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….

Blocking Writer’s Block – Go Public For Extra “Sticktuitiveness” (More on Nanowrimo)

October 21, 2010

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about centenarians, the qualities that enable people to endure.

The wording of that last sentence probably illustrates why it will be hard for me to ever make this rarified group.  The operative word was “endure;”  my sense is that many centenarians look at life as something to be enjoyed rather than endured.

I, in contrast, always remember walking by a parking lot in Greenwich Village on a cold night in which everyone’s mortality was clearly visible in the fog made by their breath.  A guy in front of me shouted up the ramp: “come on already, life’s too short to enjoy it!”

This struck me not as a motto to aspire to, but as one that ManicDDaily types seem to be stuck with.

(Sorry, don’t mean to whine!)

The point is that some of us worry, kvetch, dither, all in between activities that we think of as “work” even though they are completely unremunerative and done in our free time.

Which brings me to the month of November!  November is National Novel Writing Month–Nanowrimo!  I stick in the exclamation point because I really hope to persuade myself to do it this year.  The goal is to produce a novel or 50,000 words (whichever comes first) in the month of November.

I confess to having done Nanowrimo successfully (in the sense that I produced the words), a couple of past years, but I find the whole prospect a bit scary right now.   I’m hoping that if I make the commitment publicly, I will gain a little bit of extra “sticktuitiveness”.

I’m also hoping to keep this blog going during November by posting sections of an old Nanowrimo novel.  It’s a bit rough, but I’m hoping again that if I announce this idea  (publicly) I can garner the commitment to finish one more re-write.

Which brings me to another tool for blocking writer’s block.  Give yourself a goal!  Publicly!

And, if you kick yourself later, keep that old ManicDDaily teaching in mind:  “life’s too short to enjoy it.”

Blocking Writer’s Block – Hold Your Nose Perhaps (But Don’t Shut Your Eyes)

October 20, 2010

As a daily blogger, I probably don’t seem much affected by writer’s block.  (Even when I don’t have much to say, I seem to be able to get it onto the screen.)

Here’s a confession:  my writer’s block, which is intense, comes towards the end of the process.

Getting a major project  done to the point of being able to say–this is the best I can do, the final shape I want these ideas to have–is nearly impossible for me.

The closer I get to completion, the more my stomach turns.  My whole being becomes one huge wince.   Unfortunately, squinched-up eyes don’t copy edit.

In the midst of this ongoing wince, I tend to make one of three bad choices – (i) I let the manuscript languish; (ii) giving up, I simply send it off.   (When the recipient mentions that it’s not quite finished, I cringe more and let it languish.), or (iii) I change the manuscript so radically that it is once again far from completion.  (Then, growing tired of it, I let it languish.)

Some of these difficulties may come from childhood, the curse of precocity.  When you are a precocious child (as many writer/artist types are), you always have the benefit of a certain handicap.  (“So what if his monograph spells Nietzche wrong a couple of times?  He’s only four years old!”)

Precocity is a protective clothing, highlighting every good quality, blurring every fault, chafing, at times, sure, but other times cozy.  But when the precocious child grows up, he or she, like the emperor, suddenly finds that all that clothing has blown away.  Oops!  Embarrassment sets in big-time.

Since this is a truly difficult problem for me, it’s hard to come up with tips.  These sound promising:

  1. The classic advice is to get a little distance from a nearly finished manuscript (i.e. put it in a drawer.)  This does help you to see the manuscript more clearly, but do not expect it to make the process significantly less painful.
  2. Make yourself begin.  Hold your nose if you must, but don’t shut your eyes.  (Keep in mind that eventually some interest or craft will kick in and it won’t feel so bad.)
  3. Make yourself move along.   I really like the Apple software “Pages” because when I re-open a manuscript, it takes me right to the place I left off instead of back to the beginning.    (In Word, I tend to spend months and months snagged on the first twenty pages.)
  4. Make yourself stop.  At a certain point, you will be playing around with minor edits that do not make your manuscript better. Worse, you start making such major changes that you are really writing a completely different piece, one that is farther than ever from being finished.  Maybe your original concept needs these major changes, or maybe you are just sick of it.  Try to be honest.  Allow yourself to begin something new.  (So what if you, like Shakespeare, are using similar themes and characters?)  (P.S. when your ego’s in tatters, feel free to glom on to some  good old grandiosity.)
  5. At some point, you really should proofread the printed pages, and not just look at the screen.  My best advice for this–get outside help (i.e. a really good friend or, maybe, an M.D.)


Blocking Writer’s Block – A Beautiful Day (Oh No!)

October 11, 2010

It was a beautiful weekend in New York City.

This can be a real trial for a would-be writer, especially one with a day job, a family, and at least one hamper of dirty laundry.

Most writers do not like waste; they carefully save scraps of scribbled paper, notebooks, drafts.  Only a terrible mishap, or true epiphany (sometimes one leads to the other), induces most writer-types, artist types generally, to discard.

A beautiful day, a free day, a three-day weekend, is something you want to savor.   As a writer, you feel you are supposed to be experiencing the beauty of the world; as a person, you want to experience the beauty of the world; as a job holder, an office worker, you are desperate to be carefree, outdoors, enjoying a sunny sky.

One problem is that most would-be writers work on computers (they save their scribbles in notebooks, but they really would prefer to avoid having to re-type) ; and most computers really don’t function well under sunny skies.  Computers, even laptops, tend to be curmudgeonly homebodies; grinches who love grey; cloud-seekers.

But it’s your one free day!  But you want to work!  But it’s beautiful outside!

You feel guilty for staying indoors working; guilty for hanging outside not-really-working.  (I confess this guilt may plague me more than the average would-be writer–I was raised, after all, as a Lutheran.)

Some thoughts:   Try a notebook, even if you will have to re-type.

Or take your laptop into the shade.   Deeper Shade.

Try just walking and thinking for a while.

And then, finally, bite the bullet, and work indoors, hopefully by an open window.

Here’s the gist of it:  if you are a would-be writer; and have a day job, and a family, and dirty laundry, you really can’t live your life quite like other people–those lucky less-fragmented souls who can, for example, just lay out in the sun or play tennis much of the day.

If you want to do your work, you simply have to devote some of your free time to it, even when the day is beautiful.

You might, however, put off the laundry.

(PS – once again I take inspiration from my dog, Pearl, shown above, enjoying the outdoors but not fixated on it, knowing that she has to get home to do her one of her true jobs.)

PPS–the titles of two videos above don’t seem to be coming out–first –“Pearl Nonplussed by the Hudson”, second–“Pearl Doing One of Her True Jobs”.