Archive for the ‘writer’s block’ category

Why Revising A Manuscript During Nanowrimo Month Is Just Not The Same–Where are the Pheromones?

November 9, 2011

You Have To Be Really Dogged About Revising

We’re almost all familiar with the pleasures of “new car smell” (even if just in a rental.)

Even more attractive is the zing of a new relationship.

For some of nerdy types, even more compelling is the engagement of new creation.  I don’t mean procreation here (although that might fit in too.)  I’m talking about a new idea, a new piece of writing or work of art.

How uncritical we are in the face of freshness!   Sure, we can see kinks, but they feel trivial in the flow of inspiration–detritus in the stream, texture!

Now that I think about it, working on a new piece is remarkably like a new relationship.  In the charge of fresh pheromones, we feel somehow certain that we’ll fix any problems, the person too.  Later.  (Note to self–fat chance.)

Rewriting, in contrast, tends to bog down.  The flaws are about all we are conscious of; the flow feels like a house on stilts rather than any kind of river.

Sometimes we want to change the whole thing, start almost from scratch.  This may be the best approach, but it’s also important to stop and take a breath.  Are we really just trying to do something new, different?  Something whose flaws we don’t have to deal with just yet?


(P.S. – for those who don’t follow this blog, I promised myself to take this Nanowrimo–National Novel Writing Month–to work on revising old manuscripts rather than writing something new.  Ahem.)

Blocked by Writer’s Block? Indecision Block?

August 21, 2011


I am facing a real dilemma as a would-be writer these days. I am almost (truly this time) finished with a comic teen mystery novel called NOSE DIVE. It is a silly but fun book whose final proofs should be sent to me shortly. (Hurrah.)

So, now what? I started working last weekend on a novel that I had written bits and pieces of for last year’s Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month.) Approximately 50,000 bits and pieces. Though I ended up last November with a framework that seemed interesting, it was as fragile of the mere vision of a house of cards, meaning that it will require a lot of work from scratch.

In the meantime, I have three or four (maybe even five or six!) pretty close-to-finished old manuscripts. These are each novels, mainly for children or young people, that I thought at one point were done, but then began re-writing repeatedly, and finally, out of frustration with my own questionable decisions during revision, abandoned.

So now here I am, mainly just spinning wheels (the little ones in the cranium). Last weekend, the Nanowrimo novel seemed the most exciting if difficult choice. At my increasingly gloomy age, taking on a new and more serious book felt almost like being faced with a diving board–one of those things that if not attempted now, would be out of reach for the rest of my life.

But intervening weekdays filled with job, housework, and obsessive escapist reading, not to mention a large variety of internet distractions, and a very depressing world newscape–all seemed to snip last weekend’s thread.

Plus there are the ghosts of all those old, once-loved, novels. (My brain feels like it’s on a diving board with them too–that if I don’t address them now, I never will.)

The terrible thing is that the last time my body actually was on a diving board and I did make myself do a spring dive, it was actually sort of problematic. I mean, sure, there was the rush of fear and bravado during the prefatory springy steps, the jump, the upheaval of legs and torso, feet and head, the exhilarating plunge into the surprisingly cold hard water, but then I went so deep so fast, my ears beginning to hurt quite a bit, my stomach too, that I really wondered if it was such a great experience after all.

So, maybe, what I need to do first is look for another metaphor.

Blocking Writer’s Block – Tired of Editing? Next Step (If You Dare.)

June 20, 2011

Pearl is really really tired of editing.

I am still working on finishing the manuscript of a novel that I thought was just about finished ages ago.

By finishing, I mean editing, and re-editing.  Cutting and cutting more, adding teeny bits.

I am not changing the plot at this point, even though it’s a bit silly.  I am just honing.  This needn’t be such a long process, except that, unfortunately, I am not somewhat who carves, but rather, someone who whittles.  Meaning that I have to go over the same surface again and again and again, smoothing and chipping rather than making decisive definitive cuts.

The big problem with whittling is that it feels endless.  (If every time you go through the manuscript, you find more to change, it’s hard to ever feel “finished.”)

Though I am quite sure that at a certain point, I’ll feel pretty certain that I am finished.  This will undoubtedly be before I truly am finished.  It will still feel good.

I am not there yet.

