Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Good, The Bad, and the Blocked

Like the other wonderful ladies who have posted this week, I too hate talking about Writer's Block. When you make your living at writing, anything that stops you from accomplishing it is terribly frustrating. It's like a surgeon no longer being able to hold a scalpel or a violinist no longer able to hold their bow. Sometimes, for me personally, my "block" has been self-inflicted. It comes as the result of my procrastination. I have stepped away from what I am working on, left it far too long, and then foolishly expect to get right back into it. Other times it is there no matter how many days and hours I have been pouring over my writing. It just sits there in my head, washing away all my thoughts and planting little seeds of doubt.

Though I've been lucky enough to not be too terribly hindered by Writer's Block, it is something that has slowed me down. I have gone weeks without being able write a single word. I've never been certain if this is actually a block, or just my ugly lack of self-confidence creepy around again. Whatever the source, it is something I am forced to deal with. I usually solve it by mentally regrouping. I take a step back and look over what I've accomplished so far. I realize that I've done more with my writing than I ever could have imagined. And I also remember that if I never sell another book, or write another article...I'll be OK.

When you define yourself as a "writer" it can be hard to accept the idea that your career at some point, hopefully not before you are ready, may end. Markets change (I know that first hand), life takes over and sometimes the spark fades. Those are the thoughts that tend to halt me in my tracks. It terrifies me to think that one day it could all be over. Who will I be without my writing? I guess it's just better to not write at all. Why put all this time and energy into something that may not happen again or may vanish into thin air?

That's my lack of confidence talking. Those are the words that can make writing hard. They can stop me dead in my tracks, and make me doubt myself over and over again. The only saving grace is that even in those dark and desperate moments, that little bit of me that knows this is what I am supposed to do begins to fight back. It begins to replace my doubt with a fierce determination that makes it possible to type another word and complete another sentence. It makes me get up in the morning and want to write. It gives me the courage to try, knowing full well that I could succeed or fall flat on my face. It gives me hope, and that's usually all I need to keep going.

Have a great weekend!

Friday, January 9, 2009


Dear Manuscript... it's not you, it's me.


No... it's you.

Anytime I've ever been stuck while working on project - blocked, tapped out, bereft, call it what you will - I've always know the reason. It's because something in the story isn't working. I just usually don't know what that 'something' is.

On the surface, everything can be fine. But if I have a "block" I know that, somewhere, way back in the guts, something ain't right. A plot direction, a character choice, a device. It's always something already written that stops me from going further. The proverbial pea under the princess's mattress. It's frustrating because, at that point, you have to go back before you can go forward and that never feels like progress. But unless I do that - unless I go back and find that pea - I know I'm not gonna get a good night's sleep.

So, for me, that's it. I don't have a defined method of doing that, unfortunately. I have no cure. No easy fix. Just the archaeology of sifting through the story layers until I find the spiky bit that's squaring the deal. It's frequently messy work. But sometimes it's necessary. Because sometimes, you get to the source of what's gumming up the works, and you realize that you have to dismantle a whole bunch of what you've already built in order to make the structure sound before you can carry on downstream.

(Yes! I am mixing my metaphors like Tom Cruise in Cocktail with a shaker full of crantinis! I know that!)

I know that's not enormously helpful (my method or my metaphors!)...
Sorry. It's just how it happens for me. YMMV.

One thing I have found to be enormously helpful in facilitating this painful process?


Really. It has the word "dead" in it. Unless you're Douglas Adams (famous for having said "I love deadlines. I love the whooshing sound they make as they go past"), they're enormously motivating. Speaking of which, I have one of those whooshing things bearing down on me like a runaway freight train (yay! more metaphors!) so I'm gonna go be unblocked now.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Confidence Block

The idea of writing about writer’s block is actually giving me a bit of, um, writer’s block. I don’t normally get writer’s block in a traditional sense, where I sit in front of the computer screen and stare at the blinking cursor. When I’m in the middle of writing something, often the most important thing for me is to allow myself think time, time to work it all out in my head before I get it down on paper. I generally won’t go sit in front of the computer unless, in my brain, I’ve already got things figured out. And, if I haven’t figured it out yet or can’t figure it out yet, I make myself skip ahead to some point in the story where I do know what will happen. This is why my first drafts are plagued with highlights and brackets telling me to finish a chapter, include a flashback, add more information, etc.

