The Pit and Me

A Saugeen Lane - to remind me that I have to get moving toward my goal.
A Saugeen Lane – to remind me that I have to get moving toward my goal.

Some people hit a wall when they’re working on a writing project. I hit the pit—or rather I dive into it–full of self doubt and insecurities. For me, self-doubt is inexorably linked to procrastination, which expands, like the gases in Boyle’s law, to fill the space in my life where I should be writing. And I stop writing. Not for long, but for long enough to get gloomy about it.

So that’s what I have just done—again. And if this is a pattern of my writing life (and it is) then why do I keep writing?

Putting words on a page is hard work, and sometimes, like a two-year-old, I just want to sit on the floor with my blankie and yell, “I don’t wanna!” But, of course, I do “wanna.” I want to put those words on the page, not because it’s some huge pleasurable experience to do so, but because I love the feeling afterward—of having written. Scrolling back, checking the word count, printing and holding the pages, revising—that’s the fun stuff. And that’s what keeps me writing.

It will probably come as a surprise to no one that the pit stays completely out of sight when I’m working on a paying gig. Oh, I still procrastinate, but I don’t get all gloomy about things or question how I have the nerve to call myself a writer. The validation of a contract is a great cure for the pit.

So I’ve now embarked, full of enthusiasm, on a new project, and have found the pit again. So what’s next? A slow climb out, inspired by my procrastination mantra:  “You’ve done this before, so just get on with it.” (Chocolate helps—and Swedish berries, too.) I know that I will get the work done, and I will find the enthusiasm again.

Do you hit a wall or find the pit when you’re working on a project? What helps you keep going?

Friday–and still writing!

A Quiet Sunset
A Quiet Sunset

Well, my strategy for leaving the laptop shut in order to get some writing done paid off. I’m over 2500 words further into the book today than I was when I wrote my blog on Wednesday. On top of that my journal now has several brainstormed plot notes that will keep me writing for a while. Whew! Now 2500 words in 3 days might not seem like a lot to some, but it’s a lot for me–especially considering my previous pace of glacial.

I was in one of those places where I was beginning to wonder whether anything would get me back to feeling like a writer again. Then, this morning I woke up  with a scene in my head that I quickly wrote down before I went for my morning walk. I haven’t had that happen for a long time. So, yay! Feeling writerly.

Onward into the weekend, and some more writing (and some golf, too). Hope your next few days are creative and relaxing and full of reasons for you to feel like a writer.

A Little Encouragement Goes a Long Way

I’ve found the perfect way to bring my writing to a complete halt. Lose confidence.

It was the right time to hear the right words.
It was the right time to hear the right words.

I was working on the sequel to The Dragon’s Pearl, and I was about half way through the first draft when the gloom began. I started worrying about the first book. Was it really any good? Am I wasting my time writing another?  And of course, those questions led to … Is anything that I’ve ever written any good? Can I even call myself a writer? Where is the chocolate? Is it time for a nap?

Yeah, well, you get the idea.

So, last week I passed the manuscript along to a friend who has children the same ages for which the book was written. Her son “liked it a lot.” She said a couple of other nice things, too, but I was so thrilled to read just those four words, I didn’t really need any more.  A child liked my book. Wow. Could it get any better? Not for me. Not right now.

I’ve been working on some paid gigs this week, but this afternoon is set aside to get back to the manuscript. I hope that you find some creative time today, too, and that the right person at exactly the right time says that they like what you wrote.


New Neighbours Part II

Well, the eggs have hatched and there are a lot of worm deliveries being made to my front porch. Fortunately for the robins, the weather has been very wet here for weeks, so the soil is perfect for finding good things to eat for their young ones. The hatchlings have grown so fast. I took this photo yesterday. Last Thursday, they hardly had any feathers and seemed about half this size. Boy did they change quickly!

Things have been changing for me, too, recently. I’ve got my joywriting back and am finally in a place where part of my mind is always occupied with stories and projects. This has been a long time coming, and I had missed it.

I had the pleasure of going to a book signing and reading on the weekend by Susanna Kearsley at her home town library in Port Elgin. She took part in an interview followed by the 10 questions that James Lipton always asks on The Actor’s Studio. It was a great afternoon. She talked about how lucky she was that she got to work in her “happy place’ every day. I’m feel like I’m finally doing the same. My brain is full of writerly things and I can’t wait to get in front of a blank screen or an empty piece of paper.

