-writer life in doing things with people.  (Lemon drops come to mind.)  I play on the internet and catch a little television if there’s been something I find exceptional.  Damn you, Mad Men.  Does this make me a bad person?  A bad writer?  Is it my subconscious confirming what my doubt tells me everyday?  “You are not a real writer.”

Being a writer is so subjective.  Do you graduate to full-fledge writer when you type THE END on your first novel?  Is there a special initiation when you land your agent?  Or an acceptance to a secret society when a hard cover shows your name on the binding?  Or are you only a real writer when you spit out the sentence about not being controlled by your fictional characters?

The uncertainty can drown you on a daily basis.  Or maybe it’s only me who gets caught in the affirmation undercurrent.  I find myself looking for any sign I’m on the right path in this writer’s journey.  Especially times like now, when I’m fighting to get back to my WIP or start the query process for another.

The other night when I told my Tragic friend about my dilemma, she wrote out some wise words.  “Just write.  Right?”  In fact, she suggested I put it on a shirt.  (I thought she referred to another sentence which would be good on a shirt when I wrote — “Where are all the dicks jokes?”)  Her idea is simple.  To the point.  Stop worrying about all the other bullshit of “should I’s” and “what ifs” and stick to the part I enjoy.  Enjoy the process of getting to know my characters instead of being haunted by them.  Keep telling their stories even if an agent isn’t around the corner.  Most of all write because that’s what I want to do.

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Be careful what you tweet.  People read that shit.

Thank you Jimmy Kimmel.  I’m madly in love with this segment.  Kills me every time.

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A couple weeks ago I finished a re-write on my current work in progress.  In the past when I finish this stage, I have a beer, toast a completed manuscript, and allow myself to watch television.  That usually leads to being less productive.  A couple weeks off writing expands into a couple months.  The doubt of if it’s all worth it seeps into my mind.  It quickly turns into a funk versus a relaxation.  Before I know it I’m wondering if I’ll ever get back to it.  This time it changes.  This time I’m managing the middle for success instead of letting it run over me.

First step, keep up the creativity.  I’m keeping the creativity juices high with tapping into other areas of my mind.  If I start to let one creative outlet slack, the others seem to follow.  For some reason I think I do my best work when I remain in a high state of busy.  It’s one of the things Hubs rolls his eyes at when I’m going five different directions on the weekend.  Instead of writing, I’m painting.  I took my red walled kitchen that Meredith Barnes complimented and turned it grey.  A new look, a new point of view.

Second, blog it up.  With some Airborne Toxic Event activity coming up, I should have plenty to talk about.  Sure, I’ll make myself known to their security and have no chance of getting close for my good hair picture, but you’re worth it.  Mikel’s lesson about writing ten thousand hours to get good (not his original thought, I know) reminds me to keep my fingers moving over the keyboard even if it’s not on a manuscript.

Third is to read, read, and read.  Now is the perfect time to get some novels under my belt for the 25 per year goal.  Reading is a great way to replenish my head with how a story is supposed to read.  Taking in smartly crafted plots, fleshed out characters, and well-written sentences are the lessons needed to reinvigorate the writer’s soul.

Last, and most important, is to enjoy the people around me.  This seems like something I shouldn’t have to list out.  In fact for me, it comes quite comfortably.  This is not the case for all writers.  Most are introverts.  Writing is a very solitary process.  Every extra minute goes towards putting on headphones and blocking everyone else out.  If I’m not writing, I’m brainstorming.  I block out other people to think in my head about my characters and what they should do.  The ironic part is to write successful characters, you need to be around people.  This is the best time to spending quality time with friends and family and I’m going to take full advantage of it.

lemondrops

Let me know if you’d like to join me for a drink.

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I am completely obsessed with cake.  Well, at least for the last few weeks.  My moods switch easily between the baking mediums.  Cupcakes, cookies, and now my latest fixation is cakes.  Not only am I working hard to make them taste good with solid recipes, I’m delirious with working on frosting techniques, fondant, and even gave gumpaste a go.  (Oh, what a disaster that has been so far.)