The biggest “block” problem I’ve had as a writer is something I’ll call “confidence block.” As in, I sometimes have trouble believing that my writing is or ever will be good enough. And once I start internally freaking out about this, I stop writing. This has happened to me twice for a span of several years. After I got my MFA and my first novel got rejected by dozens and dozens of agents, I stopped writing for nearly two years. I felt paralyzed by all the rejection – unable to think creatively or even consider the possibility of writing something new. In fact, I was convinced that wasn’t a good enough writer, so what was the point? But after months and months of rejection, I received a very nice personal letter from the editor of the Atlantic Monthly. He (of course) rejected my story submission, but he also said he thought I was “awfully good.” Those two words gave me an oddly renewed sense of confidence, and suddenly, I could write again. I spent a few months in writing mode and cranked out the first draft of The September Sisters. But when that too got rejected by about a dozen agents, I gave up and didn’t write again for nearly two more years.

Eventually, I took the book out again and revised it, and once I got an agent and she started sending The September Sisters out, I started writing again. Though I was still getting rejected – by some editors this time – having an agent, having someone else, one other person, believe that my writing was good enough, gave me a confidence boost.

Since The September Sisters sold last January, I have pretty much been writing non-stop. I wrote my second YA novel, which will be out from HarperCollins in winter 2010. And then I spent most of the past four months writing a draft of an adult novel, which I just completed and mailed off to my agent today.

Writing all the time has made me realize how much I enjoy writing. And that’s really why I do it. Yeah, not everyone is going to like my work, and I’m still going to get rejected. And sometimes, still, my confidence waivers. I’ve been getting so nervous about what the soon-to-come reviews of The September Sisters might say, that I’ve actually begun to feel nauseous every time I think about it. And there are still many moments when I question if what I’ve written is any good – sentences, paragraphs, pages, entire novels. I felt terrified this morning, at the post office, after I handed the boxed draft of my adult novel to the postal worker and realized it was actually, in a small way, going out into the world.

But I’ve learned to separate doubts from my writing. I tuck these things away when I’m sitting at the computer, and focus instead on only what is there, right in front of me, the things I love, the words, the story, the characters. And in the other moments, I’ve learned to shrug it off – even my doubt this morning was quickly replaced by excitement over a new YA story idea I’ve been tossing around. In fact, by the time I made it home from the post office, I was already thinking up a synopsis in my head.

PS. I’m having a contest over at my personal blog this week, so if you want a chance to win a signed ARC of The September Sisters, head on over there and check it out!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Shhhh, I think I've got it

Okay, this is a topic I didn't want to have to write about. Why? Writer's block scares me to death. It's one of those topics that I'd rather avoid completely. Just hearing the very term sends me screaming down into a well. Ironically, I think I'm in the middle of it. Ouch, did I really speak that out loud??

With my first novel, Whistlin' Dixie In A Nor'easter, I didn't experience writer's block. The simple reason for that may have been I wrote the book in my spare time with no deadline, no pressure and no contract for a second! I could write when I wanted and if I chose to do so, my book could sit idle in my desk drawer for weeks or months.

I believe I've stumbled upon the downside of a two-book deal. It poses the question, in an honest way I believe, does pressure to perform cause anxiety, which can cause writer's block??? I think this author can say yes.

For fun I looked it up on the internet. Wikipedia has this to say about the dreaded curse....

"However, another interpretation of writer's block, sometimes confused with scant output, is given in the book Silences, by Tillie Olsen, who argues that historically many women and working-class writers have been unable to devote themselves to, or concentrate on, their writing because their social and economic circumstances prevent them from doing so."

AMEN sister Tillie.

I have a hard time being creative when I'm worried. Especially about money. And these days, well, need I say anything else?

The solution? I'm not sure. Buy tons of lottery tickets? I think not. But what I am doing is writing anyway. Just getting something down that can be edited later when I have more to work with. Like I've said before, editing is the fun part. The first draft is, for me anyway, well - hell. There, I've said it.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

What if...?

