Posted tagged ‘blocking writer’s block’

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 With Derek Jeter

July 10, 2011

Yes, I know. It doesn't really look like him.

Followers of this blog know that I am in the final stages of finishing a manuscript for a novel.  (I really am almost there now.)

It is difficult.  I am a pretty fast writer, but a terribly slow re-writer.  It takes me drafts and drafts and drafts, with additions, deletions, re-additions, re=deletions, corrections and missed corrections, and corrections of the corrections.  While revising and copy-editing can sometimes have an engaging aspect, they can also be soul-wrenching.

I don’t want to sound too whiney, but it can be hard not to be overwhelmed by the question:  “is it worth it?”  “It” being the manuscript, even the whole endeavor of writing.  And then there are all the related inquiries; most of which begin with “why,” many of which include “bother.”

The answer, I guess, is that you just have to do the things that make you you, even when they are difficult.  Translation: if you are a writer, or even if you just want to be a writer, you have to write.  And if you want any kind of an audience, and have any kind of pride, you have to re-write.  (And re-write again.)

Even so, as you get towards an end of a project, it is hard not to grow increasingly self-critical, a mind-state that can be paralyzing.

This weekend, I’ve looked for inspiration in one of my all-time heroes–Derek Jeter!

I call Derek a hero with some trepidation–maybe Jeter is not as nice as his public persona.  But no one can fault his determination, focus and drive.  His at-bat on his 3000th hit was a great example.  The count was 3-2.  Then he kept hitting fouls, one after another until he got a pitch he could slam.  As he said afterwards, he was not trying for a home run, he was just trying to hit the ball.  Hard.

Of course, one could argue that baseball is kind of a silly game; even if you like it,  a game.  All this effort–all this focus–all this attention–all this money–for what?

I, for one, right now, just choose to admire.  And to make myself get back to my own work with some of that determination, focus, élan.

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.

Re-Kindling a love for books/ Resisting the Inner Polar Bear

March 3, 2011

Speaking of gadgets (yesterday was the iPad2), I have been a victim of the Amazon Kindle of late.

Aging/sore eyes are difficult.  I had not realized until receiving a Kindle for Christmas how my ocular limitations had inhibited my enjoyment of reading of printed matter.    That and a relatively recent addiction to electronic screens had really limited my span.

I spend my work day in front of a computer;  and yet I still couldn’t turn away from the screen–not before work, not after work, not in the middle of the night.  I seemed to be like the polar bear at the Central Park zoo–you know the one who swims back and forth and back and forth and back and forth–determinedly submerging myself in a groove that ran through a small reflective surface.

With Kindle in hand, however, and my need for connection with the digital world somehow satisfied, I find myself reading constantly – not scanning bits of newspapers, blogs, videos, my own manuscripts–but reading.  In an extended fashion.  Books.

The only problem is that there’s so much ease in downloading a book (you can do it from thin air), that I hardly feel like trying to write one anymore.

But reading is good for writing, right?

Sure, but writing is necessary for writing.


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.

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.)


A Pearl For the Blocked Writer: Let Go of The Bad News; the Grandiosity; Just Do What You Do.

October 9, 2010

I woke up today feeling terribly depressed.  Yes, it’s probably my chemistry (the down side of the m-word), but, as I browsed through the online New York Times, I also felt that I had every right to blame my hopelessness on the world in general.

Everything seemed to bring up Reagan’s old (deficit-producing) supply-side economics;  they seemed not just to have been swallowed by the American people but to have become an integral part of the body politic–its eaten-out heart (as in “eat your heart out’);  the idea that compassion is bad while greed is good (for society as well as the greedy), almost a moral imperative.

There was the article about the refusal of politicians to support improvements in infrastructure despite the terrible need both for the improvements and the jobs the improvements would provide.  Then the negativity towards healthcare (in one, a Florida politician whose company was indicted for massive medicare fraud.)

Then there were the  little children bullying other little children, seemingly egged on by parents who are happy, primarily, that their kids are at the top of the popularity heap.

