The start of every New Year tends to get us thinking about our year ahead, making plans for what we want to accomplish, vowing to do better, whatever that ‘better’ is. Maybe one of those vows (or resolutions) should be to do this kind of thinking and re-evaluating periodically throughout the year instead of lumping it all onto January.
Writers have an isolating mental life and need to be reminded often of their goals, or maybe just clarify them and be re-inspired periodically, like feeding your pet regularly. Today’s post is for the writer (rebel writer, if you will) who does not do well under the heavy-handed instruction given by some authors that tell you to push through when you are stuck.
I have four writer girlfriends who have been struggling in the past several months, myself included. Sometimes our lives get in the way of writing, sometimes the plot is stuck going nowhere or we get frozen for some other reason. (I usually attribute 'writer's block' to not knowing our characters well enough.)
I follow the train of thought of Hemingway, who says that occasionally our writer well goes dry when we are written out. At that point we need to step away and do something else while allowing it to fill again before attempting to continue. Trying to push through during those dry periods usually means we will end up either heavily re-writing, being discouraged by all sorts of self-talk that we are not really a writer; telling ourselves that we are amateur, unfocused or some other derogatory, self-denigrating nonsense. You wouldn’t be writing if you weren’t a writer. (And if you don’t write regularly, you are not a writer—just trippin' in some illusion you have about ‘being a writer.’) Harsh, but honest.
Let me add, writing regularly may not mean on your novel, short story or current creative work, but can be some other kind of writing that keeps you thinking, creating, evaluating, etc. And read—lots—in the style, genre you are writing in as well as any other reading that inspires and grabs you. It all feeds that well.
Now Hemingway didn't exactly say you should stop for long periods of time (I added that). His words from
A Moveable Feast:
When I was writing, it was necessary for me to read after I had written. If you kept thinking about it, you would lose the thing you were writing before you could go on with it the next day. It was necessary to get exercise, to be tired in the body, and it was very good to make love with whom you loved. That was better than anything. But afterwards, when you were empty, it was necessary to read in order not to think or worry about your work until you could do it again. I had learned already never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it.
For me, pushing is a losing, frustrating battle. It works better for me to be flexible and move onto something else, while observing, listening, sensing all that is going on around me. The synchronicities are there in our environment that will feed us, speak to us and give us answers if we only pay attention. It can be a fun exercise to consciously look for those words, sights, sounds, even smells of inspiration that will come while we wait to be filled up again.
New Year’s resolution: Keep writing and fill the well, but listen to my own inner voice, my muse, on when to do each.
That was weird -- the first post disappeared completely when I hit publish. My answer is really none of the above, at least the way I'm interpreting taking breaks (it sounds like taking off from writing for several weeks). I do take a break about once a week or a day, and might even have two days, but not more than that unless I'm sick. I'm working between two projects, a novel and a short story, which are getting written at the same time. I just focus exactly on one scene and whatever the goals are. I've gotten stuck on scenes, and when that happens, I dump the scene and redraft to see where it takes me. Mostly, a lot of it has been really, really trusting the process. I know I can produce professional level material, but I've had to kick all the writing advice that's out there to the curb and get out of the way myself to do it.
Personally, I like the wait and fill method. As in my most recent Oak Tree Press blog post, I found being on a river cruise gave me just the right atmosphere to write two new children's stories I had been thinking about for a number of months but couldn't seem to draft. Then I found the time in between land tour trips and lunch to watch the land float by, take out my ipad and write the stories. Away from phones, interruptions and other writing projects and not feeling like reading a book like others on the tour did, I found the time to create. Beryl Reichenberg, Children's Book Author and Illustrator
I do both. There are times when pushing through a rough spot in a story will see me out the other side without a major loss of quality that then needs repair. Other times, not the case. On those occasions I've learned to step away from the desk and do something else - or, like you - I end up wasting a lot of time and effort on trying to make something mediocre into something great.
I'd rather be patient and let things percolate at their own rate because the end-result is better.
I definitely do both. You need to have experiences, see people, interact, have conversations, watch people, eavesdrop, to have knowledge in order to write.
Good blog. I find reading someone else's work (either fiction or science) helps me to get ideas so that I can push ahead.
JL Greger, author of the medical thriller Ignore the Pain
I am always astounded that a heavy scene doesn't write itself in the wee hours of the night - no matter how many nights or, dare I say, weeks I leave it to percolate. Well, I gave it the chance but no soap. Nothing to do but roll up my sleeves and break down the scene into workable actions. Other than that, I am always writing sideways. I get some of my best ideas for character development, spanner in the works, new short story inspiration and so on when I am driving from Clovis, CA to Fresno for a writers' meeting. I pray for red lights so I can jot down the gist of an idea or a good phrase. Also, I add observations to my calendar notes, a most important tool I garnered from Phyllis Whitney. I write down impressions of the season, quirky thoughts that bounce about connected to the outside scenery, and the state of the actual flora and fauna of the day.
Good post, Cora. Thanks.
I would like to be able to push through, keep slogging forward, go to the barn (my critique group knows that I do actually write in a barn) and sit in front of the computer and write, muse be damned if he doesn't show up. But I can't seem to do that very well. Like you, Cora, I find that forcing things results in having poor results that need a lot of editing afterwards, or be taken out completely. Lately I've lost my stride and the only thing that seems to work in the last few days is to read the manuscript, the parts that work and inspire me, take that momentum and keep going. If there is no momentum, I can't force it.
The timing on this blog is absolutely perfect for me because I have writer's block at this very moment. I even went so far as to admit it on my own blog yesterday, just to have something more recent than five days before Christmas on it. I like the idea of letting the well refill and I have been doing a lot of reading to keep my mind occupied during this dry spell. So, I'm going with Hemingway on this topic...at least this time.
Yes, it really is a trusting process. I do read author advice but like you, it all goes by the wayside when I actually write. And, I might go against the advice and usually do, rebel that I am.
River cruises sound like a fantastic backdrop in which to write.
You are a disciplined writer. Me, not so much.
Wouldn't that be nice---and how poetic, 'astounded that a heavy scene doesn't write itself in the wee hours of the night.' You have a way with words, JoAnne.
Writing is a hard endeavor, often a mind trip we seek to unravel in the process of doing it.
Yes, I did a LOT of reading over the holiday to try and recharge. Working so far.
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