My next step is to read the whole thing aloud.  I shudder at the thought, but reading aloud is truly a great way to edit, especially when you are sick and tired of editing.   When you read a manuscript aloud, all of the habitual acceptance disappears, and you immediately understand that that part you always liked is simply boring, or redundant, or run-on, or (if you are lucky), pretty good.

You can see why I shudder!

Pearl just wants me to get on with it.

(For more on writer’s block, see multiple other posts in this category.)

Blocking Writer’s Block – Swallowing Rejection (With Bhavana)

March 22, 2011

Rejection- Hurts Going Down

Today, I thought I’d focus on one of the biggest blocks to a struggling writer:  rejection.

Rejection feels awful to anyone, whether it arrives in one’s personal or professional life, but it presents a double-whammy for a writer, perhaps because it automatically hits on both the personal and professional level.

Hard for anyone to swallow, it is an especially stony lump for someone who regularly focuses on “voice.”

It doesn’t help much to hear about the zillions of rejection letters received by famous writers.

For one thing, those famous writers are not you (and they were eventually famous.)

For another, writing is hard work; it takes time and has significant opportunity costs.  While success/acknowledgement may not make the work fundamentally easier, it does seem to offer the struggling writer more time to write.  It also offers a channel, a place and encouragement for “flow.”  And a sense of respect.  It can be easy to feel stopped up without those things.

What to do?

I am reminded of a yoga teacher who talked about the distinction between the sanskrit terms “bhava” and “bhavana.”  He described Bhava as a state of spiritual ecstasy; bhavana as the cultivation of spirituality, the actual practices of devotion.

The fact is, he said, that you cannot force bhava–you can’t even be sure whether spiritual practice or any particular effort will induce it.  But, while you are waiting and hoping (uncertainly) for enlightenment, you can at least go through some set of motions.  You can, in other words, cultivate a discipline that feels like the groundwork for ecstasy, even understanding the quantum leap between discipline and ecstasy, and in that practice, you can, perhaps, achieve at least a certain contentment.

So (I tell myself), you cannot force success in the writing world, no matter how hard you work and scheme and (literally) plot.

But you can take steps to grant yourself some of the benefits you think that success would give.

More time?  To the extent practicable, allow yourself to take that time.

A channel?  At least get a writing-minded friend.

Respect is harder to come by, but at least try to respect yourself enough to finish what you begin.

Most importantly, keep in mind what started you writing to begin with;  that you enjoy saying things.  In print.

Blocking Nanowrimo Writer’s Block – Remembering old Soviet Bloc

November 6, 2010

For me, what is hardest about Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) is not doing the writing; it’s believing in the writing.

That’s not exactly right.   What’s hard to believe is that the writing will add up to something that will go out into the world and be read.

Partly this relates to a certain lack of confidence in my own ability to finish a project to its utmost finished state.  Although frankly, I have a fair amount of confidence in this area–I’ve written a few novels which at one point or another I believed to be in their utmost finished state.  (The only reason I began unraveling these books was that they didn’t seem to appeal to publishers in that state.)

Which brings me to the source of my true lack of confidence–the increasing awareness of the difficulty in getting projects out so that they are accessible and noticeable in our jam-packed, self-promotional, world.

This end piece (the difficulty in actually doing something with a novel, once written) can make it very difficult to write the novel.  Of course, this gloominess is an excuse, but it’s a true hindrance.

What to do about it?

The answers are obvious but worth writing down:  put the dispiriting out of your mind.  Focus on the endeavor itself.   Find satisfaction in the process.  And, importantly, remember (always) the possibility of the unexpected;  think of the Soviet Union!  Who really predicted–at the time– that it would end the way it did?

I’m not sure my inner novelist is very much like Gorbachev (kind of hope not),  and I’m not sure it’s positive to be inspired by collapses!  But hey, you have to work with what you’ve got.  Keep doing it.

Blogging Brazen? Showing Drafts Daft? Nanowrimo/Blog Quandary

October 31, 2010

Posting a Brazen Act?

Still trying to figure out how to handle this blog during November, National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo.)

As any regular follower must perceive, I am a person of routine inconsistency.  That is, I post pretty much every day (that’s the routine part), but the posts are all over the map, in terms of content and quality (there’s the you-know-what).

I’ve stuck to daily postings (despite the stress) because the commitment helps me to bypass some of the negative self-judgment that blocks any writer.  (If you publish every day, you can’t worry if your writing is worthwhile.  You just do what you can.)