What does this have to do with writing?  It’s my distraction from it.  When I get blocked, frustrated, or want to think something through, I bake.  When I obsess about the book so much I strangle any creativity from my body, I bake A LOT.  Hence, my obsession with cakes.  The result?  Instead of a well-written blog, you get a picture of a cake.

I’m pretty proud of this cake.  The pink ruffling was my first go around with Swiss Meringue Buttercream and I danced with excitement when it pulled together.  It’s a different story right now as I try to whip it back to a usable texture.  Hubs got so scared, he skulked to bed in fear of losing his life if he stayed around the kitchen.

The inside was pretty cool too.  Please ignore the terrible photography.  I served it at a friend’s party and the kids were biting at my ankles for their piece.

The pattern is supposed to be zebra. Many lessons learned for next time.

This is all I got.  Cake.  Enjoy. I will share with you that I did consider saving the picture of this cake for when I read Stephanie Perkins’ LOLA AND THE BOY NEXT DOOR.  For some reason, I think this cake would fit.  If you have read the book, would you leave me a comment telling me if I totally missed the mark or not?

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November brings one of the writing world’s most advantageous challenges–NaNoWriMo.  For dedicated writers out there, it shares the mob mentality of writing fifty thousand words in the month of November.  (A ginormous feat, people.)  To the non-writerly people, it’s an impossible name to pronounce and instead sneer like it’s a venereal disease when a writer says they are going to try to do it.  Hopeful writers begin the month with heavy optimism, which flickers out about day three.  It’s similar to the mad rush of Weight Watchers enrollees on January 1st only to give up by mid-month. 

For the last three months I’d been looking forward to the upcoming NaNoWriMo.  I’d been knocking around an old idea I’ve spent a lot of time outlining in my head, which would make it a good contender for the fast paced month of writing.  The major obstacle between NaNo and me was meeting the self-imposed deadline to finish the first draft of my current WIP by October 31st.  I knew I wanted to have that locked up to allow the distraction in November  from the project to allow it to breathe.  But the end of October crept up quickly between Halloween costumes, day job work events, and the normal family fare.  It was October 20th when I realized I wasn’t going to make the deadline and therefore would cop out of NaNo.

The realization was paralyzing.  The feeling of standing at the dock while the party barge of writers sailed on without me.  The disappointment dripped over into all aspects of my life where I was grumpy at the day job, biting the heads off my small children for interrupting, and overreacting when something didn’t go my way.  (More than usual, Hubs.)  It didn’t make any sense to have such a negative reaction to something which wasn’t that big of a deal.  This wasn’t a deadline at work where there could be financial impacts.  As an unsigned author, there isn’t an editor or agent waiting for the copy.  Instead, the date was only a parameter set by me so I could work on another project.  But it didn’t matter, the damage was done.  I wasted the next four days writing crap.

At the end of my rope with my pity party, I made a new date with myself.  This wasn’t a number on the calendar, but instead a solo outing on a Friday night to the local Starbucks with my computer under arm.  In their seating section, I treated myself to a coffee, enjoyed my iTunes clashing with their very loud overhead of eighties tracks, and sat uncomfortably close to some douche who insisted on taking the chair right next to mine.  And it was great.  I pumped out a few pages, tweeted some hilarity, and got my chi back on before heading home to put the kids to bed.

On October 31st, I accepted I needed another week (maybe more) to finish this draft.  A writer friend from Twitter asked if I was going to do NaNo. I explained although I had plans to, it wasn’t going to work out like I’d hoped.  She said she did it last year and was going to give it a go in 2011 as well, but may need the occasional poke to still keep with it.  She went on to explain she didn’t write for the first two weeks last time, but got caught up after pumping out 14K words in a weekend.  After the obligatory mental joke about “pumping out,” the reality hit.  Missing the deadline didn’t mean I couldn’t participate in NaNo, it only meant I had to go at it a different way.  (Please insert you own “going at it a different way” joke.)  Maybe my NaNo is 25K words on the new project in half a month.  Maybe it’s tweaking 10K words on the current WIP and outlining the next.  Or it could be just getting as far as I can by December 1st.

