Posted tagged ‘writer’s block’

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.)

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.

Nanowrimo Update – The Saving Sidelong Glance – Tips For the Headlong

November 23, 2010

What's Going On There?

Like Pearl, I have great faith in the sidelong glance.

When her legs are working, she uses it mid-charge, mid-frolic.  It’s a feint.  She darts to one side and then another, then absolutely stops, her gaze fixed at an intense angle away, then whoosh, starts up again in what seems (to her, at least) an unanticipated direction.

When the legs are stiff, there’s the more passive sidelong glance.  This one that comes from the apparently resting Pearl, the glance that secretly watches the kitchen, always always always on the look-out for the opening of the fridge door, and then, for that distinctive swoop of cheese.

What I’m talking about here are ideas.  How to get them when novelling, especially when doing headlong unplanned novelling; when in other words, you are stalled.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been a bit stuck in my “novel”; the bi-furcated plot refusing to “unfurcate,”  my two sets of characters on separate, unfeeling, trajectories–never, it seemed, would the twain meet.

And then, finally, yesterday having just passed through the old Helmsley building trying to shut out the sounds of UPS’s morphed version of “That’s Amore”, having just congratulated myself on my maturity for not checking my email when walking–I glanced it: the connection–closer than Kevin Bacon–and more importantly, with emotional heft.

I kept walking, not really daring to think–well, of course, I was thinking furiously–like Pearl darting around, but all the time also trying to keep my peripheral mental vision clear.

Sidelong ideas creep over the edges of consciousness unexpectedly,  the “eureka” moment often surprisingly off-point.


  1. If you want an idea to swoop down, you have to leave an open runway, that is, a brain that is not actively digitalized.
  2. When I don’t want to just wait for an idea to just swoop down, I find it helpful to think of random images of characters, and especially, dialogue.  Yes, I do go through repeated plot possibilities, but these can have a very arbitrary feel.  I am more successful (or at least excited), when I just let myself hear characters talk.   Amazingly, all kinds of flashes of people and dialogue will arrive, which are somehow “writeable” even if I don’t know yet exactly how they will fit in.
  3. It is also helpful to give characters certain physical and vocal characteristics based on people I know, even if the characters are not really like these people.  (They grow farther and farther away as the story progresses.)
  4. The sidelong doesn’t really like the “headlong” – either the rush of the intensely driven, or the overly-cerebral.   Try to be a little less pragmatic with your characters; let them have a little space, wasted time.  (Don’t tell them you may cut all of that.)

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”.

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.)




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