I laughingly refer to the years before I officially started my novel, A Bump in the Road, as The Blocked Years. As in, I had serious writer's block but I didn't even know it. Part procrastination, part "I don't have anything to write about," the idea of writing a book seemed very, very far off.

I thought once I started my book, it would be a cliched smooth sailing. Ideas would constantly flow through me, I'd be finishing first drafts in two weeks and writing like four books a year.


About ten pages into the book, reality welcomed itself back into my life. There were more than a few moments writing that book (and moments writing my current book too!) where I didn't know how to fix something. And everything just stopped. And my inner editor started to whisper, "It's not good enough. It'll never be good enough. Just give up and spend your time reading People magazine, OK? That's a much more worthwhile pursuit."

Yet I continued on. Because I found that inevitably, a few days (sometimes weeks) later, I would be driving in my car and a little plot band-aid or minor alteration would pop into my head and All Would Be Right With the World Again. So I kept writing.

But I found the best thing to do in those dark days between problem and solution, was to keep a close connection to the manuscript. Reading through, doing spell check, formatting, etc. Because I find that the more time I spend away from a book, even just a couple of days, the harder it is to jump back in and get into the writerly groove.

But what if the solution doesn't present itself? Well, then I try a few more things to get my Muse to talk--like making a soundtrack for the book, watching movies with similar plot threads or characters, or even writing a query letter for the book (EEK!). And if there's still radio silence? Well, then it's time to play the "What if?" game. As in "What if my character stayed with her old boyfriend?" and "What if she has two sisters instead of one?"

And, just so you know, it's totally normal in the middle of all this frustration to ponder this question: "What if I just deleted this entire file from my computer so I never have to look at it again?"

Monday, January 5, 2009

One Word at a Time

This week's topic is "Writer's Block," and because I've never truly experienced what I consider to be writer's block, I've had to give this post some serious thought. To me, writer's block is not being able to all. And that, simply, has never happened to me. Though, to be honest, the thought of THAT chills me as much as dumping a bucket of ice water over my head chills me.

What I have experienced is an inability to continue on with a particular story, or an inability to figure out why a particular story is not "right," and therefore, not being able to write until I "fix" it. Because I tend to get really focused on whatever my current work-in-progress is, this can be very similar to a block, but only because of my stubborness.

Yes. I am stubborn. I KNOW what I should do when I reach a point like described above. I should stop, I should give myself some time without trying to write at all so I can mull over the problem (meaning...NOT sitting at my desk staring at the computer with a blank look on my face), or I should write something else. Anything else. Just to get the wheels turning again.

Because I know if writing has halted on a project, then something is wrong with the characters, the story itself, that particular scene, where it's headed, or...sadly...all of the above. And sometimes I spend way too much time trying to find a fix with what I already have, rather than finding the error itself and then making corrections.

So I procrastinate, staring at the computer, hoping that somehow the "fix" will magically come to me. When I finally allow myself to walk away (even metaphorically) and do something seems I always figure it out, and then can come back to it with fresh eyes and excitement (because now I know what to do!).

So for me, writer's block is more about stubborness than it is anything else. I'm not saying other writers haven't experienced true writer's block, because as I've said before, we're all different and our processes are all different. What I am saying is that for me, I know what I NEED to do when the writing halts. It's just convincing myself sooner that it's the RIGHT thing to do.

Get up. Walk away. Work on something else. Let my mind figure it out.

One last thing...when I do figure it out? It really is like magic, because the words flow then and everything is simply wonderful.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Contest Winner & News

We used to pick a winner for our contest. And the winner is. . .Paradox. Paradox, send us your address and how you would like the book signed to .
If you didn't win this time, stay tuned -- we'll be having more contests in February when A Taste of Magic and The September Sisters release.

Check out our sidebar for some new things -- the cover for Tracy Madison's A Stroke of Magic, which will be out in July and the cover for Maureen Lipinksi's A Bump in the Road, which will be out in June. Also, check out the widgets for our next three release. Feel free to share them on your own blogs or sites!

Finally, we're excited to announce that agent Holly Root will be guest blogging with us on January 13th!! So be sure to stop in to see what she has to say.

The Novel Girls