Tag Archives: writing blocks

And Now the Regularly Scheduled Blog Returns

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Maybe.

As you may have noticed, I have not been posting much in the way of words. Perhaps because I have not been writing much in the way of words — at least words that are in any way coherent.  It’s not just with the blog, but also Sky and answering emails and even my regular journal is getting ignored… not entirely, but almost and waaay more than in the past.

I have no explanation for why this is happening, though I have tried to come up with one repeatedly. If only I could figure out what is going on, then maybe I could fix it.

Well, my most recurring conclusion in this matter, is that I can’t figure it out. And even if I could, I wouldn’t be able to fix it. God is the one who has it all figured out and so far He hasn’t included me in His figuring. He is also the One who is going to “fix” it, if indeed, it requires fixing.

In fact, the messages I’ve been most consistently receiving from all sorts of sources is… back off, relax, WAIT and Trust Me to come through in MY time, not yours.

In addition to the “wait for MY timing” messages, I’ve also been having occasional epiphanies about other things. Such as, “My job of taking care of our home (cleaning, meals, shopping, dishes, laundry, the dog) is every bit as much a part of my calling as writing is. So why should I get all upset when attending to those things requires some of my time, time I could (presumably) devote to writing if I didn’t have to do the daily chores?

Because I DO have to do them. God has assigned me that task as well as the one of writing Sky. Neither is more important than the other. He will enable me to do both of them in some measure according to His timetable, not mine. So instead of getting all agitated because I have to sweep the floor again and thinking it’s taking time away from writing, I’m thinking, “No, this is also part of God’s plan for my day and I simply have to trust Him to see that I get everything done that is on His agenda and forget my own.

 

 

 

 

 

I Won’t Say the Block Has Broken…

free clip art guy reading

…but I put in some very consistent hours working on Sky last week, and, so far I’m doing even better this week. Two things happened to enable this (at least the observable things; the unobservable aspect, of course, being God’s gracein answering my prayers). Those two things were:

Number 1:    I decided that I needed to get into the office earlier, (first thing in the morning, in fact) and as part of that, to go to bed earlier the night before. To get to bed earlier, I have decided to stop watching all the TV I’ve been watching, staying away, in particular from shows that end at 10pm. It’s helped that during this time most of my favorite shows were either not on or reruns. (And last week’s new Elementary, with both the insertion of the gay character and mention of Sherlock’s interest in yet another perversity, “prurient writing,” helped me decide that it was not worth spending any more precious time and mental “space” on.)

Number 2 :  One of my biggest problems with actually working has been in trying to force myself to make decisions about the world or the next step in the narrative, and getting confused and overwhelmed to the point I do nothing.  So this time I decided to simply read through all my collected notes and plans. I have a notebook already in progress (my world-builder’s “Bible”) where I keep lengthy writings on the characters, the world in a fair amount of detail, situations of conflict, plot ideas, etc., so the plan is to simply read through that, making no demands upon myself to decide anything or figure out anything , or even like it all. I only have to read it.

And perhaps jot down any notes or questions that come to mind.

Well that’s been VERY effective.

Why, you might ask, haven’t I done this before? Well, because, you see, I know all that stuff! (Even though some of it dates back to 2001, and much of the rest to 2005) It would be a waste of time! I need to get with the next step in the narrative, not fiddle around reading old notes about the world I’ve constructed for that narrative to unfold in.

Well, maybe…though in truth I’d forgotten A LOT.  And what rereading it all has done, is give me a way to connect with the material that’s not threatening. If thoughts or questions occur — and they have been — I need only write them down, not Make a Decision!  This way I can relax and just proceed, and now I’m finding that it’s not just easy to stay in the office, it’s hard to make myself stop! And it’s getting me inspired again.

Like, when I read through the character “Bio” I have on my hero Talmas, last week. I got very excited and wrote in my writing log, “Wow! I am jazzed! I LOVE this guy!”  Two days later, having pulled out an old journal from when I had first taken up Sky after finishing The Enclave (because I was having problems similar to what I’m enduring now) I wrote, on Sept 8, 2009,

“Wow! The Lord kept nudging me to read my old notes and finally I gave in …. Oh, my. I’m in love with Talmas! He’s the center of this story… I am jazzed. This, I think is where I must focus.”