One reason for this is that I’ve gone back to thinking about and reading good old fashioned romance. It has been the most fabulous escape and a great bringer down of shoulders. I found books by Debbie Macomber that centre around a yarn store, so I’ve been able to add my love of knitting into the mix, too. I reread a historical romance that I completed years ago and am in the process of editing that for an ebook. I’m also writing short stories that I will add to some I have already written for an anthology; they will also become an ebook. I’ve designed a book cover, I’m working on a website, and seeing story ideas everywhere.

Yes, the joywriting is back.

Writer’s Block First Aid

I had to take a dose of my own medicine yesterday. My editor e-mailed a deadline to me and I was unprepared. So I did what I advise all writers to do—I started brainstorming. I made a list of all the things I like to write about and another of what I like to read about and I still felt like my own creative well was empty.

Is this writers’ block? laziness? stubbornness? Whatever it was, it felt lousy and I knew I had to get over it. Get over myself wishing I didn’t have to do it. Get over wanting to run away from my responsibilities. You get the picture. So, I did what I’ve told other writers to do, just started the thing.

And groaned about how difficult it is to face the blank screen—and to resist walking away and boiling the kettle for another cup of tea.

I made the tea.

Then I did the next best thing to writing; I hit the books and the Internet to research what other writers do when they’re in the same, gloomy, non-writing place. Clearly I am not alone. Google presented me with 2,710,000 sites for my search: “overcoming writer’s block.” Nearly three million people writing about writer’s block? Now I’m getting researcher’s block!

I did find a couple of gems, though.

Franz Kafka (“Metamorphosis”) said: “You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quite still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.” Well, it was clear to me after giving this a try, that the only “world” I was freely offered was one with a list of chores and “must remember to buy cereal on the way home from work.”  The only things rolling at my feet were dust bunnies. And, they’re more the static rather than the ecstatic variety as they attached themselves to my slippers and followed me to the kitchen. More tea.

Richard Condon wrote: “When I feel dried up I deal myself a few games of solitaire at my desk. I’ve been doing it all my life. Sometimes I play 10 or 20 games, sometimes 40. Once, I played for three straight days. The important thing is not to leave the workplace.” Sadly, I have no problem doing this; in fact, I always delete my Free Cell statistics after 100 games so I won’t be ashamed of the total number of games that I have played. Along with checking my e-mail, tidying my files, and deleting old messages, I have found many ways not to leave my “workplace”—and not write.

Other advice on writer’s block? Here’s one from Quentin Crisp: “Ignore it: you never stop speaking; why stop writing?” My answer to him is: “because I don’t feel like it.”

“And why don’t you feel like it?” I hear him ask me and it ticks me off and then—I realize what the answer is in an embarrassing flash of insight.

I’m afraid.

Yup. I don’t want to write because I don’t want to fail. What if this is the article that my editor said was just too awful to print. And if I can’t write this article, can I ever write anything else? Needless to say, all the advice I’ve written to others about not listening to their critical voices and, about following the advice of Anne Lamott and giving themselves permission to write the “shitty first draft”* went right out the window. The blank screen wasn’t just blank; it was the enemy.

So, I switched the thing off.

And picked up a pencil and some paper–because quitting really wasn’t an option.

That simple action made all the difference. Writing with paper and pencil was the first method I had used to create as a child and as a student, and by some magic, the connections were still there. I doodled and scribbled, added bits in margins or between lines, changed pen colours and made little flowers around the holes at the side of the paper. I don’t always write in order, so it was freeing to draw sweeping arrows from a bit I’d written at the top of the page to the bottom where I’d suddenly thought of more to add. Turning the pages, numbering them, scribbling diagonally across the empty backs of pages with new ideas, filling those pages was hugely satisfying. Writing became a visceral act; I felt totally involved and energized. And amazingly disconnected from the critic.

Because I was writing on paper, I had permission to be messy, cluttered, tangential, and free. The screen demands order and clean copy. I mean, just look at the thing! Everything ‘looks’ perfect—even lousy writing—and how depressing is that!

Have I found the universal cure for getting past the barrier to creativity? No. But I found one that works for me. Thank heavens for deadlines

—and pencils and paper.

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. Anne Lamott, First Anchor Books Edition, 1995

Originally printed in What If? Canada’s Magazine for Creative Teens

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