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Posts Tagged ‘writer’s block’

Yes, you are “supposed” to write every day. Of all the “rules” (in quotes because the only rule everyone can agree on is that all the rules can be broken), this seems to be the most common. But there are days when you just can’t. Maybe you’re tied up with inescapable family business. Maybe you’re in surgery. And maybe you just can’t muster the time/energy/inspiration to write. Some days it just won’t happen. The only people who deny that writer’s block exists are people who haven’t experienced it.

So how, you ask, can writing be like not-writing? Is this some Zen thing? No, it’s just…well assuming I can come up with enough similarities, you’ll see. If I don’t, you won’t see, which will prove my point.*

  1. It’s frustrating. Writing is frustrating because it’s slow, and difficult to get anywhere. Not writing is frustrating because you’re at a dead stop, which also makes it difficult to get anywhere.
  2. It tends toward futility. If you don’t write, you don’t sell. If you do write, often you still don’t sell, at least not for some time.
  3. It’s time-consuming. Writing a story takes time, then editing takes more time. Not writing a story takes time away from writing, then noodling around on the Internet in the name of “research” takes more time.
  4. It’s hard work. Until you’ve written a story (or a novel!), you don’t know how tough it is. And until you can’t write, you don’t know how tough it is.
  5. It expands your mind. When you write, you open the way to your unconscious and allows you to say things you didn’t know you had in you.** When you don’t write, you open the way to reading sponsored articles for things you didn’t know you cared about. (See my Internet comment in #3.)
  6. It leads to writing. When you write, you write more. You limber up those mental muscles and they become easier to use. When you don’t write, you feel the need to write more. You bounce around trying to loosen up those mental muscles until you come up with a blog post, at least.

So we come down to it. The Secret. It is simple: If you are a writer, you will write. You may write blogs. You may write children’s books. You may write movies. What you write is up to you, but you will have no choice but to write.

Or not to write. It’s all the same.

 

*That may be zen, but I really don’t know. Or do I? Would I know if I did?

**Like how two opposing concepts are the actually the same thing.

#SFWApro

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I’ve finished that short story I was asking people about a while back. It wasn’t as much work as I’d feared, once I got on the right track. (I had an idea I was excited about, but it turned out to be too much like someone else’s story. I had a bad couple of days before I came up with another idea.) I think it came out pretty well; it’s with beta readers now, and the response has been encouraging. So all in all, a successful detour from my large novel project.

Which I am now trying to get back to. As I feared, returning to a bigger task is not easy. A short story is nimbler, quicker, easier to navigate and to pilot. The novel… I have a lot of notes (for me), and a reasonably detailed idea of how to write it, but putting more words on paper after a break feels more like the high bar of beginning a novel. I expect this will fade as I reread my last few pages and return to that world, but it’s not as easy as that. In my mind, I have that BLANK PAGE feeling.

Short stories versus novels. There are advantages to both: On the one hand there’s speed, the ability to work on several sequential projects in a shorter span; the greater likelihood of publication. On the other hand, there’s money. And recognition, from both colleagues and the reading public.

These are obvious factors, save perhaps the last. But there is no getting around that if you want to be known for your writing, you have to write novels. Unless you’re one of the two or three really fine short story artists out there, they will not get you a seat at the bar. And even then, it takes years (awards only come around so often), whereas even one middling novel will get you credibility with your peers. (I’m talking about SFF, now. Other fields may be different, although I’m pretty sure it’s the same with mysteries.)

So here I am, facing the–let’s face it–fear that is the BLANK PAGE. Even writing a blog post is closer to writing a short story and offers many of the same advantages. But maybe writing this column is a way to ease back into what I should be doing, which is finishing The Cosmic City.

Or maybe it’s not. Maybe you’ll get another post tomorrow…

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So, in line with my promise to try to read more in order to help my writing, I analyzed my habits and discovered I was spending so much time trying to write, I had no time to read. I then gave myself permission not to write at all, and devote the time I would normally use to write as reading time. This is not in itself bad; I have given the same advice to other writers who were struggling. (If you know enough writers, it happens pretty much all the time to somebody. This was my turn.) Unfortunately, life is a juggling act, and I stopped juggling.