On Tuesday night, with the burden of the looming deadline erased from my mind, I had a great night writing the WIP.  It rejuvenated a fire to continue with the hope of finishing sometime soon.  Because what I found was if I let the deadline take over the project, nothing salvageable will be created anyway.  And if that happens, instead of only missing a deadline, I may have killed an idea which could have been something great.

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This morning I was up at 6:00am on a Sunday.  Usually, my wake up call is small feet running around outside my door and cranking up Full House to a deafening volume.  This wasn’t the case this morning.  In fact, the kiddos were spending the night with their grandparents leaving me the entire morning to sleep in.  But, instead at 6:00am I was wide awake listing through new opening lines for a revision of my current novel.  For fear of losing the great idea, I jumped out of bed and began punching away at my keyboard.  It only took about twenty minutes before the writer’s block wall smacked against my forehead.

My remedy for writer’s block is to work on another creative project (one I can finish quickly.)  Recently, I’ve been researching how to make those cool art sugar cookies and thought it was a good time to try it out.  I watched YouTube videos and read through endless entries on blogs for four hours on Friday night in preparation for a weekend attempt.  I was feeling like an expert.  My expectations were getting higher with each passing moment as I started to fantasize about my cookie empire.  At 7:00am, I’m whipping up the royal icing for the short bread cookies I baked last night.  It’s white, glossy, and smooth as silk.  I can envision them flying off the tables of the charity bake sale I’m participating in next week.  I fill my piping bag and I’m ready for my cookie greatness.  You know, the one they’ll make the movie about.

Then I get this:

It’s terrible.  Nothing like I imagined.  I followed the instructions for the recipe and took copious mental notes on the “Dean of Cookies” helpful hints from Univeristy of Cookie.  But the icing is a bitch to pipe and it’s cracking after sitting on the cookie.  I couldn’t even make a half decent circle (which the cookie ladies said is one of the most difficult challenges.)  But I’m sticking with it and about half way through, I have this:

Hubs comes out to make the morning coffee.  (What was I thinking going at this without my coffee?)  I’m mumbling, fuming, cursing under my breath at these stupid cookies.  He must be able to feel I’m at the edge of rage and ready to throw all the icing down the sink.  

“When people try new things, they always want to have the same product as someone who has done it for twenty years,” he says in his matter-a-fact voice.  Then he promptly turns and leaves the room like a well-trained Hubs.   

So, I go back to the icing and start to add my own ideas.  I thin it with more water, put on a wider tip to smooth out my shaking hand, and follow my gut on the “right” consistency.  This time when I pipe, I go at it with confidence and choose an easier way to do the shape rather than the one I thought it had to be before.  And they start to look like this:

Then I get a little crazy with some color and add a little more flare.  I try out a technique from one of the tutorials to make the flowers polka doted. 

When all the cookies are done, I have a tray of finished flowers. 

They still aren’t the best.  Some flaws were fixed and others had to be sacraficed as a learning experience.  If I want to improve, I have to practice, practice, practice.  And if I did, they would get better.  Maybe one day, they’ll even be good enough to sell.  (Are you seeing the writing parallel yet?) 

The cookies were a great reminder of how far I have come in my writing process.  Of course, I have more to learn.  I only have two years in and feel like I’m miles away from where I originally started.  Some authors have written several novels over tens of years before they have the one that breaks through.  But they don’t give up.  They keep doing what they like.  Just like the cookie queens. 

And the most important advice from the queens was the simple reminder, “It’s just a cookie.  Even mistakes are good.”

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