Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Learning to Roll With it

A popular post from October 2008

I am currently in a slump--everything I write is trash, just sitting down to write fills me with annoyance, and I look toward my future and wonder if writing is what I really want to do. Why not choose something easier, like rocket science or discovering the ruins of ancient civilizations of the sixth century.

Unfortunately, this is not an unfamiliar location for me to find myself in. I tend to wander into this forsaken wilderness with every book I write, but I seem to be staying for a longer visit this time around. Probably because I have a deadline. Murphy's law of writing says that if you have a deadline, you will find yourself blocked.

So, I've tried a hundred things to solve this. I've forced myself to write, I've rewritten my opening chapter eight times, I've stopped writing all together and cleaned out closets and bedrooms, even the BARN (and if you'd seen my barn you would know that cleaning it had to be an act of desperation). I've immersed myself in other people's books, baked relentlessly, watched all kinds of TV, caught up on several projects and am currently trying to teach myself how to crochet. I do these things in hopes of clearing my mind, emptying out my to-do list, and distracting myself from the story so as to create enough distance that my muse can come back and help me with this story. So far, nothing has worked. Not one single thing. Every word I have written feels as if it were scraped from my skin and I feel raw and anxious about what I have not done.

In hopes of healing myself, I turned to my collection of writing books, looking for inspiration. I've read and re-read some great advice. The other day I picked up another one of these books and found a chapter about finding your best time to write. I thought that would be good for me--what if my best time to write was at 1:00 every afternoon, which is about three hours after I've given up for the day!

The author explained how she had to really buckle down and go inside herself to figure out the best time for her to write. She explained how this is a very personal thing for every author, that it would be different for everyone. I agree with this. She said how some authors do great with a set routine, other's need to change locations to keep things fresh, still others needed to write in long chunks of time. All of this made sense to me. I know many authors and not one of them writes exactly the same way.

She had me right there with her until she got to this part:

"After this introspection I found that for me, I write best first thing in the morning (me too), after I've had a full night's sleep (ummm) and allowed my body to wake up when it wants to (bodies do that?). I find that my mind is fresher before I've done anything else (ya think?), that the ideas flow, that my critical side hasn't yet caught on to what I'm doing (there's my problem right there), and the words I put down are exactly the words my book needs. Once I've written for two hours without distraction (I now hate this woman) I'm then free to accomplish the other things I need to do in a day."

Just to punish myself further I read another chapter where she talked about hitting a block and all she wanted to do was take a nap, so she did--for TWO days. "Doing absolutely nothing, allowing my brain to turn to mush relieved me of the stress and worry that was standing in my way. When I was sufficiently rested I was ready to put those words on the page again."

I stopped reading.

I would love to wake up when my body wanted to and write for two uninterrupted hours. I would love to stay in bed for two days and allow my brain to turn to mush. However, that's not the fantasy world I live in. I'm up every day at 5:00 (my body would sleep till nine in a perfect world)--and things are chaotic until my youngest goes to school at 8:30. Then I go running, then I shower, do laundry, run errands, clean the house, and do the other 1000 things needed of me. I'm very lucky in that I don't have a job outside of the house and all my children are in school, and yet I STILL don't find two hours of uninterrupted time to get my writing done.

I'm not exactly sure what the intent of my post is, but in hopes to tie it into my title, let me just say this. Every writer is different and while some will work well with routine (I have in the past) others will feel stifled with it. While some of us have ideas pouring out our fingertips, others will have to bang their head against the wall in order to crack out one mediocre thought. I've been all of these people over the years I have written and as soon as I seem to figure myself out, I find myself at complete odds with the way I've done things in the past. Right now, my only goal is to keep writing. I'm learning, again, to roll with it, that creativity isn't stored in a box in my closet and that every story has it's own set of challenges (whether it's the story itself or family situations).

Amid all the writer's angst I might find myself drowning in, I don't have the option of waking up when my body feels rested, nor of taking a nap for two days. I have to find a way to fit the words I string together into the spaces of my family, my home and my obligations. I will not be 'owned' by this muse of mine and although I feel that writing is part of who I am and how I've grown, I will not become a slave to it and in the process sentence all my relationships to the same type of servitude. I am a writer, but being a writer is only part of my make-up. Therefore, I simply have to find a way to make it work. I've done it before, and I'll do it again one way or another.

One day I will be able to find my 'best' time to write every day. One day I will have the freedom to make that a priority--and perhaps that's what the author of this book did--maybe she wasn't trying to write and raise a family at the same time. But today, I have carpool and dinner, bills to pay and socks to wash. With a little luck, I'll fit some words within the spaces.


melissa c said...

I loved this post. I think it's wonderful for people to you that all you successful, famous, writers are human too.

It's nice to know you struggle and feel frustrated or that you make mistakes and hit the wall like the rest of us! he he.

You'll pull out of it and think of something wonderful. Think while you run. I think well as I run.

Julie Wright said...

Josi, girl, i have no clue what to tell you if cleaning the closets didn't work. Maybe if you came down and cleaned out MY closets??? No? Well I thought I'd offer cause I'm a good friend like that. Seriously who wakes up when their bodies are done sleeping? Does any real human get to do that? I agree about making your writing fit into your life, not your life into your writing. You are wise, my friend, so much wiser than i am.

Annette Lyon said...