I don’t want to detail the stories of truly horrific brutality, stories where even the words “lack of compassion” can’t be squeezed in.

Normally, I try to spend Saturday re-writing one of my old children or teen novels.  (I have a few that for years have seemed sort of finished, and yet still aren’t quite “done.”)  But, suddenly, my little fictional tales seemed ridiculously trivial.   Sure, they all promote compassion; but they are also, due to my lack of talent and vision, not particularly life-changing, society-changing.  Not even, perhaps, life or society-nudging.

Of course, one would like to write life-changing books!  But what if you just don’t/can’t.

Feeling grandiosely whiney, I looked over at my very conveniently located muse–that is, my good old dog Pearl, snoozing at the bottom of my bed.

Talk about a lack of grandiosity!  Talk about forging ahead!

Pearl might very well like to be a noble dog, a celebrated dog (a Balto!) even just a big, strong dog. But she was born cute and fluffy and a little bit clownish.

Pearl might even like to be young again, with fully functioning limbs.

Nonetheless, Pearl presses doggedly through life each day, doing what she does as best as she can.   And not doggedly just in the sense of persistently and dutifully–but with a joy us non-canines (and blocked writers) can only wonder at.

More on Writer’s Block, Yoga, Pearl–Weaning Yourself From the Dependence on Acknowledgement i.e. Pats

October 6, 2010


Writing Beside Pearl (Only She Usually Maintains A Slightly Bigger Private Space.) (Also, sorry for Apple plug...)


Yesterday, thinking about yoga and my dog Pearl, I wrote about blocking writer’s block through finding a seat in your blank page.  Mulling over these issues further made me think about the time, some years ago, when I stopped going to yoga classes.

I practice Astanga yoga and had gone to six or seven classes a week for some years.  Then suddenly, it all got too expensive, and more importantly, too stressful.

It is very easy in a Guru-oriented practice like yoga to fixate on your teacher–to obsess over whether you are pleasing him or her, to (on the inside) constantly beg for approval.  It is easy to fixate on your fellow students too.  (Why are they getting all the assists?  Does my teacher even like me?  Is it the sweat?)

These types of thought patterns can turn one literally into a downward dog, sniffing constantly for a simulated treat.  (Think “spaniel”.)

Now, Pearl, my fifteen-year old dog, is a very different kettle of canine.  She is not averse to pats, but she won’t perform for them.   (It’s cheese or nothing.)   She likes to be quietly near her human; but she doesn’t grovel.  (Except, that is, if there’s cheese, and, perhaps–if you start it–the occasional belly rub.)


Perhaps A Belly Rub


Doing yoga to score points with a cool teachery type (at least two earrings in one of his ears, one nose stud for the female nostril)  is clearly unyogic, but doing yoga in isolation is also pretty difficult.   Often I feel sluggish and apathetic.  Even so, I generally can make myself go through the motions because of three basic reasons: (i) it is what I do;  (ii) it makes me feel good, and (iii) it is one of my few clear channels to a greater Self.

Writing is very much like that (if you leave out the sweat.)  It is fun to take a writing class; it is fun to write with a buddy–but how do you keep going without the pats of your colleagues; without acknowledgement, and no certainty of an audience.

First, you have to tell yourself that writing is simply what you do.

Secondly, you have to focus on the physical pleasure of writing–the flow of energy through your arms, the dance of your fingertips.  You have to let yourself understand that even writing “tada tada tada” can be a sensual experience.  (Much less the word “sensual.”)  And what about the elation of scribbling off that last sentence?   (Tada!)

Three–you have to let yourself enjoy your greater Self–the mind’s eye that reads what you write before you even get it down.

Finally, find your inner Pearl–that part of you which will not shy from a pat, but won’t perform a trick for it.  This is hard, but recognize that when you just let your self write–the physical pleasure, the verbal company, and the sheer satisfaction of doing what you do–will be enough to carry you forward.

(And, probably, to maintain integrity, you should maintain a safe distance from…cheese.)




For more on blocking writer’s block, click here or check out the category from the ManicDDaily homepage.