Nanowrimo works on some of the same concepts; once you decide to do it, you simply have to hurry up and do it.

The problem for someone like me (who is lucky enough to also have a paying job!) is that two such driven activities are a bit much to conduct simultaneously.

Here are my choices:

  1. Let the blog go for a month.  (A relief to followers, perhaps.)
  2. Forget about Nanowrimo this year, as I did last year.  (A relief to myself.  I really don’t have a clue about what novel I might write.)
  3. Try to post something pre-written on the blog while doing Nanowrimo on the side.

I have been planning to opt for number 3, posting an old Nanowrimo novel called Nose Dive.

Nose Dive is a teen novel, and yes, a bit embarrassing.  I chose the story because it was silly and fun enough that I could write the initial draft quite quickly.  However, the same silly/fun factor has made the novel hard to satisfactorily revise.

The question of posting the draft Nose Dive now raises an interesting concern:  publicly showing one’s work (even as a blog) turns out to be an amazingly brazen activity.

When one publishes through a publisher there’s a shield of third-party endorsement.

When one self-publishes, or even just shows a piece to a friend, this shield is not available.  Given the rapidly-changing-to-avoid-demise-face of publishing, this is less of a source of embarrassment than it used to be.

Even so, a fairly high temperature blush arises simply from the fact that you are putting yourself on the line (even online).

And even though you say that your work is quick, rough, in draft form, there you are–risking criticism, ridicule, and (perhaps, worse) disinterest.

So.  (Confession.)  My concern is that if I (deep breath) post excerpts of Nose Dive, which is quick, rough, and (still) in draft form, I will feel so immediately regretful that I will have a hard time focusing on a new novel.

And yet, there’s that routine part of me, and that brazen part that has learned repeatedly–nothing ventured, nothing gained, and, more importantly (swallow) nobody’s perfect.

I guess, I’ll see what happens tomorrow (or later tonight.)

Hope you come back to check.

Blocking Writer’s/Editor’s Block – Major Restructuring? (Maybe Focus On the Laundry)

October 24, 2010

A bit of a dreary Sunday.

The good news:  This morning, I finished a re-write of an old Nanowrimo novel.  This does not mean that I actually finished re-writing it, but that I finished another complete round of revisions.

The bad news:  I haven’t done my laundry yet and the laundry room here gets really crowded Sundays.

The good news:  This afternoon, I started another round of revisions on this same old Nanowrimo novel, going through it one more time.  For a while, the whole thing just seemed to work.

The bad news:  Then, I ran into a chapter that I seem to have over-edited my last time through, trying to break up the scene.  Now I think I have to seek out some of that old deleted material.

The good news:  I have a bunch of laundry to do.

As I’ve mentioned before in posts on writer’s block, my block does not arise in my initial writing, but in the editing and revising.

Part of my problem is that I sometimes want to make the manuscript to take a shape it doesn’t want.   I will try a major restructuring, hoping that certain kinds of manipulation–flashbacks, changes of view–can supply the momentum and drama that the plot is lacking.

This type of re-organization may work for some writers.  I’m not sure I’m not one of them.

Please understand that I am not saying here: “first thought best thought.”  I strongly believe in revision and editing.  (Except perhaps on this blog–sorry!)

But, for me, the editing sometimes works best on a sentence to sentence basis.  Or, even better, through cuts.   (One can get very enamored of sections that don’t move a story forward, especially when you’ve heavily re-written these sections on a sentence to sentence basis.)

But changes that involve fitting the manuscript into a different framework, or inserting a… device… tend to be less successful for me.

A good test of whether structural changes are useful is whether you can actually carry them out.  If, as you go through the manuscript, the changes feel increasingly hard to write, they are probably not helping you.

Again, I’m not saying that re-envisioning of a manuscript is not sometimes important.  Filling in blanks or making blanks can help you find your voice and your audience; it can feel both creative and compelling.

The key word is “compelling”.

Good writing does not re-write itself, but if it becomes too much of a tussle, you might consider a return to your initial, rawer, vision.  This at least will have a certain energy and drive.

Here’s the point:  be realistic about the true nature of your first draft.  If you have made an amuse-bouche, don’t try to stretch it into a full course meal.  If you keep trying to inject further substance into it, you may end up with something that can hardly be chewed (much less digested).

Now, about that laundry….