So true. I keep thinking that at some point I'll have figured it out, but writing is a continuing journey that changes.

That book reminded me of an interview I read with Janet Oke once--how she'd go to a hotel for a week to pound out her first drafts. Yeah. I don't think I'll ever read her work now--it would be tainted. On what planet would I ever have that luxury? The rest of us normal people have real life to work around.

Sue said...

I get blog blocked constantly, but rarely manuscript blocked. Maybe because I'm so caught up in the story.

Of course now that I said that I'll probably run right smack into a wall. Karma.

melissa c said...

As an aspiring writer, I want to share something that I have just learned.

Now, I know that most of you, especially published authors, probably already have discovered this. But.....

When you have others critique your work, soak in all they have to say. Learn from it, absorb it, swim in it. Make the corrections you need to.

But I also found that as I made some changes, the mood of my story changed from what I wanted it to be.

I found that you have to be careful not to let others re-write your story for you. Take all the advice and be grateful for it, which I truly am, but be true to the story in you.

If you want humor, don't make so many corrections that you end up with a thriller instead! he he.

Just speaking from experience. Anyway, Thanks you guys for everything. I absolutely love this blog site! I check you out every day!

Tamra Norton said...

Interesting insights! This author you read obviously has no children I take it. Hmmmm... I wish I had some great solutions for you...and me. :)

Satima Flavell said...

Anyone who can write at all while rearing a family and / or earning a living has my deepest admiration. I did not write stories between the ages of 6 and 54, because during that time the muse simply wouldn't come out to play. I was too busy with other things. Even now, s/he is very shy. I've recently discovered that early morning, while I'm still in what Robert Olen Butler calls "the dream space", is my best writing time. Once I've started dealing with other things, writing is over for the day.

Best of luck with the unblocking process, Josi!

Jennifer said...

I'm reminded of a cartoon I saw once. It had a picture of a man furiously writing at a desk with papers all around it and it said: "Tolstoy was going for the big laugh, but the more he wrote, the more it eluded him."

I know that doesn't help any, but I thought it was funny anyway.

Seriously, though, she did say that everyone's best time of day will be different. For me, the best time for me to write is right when I'm supposed to get something to my critique group and I have nothing to show them.

And, even though there are 1000 things to do every day, I just sometimes don't do them. ;) If you only vacuum once every other week, all the stuff gets vacuumed up the same as it would have if you'd done it once a day. You just have to be comfortable living with crumbs sticking to your feet.

Maybe all I should have said was, "Good luck getting back into your writing groove!"

Anonymous said...


Sometimes when you can't write or when what you do write isn't right, its because you haven't figured out what to write.

You may think you know where the story is going, but when what your write doesn't feel right, its your subconscious editor telling you there is more to be discovered before you move on here. Be patient. Find it. Then write it.

Sometimes cleaning the barn is just what your brain needed to select the right character to view your scene. Crocheting may help you find which plot line you should emphasize or get rid of entirely. Cleaning the clutter from the closet may be the moment when you figure how the twist in your plot should have turned the other way.

While you're fretting about not writing, the story is expanding deep in the recesses of your mind. Carpools. Socks. Dinner. None of that is wasted time. You may not be writing, but your mind is still sifting away, searching for the perfect dramatic stuff.

And once the connections are made, the story will come out like a river. Until then, enjoy the drought. It isn't nearly as dry as it may appear. And when the droubht is over, its time to celebrate.

Take that two hour nap.


Heather B. Moore said...

I just finished reading "These Is My Words"--a big bestseller, and she said that she wrote that book while working, going to school part time, managing kids, etc.

For each of my books, the journey has changed. I'm not completely happy with the book I'm writing right now--and I'm 300 pages into it. So I'm hoping that when I go back to read the thing, I'll know what to fix.

Celise said...

"Learning to Roll With it." Definitely words to live by. And I so agree with your post. I used to be on a teenlit forum and was totally jealous of the writers on there that write fast or have a set time everyday to write. That is SO NOT ME. Because, yes, in the real world, I have a day job.

After reading a SARK book, I decided to use her Micro-Movements method: tackling projects for 5 seconds to 5 mins. It's something as small as opening a notebook to a blank page one day, to opening a notebook and writing one word on that blank page the next.

When I'm in Writing Mode, I make a goal to write at least one page a day. Most of the time, I write more than that, other times, it's a struggle to get even a half page. I write by hand at work during my one hr lunch and 2 fifteen min breaks; on Sundays (which is usually laundry day), I type up what I've written during the week. I very rarely write in the evenings or on the weekend because it's a distraction.

As for writer's block: I put the novel away and wait till I hear the voices in my head. More often than not, that seems to work.

I've really had to learn to not listen to what every other author says, to WORK like every other author. I've really had to find my own way and works for me. I finally realized that I'm not like every other author and I never will be, so I need to stop trying to fit into that mold. I'm just me. I write to the beat of a different drum. And I'm okay with that. Finally.

Crystal Collier said...

Goodness, that sounds familiar. WE really do all have our own "system", one tailored directly to us. I hate deadlines. My last book was up against some and it was tough. SO tough. But I found that when I got stopped up, writing something I LOVED for a little bit would free me up--even if it was just a journal entry, or poetry, or working on another book. *gasp* Here's to life, it's craziness, and figuring out our own paths!