After about two weeks of not writing, I have found that allowing yourself not to write is a lot different from not being able to write. Some of us believe in writer’s block (I do) and some don’t. But this isn’t that. Not writing because you choose not to leads to an itch, but not the climbing-the-walls nerves that writer’s block can cause. So overall, it’s not been an unpleasant interlude.

But that itch is still there, and I think I should scratch it. The trick is to regain that balance, to find the number of chainsaws you can keep aloft without undue stress. For me, the secret is to know ahead of time what I’m going to say. I know from experience that if I outline with some detail, I can write 2000 words a night. Unfortunately, my typing speed isn’t up to maintaining that pace while allowing time for anything else. But I can write 1000 words in 60 – 90 minutes, which is not too much time to spend at my desk, while still moving my book along at a reasonable pace.

When you’re self-publishing, though, speed is everything, and since I cannot write 2-3 books per year, once The Cosmic City is done, I’m going back to short fiction for a while.

I can’t juggle chainsaws; I’m going to stick to balls and bowling pins and the occasional puppy. Anything else would make me look like an April Fool.

#SFWApro

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It’s been a long time coming, but I’m finally getting to the point where I’m not embarrassed to call myself “a writer” in the right circumstances. Trust me, it’s taken years. It’s one of those unsung hard parts about being a writer, taking yourself seriously. Another is finding time to write. It’s not the hardest part, but it’s tough. Talk to any writer and he/she will tell you it’s never easy. There are a lot of reasons for this…

For example, I’ve just crossed the 50,000-word mark on my work-in-progress (WIP), a novel I’ve been working on a over 18 months. Now, even for me, this is slow. (And it’s gruesome death when you’re self-publishing. But that’s another topic.) In my own defense, however, I had some personal issues last year that sucked my will (and time) to write for many months. And after that, I faced the Demon of Writer’s Block. (Some writers don’t believe in writer’s block. They probably don’t believe in Santa Claus, either.)

I’ve gotten past the DWB recently, and started working with a new energy. (Then I got side-tracked by another project, but at least it was a writing project. And it might actually bring in money in the foreseeable future, as opposed to a book which isn’t even finished and based on its history, may not be during the current Administration.) But while renewed energy is great, maybe crucial, there’s still that problem of finding time to write.

Now, the conventional wisdom is to set up a standard time and sit down to write every day at that time. Terrific idea. In theory. In practice, Life gets in the way. I don’t have kids, and I have trouble simply attending to household duties and spending time with my wife. How writers with children manage to finish anything at all has always been a mystery to me, and I hold them in high esteem.

Yes, conventional wisdom says, but you have to treat writing like a job: Do it every day even when you don’t want to. And there, I believe, is the problem.

You see, a lot of people don’t like their jobs. They spend much of their working time devising schemes on how not to work, or how to minimize work. If you tell them writing is another job, it’s liable to suffer from the same maladies. I know that I like to set a minimum daily word count, but I don’t beat myself up if I don’t meet it, because if I work just to get to that limit, then I stop when I get there. Because it’s work, and I’d rather be reading or surfing the net.

There’s also the fact that if this is work, you want to get paid a lot more for it. So in order not to quit as soon as possible, and not to worry about pay rates, some writers tell themselves it’s only a hobby. Hobbies are extra activities you take on in your spare time. Hobbies are fun. Wouldn’t you like writing to be fun? Well, yeah, but hobbies are also things you do when you have time. And if you wait to write until you have time, then you spend 18 months writing 50,000 words.

So what is writing, work or hobby? Seems to me it should be something in between. Something you spend a regular, meaningful amount of time on, but not drudgery, not something you scheme to escape as soon as possible, even if it’s only for a long lunch. Writing isn’t one thing or the other; it’s kind of the “brunch” of careers.

I guess you could call writing a “wobby,” but I don’t think it’s going to catch on. We need someone who’s good with words to work on that.

#SFWApro

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