So, things are happening. Two weeks ago I averaged 4 hours a day. Last week my daily  average was 4.6 hours (and this despite multiple very strong distractions). This week, though, I hope to do even better…

 

 

Freedom!

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Continuing the story of what I’ve done to manage my environment…

Having taken care of most of the problems around the house, I turned to my biggest distraction of all — the Internet.  The thing that is sitting right there as I type.  Where I can hit a wall, and be sitting there staring at the screen, struggling to find the words I’ve lost and suddenly my hands are opening the email, or worse, Internet Explorer. Drudge… Powerline… The Diplomad (my favorite)… One link leads to another… and another…

And before I know it an hour passes and I’ve done nothing except sit there, getting stiff, getting tired of sitting, getting tired of reading and when I finally drag myself away from it, whatever I  was working on is now Far, Far Away.

I have tried before to deal with this problem — going so far as to pull the plug on the modem just to deny myself Internet access. But it’s in the other room, it’s a pain to get up and do it, a pain to have to go back and plug it back in when I’m done, then wait for it to go through its rebooting process.  And that’s if I don’t manage to drop the cord behind the cabinet it’s sitting on. Or forget to replug it entirely.

Plus it cuts off my hubby’s computer from the Internet as well, meaning I can’t use it when he’s around. And sometimes when I plug it back in, the connection doesn’t come back right, so then I have to reboot the whole computer.

And, even with all that, it’s too easy to get up and go in there and plug it back in, when I really, really don’t want to work.

Well, I did some research on distractions faced by work-at-homers or “telecommuters,” as they’re officially called, and in the course of that discovered the most amazing software.  It’s called Freedom. It works with Macs and PC’s and with only a few clicks you can protect yourself from Internet access for whatever time you desire to set up — from as little as 15 minutes, all the way up to 8 hours.

During that time the program is deliberately unresponsive but if you’re really set on regaining your Internet access all you have to do is reboot your computer.  (Which is a little more involved than going into the other room to plug in the cord) If you stick with it, though, once the time you’ve set it for has elapsed, a little window appears announcing that your Freedom session has ended and giving you the option to start another, or quit the program.

I’ve been setting it for three hours every morning. It’s awesome. I love it!  So easy to use and along with turning off the phone ringers and answering machine sound, has created a little pocket of uninterrupted time I can actually work in.

Everyday last week I came into the office and worked a minimum of 4 hours.

That hasn’t happened in I don’t know how long.

The program’s downloadable online and costs $10. Takes almost no time to download and install. If you’re having trouble staying away from the Internet and want to check it out, click HERE.

Managing Your Environment

According to the book Overcoming Writing Blocks, the first area  for a blocked writer to deal with is managing her environment.

Creative concentration has the power to make your senses especially acute and abnormally sensitive to the slightest stimuli. When you’re concentrating successfully, this heightened attention enhances your thoughts and the words flow onto the page smoothly and powerfully. When you’re blocked, however, your attention perversely gravitates toward the slightest distraction in your environment…

…You feel victimized by your inattentiveness, because you find yourself guiltily inviting interruptions, knowing that they give you a welcome break from the frustration of being stuck.

I can attest to the truth of this observation!

Distracting elements of your writing environment can play right into the guilty inviting of interruptions. The OWB authors recommend, therefore, that you do as much as you can to eliminate them.

So, the first thing I did was to get rid of the distracting clutter, not just in my office but in the entire house.

For example, I keep my stamping supplies on a waist-high shelf in the bedroom, which I have to walk by every time I want to get something from the bedroom desk (for me, it’s pens mostly, but also sometimes my journal, or even something I left there earlier when I was eating breakfast — like a timer.) Walking past that shelf of supplies would far too often draw my eye to a card in progress or entice me to stop and flip through my  “for later” files…  the next thing  I knew, I’d be doing something with a card, when I was supposed to be writing.

So, operating on the premise of out of sight, out of mind,  I got a piece of fabric and covered the entire contents of the shelf. It’s done wonders.

I used the same principle with the guest bed in the office, which had all sorts of projects and things I planned to fix or get rid of, and piles of notes and articles to go through for potential blog posts, research tidbits, or stuff for future reference.  I put the projects and fix-it things into the closet, put the piles of papers into a folder unread, and shoved it into my file cabinet, tossed the catalogues and took the bags of cast-offs to Goodwill.  At last the bed was clear!

I recently got a new serger. This sat in its box by the wall near my desk, reminding me daily that I needed to get it out and use it, even as another voice warned it would take too long, I didn’t have time, it’s a new thing and I don’t know how to use it and you know how THAT always turns out…  Well I don’t need the guilt and mental arguments, so I covered it with another piece of fabric, and now I no longer even look at it.

Then I set to work clearing off my desk area, filing papers, throwing others away, and piling my scattering of notecards into their proper categories.

I’m trying to develop the habit of putting things away rather than leaving them out to “remind me” to do them later. Because sure as anything they’ll remind me in the middle of when I get to work on Sky.

Finally, I figured out how to silence the ringers on the phones, and have taken to turning them off for several hours in the morning, along with the volume on the answering machine. It can still take calls and record messages but I no longer have to listen to the entire sequence right in the middle of my writing time. I’m even covering the machine with a folded towel so I can’t see if there’s a message or not til it’s removed at the end of my writing stint. (Plus having the towel on it reminds me to turn it back up when I’m done.)

With that I’d pretty much taken care of many of the distractions that present themselves in my periphery. Only one remained, but it was the most insidious: the Internet.

Stay tuned for part 3…

The Winds Have Changed

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted regularly. In fact, except for last Friday’s post, it’s been awhile since I’ve posted at all. So much for all that Platform stuff from last summer about posting regularly and often…

I don’t know what happened. My desire to write just dribbled away… Other things claimed my time and attention. When I considered the book, the blog, even email, I was blank and utterly without motivation. First time in my life that I’ve felt like that.

Or so I thought.

Of course I’ve prayed about it. Repeatedly. What is wrong with me, Lord? Has the fire gone out? Am I not getting enough sleep, or just being undisciplined? Should I relax and trust You to move me when it’s time? Or is there something more I can do?

It’s been a very strange two and half months. No, it’s been longer than that, especially when I take my progress on Sky into account… which, until last week, was not much progress at all.

So, for a time now, I’ve been reading stuff — books, blogs, news — and making cards, and cleaning the house and working on long-put-off projects and dealing with Stuff… can’t clearly remember all of it. Church stuff, taxes, ailing relatives, shingles, stuff going wrong, breaking, getting lost… a leak in the water line from the main to the house…  not getting enough sleep, drinking too much caffeine (which means any caffeine at all), beset by the terrible distractibility I’ve written about in previous posts…

But then, at the beginning of May something happened.  I’d just finished and sent off the guest post I wrote for Seriously Write and “for some reason” says my journal entry, “I picked up Overcoming Writing Blocks.”

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It’s on the shelf above my desk. I’ve had it for 30 years. I’ve read it and reread it and read it again. I’ve underlined passage after passage, starred portions in the margins… even blogged about here  and several other places…  In the past few months, while wondering if I was blocked I’d look at it on its shelf and think it would be no help. After all, I’d read it. Repeatedly. I already knew everything that was in it…

But on the first of May, for some reason I picked it up again, and was… SIGH… again “amazed to find,” in the section on Preparing to Write,  not only a description of what I’ve been enduring, but also some new and slightly different insights I’d not considered before.

One of the new and slightly different insights was this:

This is the training and gestation stage of any writing task. You know what you have to do and you must prepare yourself properly for it…you need to develop basic fitness habits that will get you in shape for prose composition.”

That’s true, I thought. If you just go out and try to start a daily running regimen, it’s not going to work. You have to work up to it, you develop some basic habits…

The precise description of what I’ve been going through recently, is exactly what I’ve gone through in the past, repeatedly, and you’d think that I’d remember that but for some reason… this time it all seemed New and Different and Far Harder and More Hopeless than ever before.

I believe the Bible when it says we have sick heads and deceitful hearts… How can I be so thick-headed?

Well, here’s the recap of the description of blocking at the preparing to write stage:

  • restless, anxious procrastination
  • can think of 1000 things you’d rather do
  • when you finally force yourself to sit down — dozens of extraneous but apparently urgent thoughts bubble up
  • when finally do get yourself to concentrate, all you get is dull blankness. There’s no excitement, no inspiration about the project. It leaves a flat, sour taste in your mouth.

YES! YES! YES! That is exactly how I felt! EXACTLY!

I thought this was all new. That I’d never experienced it before. At least “not like this”. Ha!  It was a great comfort to know it was not new, that I had experienced it and though I thought I already knew what was in this book and all the advice it had to give, maybe I should give it another look…

At least the Preparing to Write section, anyway. First up was”Managing your Environment.”  But I’ll save that for tomorrow.

The First Draft is a Slog

People often think that professional writers just sit down and start writing something that comes out fully formed. While a few writers may do this, most do not. But even those of us who do not, can get caught up in that lie again if we’re not careful. I have been caught in it for several months now.

I think in part that’s because the experience of beginning a book is much different from that of rewriting one or finishing one. My favorite parts are rewriting and polishing. That stuff is for the most part easy. And fun, because it’s always fun to make something better. I can work fourteen hours a day on rewriting, editing, etc. And while sometimes there are those periods where I have to think about the problem, mostly the words suggest better words, the ideas, the characters themselves suggest improvements, and because you have so much of the work before you, the work itself is a partner in the effort.

In the beginning there is no “work” to partner with. I’m sure this seems obvious, but it isn’t always to me. I remember most the exhilaration of working with a draft already there, seeing how things come together, seeing what isn’t needed, what needs to be added, refined. I’ve been expecting those feelings to manifest themselves now, when that’s not at all what it’s like for me to write a first draft.

Basically, the first draft is a slog. That’s the only way to describe it. I have never been able to breeze through a first draft, just writing willy nilly, come what may. Because usually that just sends me off a cliff, where suddenly words fail me, and I have no idea where I’m going any more. Not only that, the whole direction I was moving in now bores me and I can’t bear to write another word in that direction. I did that with a draft of The Light of Eidon. Wrote 100 pages of stuff that had to be axed in entirety.

So I do it for a bit, usually very roughly, then have to go back and see what I wrote. See if I can make some sense out of it, get a direction out of it, at the very least make it coherent. That part, not surprisingly, I like better than the first part. I think there is also an aspect of memorization involved… I go over and over things and get the events, the world, the people imprinted more strongly on my mind, so that when I start the next bit, I’m not wondering if I chose A or B in the last chapter and what kind of goals and reactions would be reasonable for Character C.

Granted if I had an outline, this wouldn’t be so necessary, but I can’t write one until I’m a little further into the book. There’s the element of “what I really want to write” that plays in, as well. So, if this sounds confusing and ineffecient… it is! It’s why I don’t write a lot of books in a short period of time!

Another Block-Breaking Quote

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I have rediscovered one of my most helpful writing books over the weekend, Overcoming Writing Blocks through which I did quite a bit of dancing. Another highlighted section that leaped out at me was the following:

“… it is important to recognize that no creative process ever flows smoothly from beginning to end. There is always much backtracking and jumping ahead along the way. In fact, this pattern is not only normal for the writer, it is also an effective way of unblocking.

Ease in writing comes from flexibility and trust in yourself, which comes from learning to tolerate a certain amount of chaos. It’s entirely natural to feel confused and intimidated when you face any new writing task…

…It is also inevitable that you’ll begin with words that will need revision. And it’s equally certain that you will find yourself resisting going back to change the text once you’ve managed to pull it all together into a complete draft.

Because writing is such an experimental process, it may help you to think of it as a spiral rather than a straight line. As though the writer were climbing a spiral staircase, he ascends by circling round and round, rising just a bit higher with each circuit, but constantly passing over the same ground, touching on the same basic topics, ideas, images and phrases, in search of their truest expression.”

This is kind of what I’m been struggling toward for awhile now… being flexible, trusting my gift and my Lord and  learning to tolerate the chaos and uncertainty!

Today I moved into Chapter Two, to page 6, but as it is cobbled, chaotic and provisional, it will need a bit of work.