Writer’s Block: A New Perspective

I stressed the importance of persistence for a writer in my first post. Nowhere in the process of writing is this more apparent when the path you’re on hits a wall, blocking your path forward. That’s right. Writer’s block – no one likes it. Nevertheless, it’s happened to me many times and I’m sure many others before me and after me will experience the same thing. There can surely be nothing more frustrating for writers to not be able to write, as is shown in the beginning of the film Shakespeare in Love.

Often for me it’s a case where I have an idea of what I want, but I cannot get it out. Other times I don’t know where to start, or what to start. Especially now, with one novel being queried to agents, I have so many prompts I wish to expand on into other novels. But which one should I work on first? Should it be the sequel to the one I’m trying to publish, or something different? Or both? Can I work on more than one project, like Charles Dickens (indeed he started a new novel when in the middle of another)? I have tried, but find it a struggle. What can I do?

Late author Stephen J. Cannell gave his own description of writer’s block, which for me is very eye-opening. When I’ve blocked, I keep thinking about getting it right. But yes, nothing in life is perfect. With this novel I have gone through several drafts. At times where I thought I got it right, I realized I could do better, even in the latest draft. Even back in school when writing papers there were rough drafts and final copies. Cannell reminds us that the important thing is to have fun, just like when we played sports as children.

Early on when I went to a Maryland Writers’ Association meeting in Annapolis, another writer there told me that the first draft is always bad. Hemingway had said the same thing. No bestselling book is as it was when first written, I’ve said to others. If I can accept that in my mind, perhaps I can be more prolific. Of course I’m still going to worry about getting it right, perhaps because I’m a creature of habit. But as I said in my second post, if writing wasn’t difficult I doubt I would be as passionate about it as I am. We cannot achieve perfection, but we can get as close as we can and still be happy.

So what can I do to battle writer’s block? I am reminded of a scene where in my fantasy novel, one character was encouraged by another to climb trees to see the forest from the view of birds and tree-dwellers as opposed to ground creatures. Robin Williams’s character in Dead Poets Society stressed seeing things from another viewpoint by making his students stand on their desks. I think when we block, all we can think about is the big problem of getting over the wall. It makes the wall all the more ominous, larger than it really is. We cannot concentrate then on figuring out how to get over, just that we cannot jump high enough.

Step back then and look at it from another perspective, in order to build a solid foundation from the rough materials, and refine it into a safe stairway. Get away from writing so you don’t force it. Try doing something else for a while. Take a walk. Dickens would walk for miles thinking about his work. At times I have walked and pondered over my work. Even today with this blog post I thought about it while working out. Talk to people too. They can help you find new perspectives and ideas too. Keep a notebook, and jot down whatever ideas you get, however small. A little seed can always sprout into a beautiful tree like you never imagined. More often than not, ideas come when you are not expecting them, and surprise you.

I overcame writer’s block with one novel. I must tell myself I can do it again with other projects. It will come again, I’m sure. If the wall seems too high to jump, find another way over. Connecting my first and second posts: there will be trial and error, but we live and learn. That is life, and writing. Don’t give up.

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Rejection, Criticism, & A Writer’s Virtues

I didn’t think I would get the latest draft of my novel fully assembled before the new year. But to my surprise, I did. So my writing resolutions for 2016 are to secure a publisher for it and to start serious work on at least one new manuscript. However neither I know will be easy. It’ll be hard to move on after working on this manuscript for so long, and getting on the road to publication for it will undoubtedly bring something writers, especially beginners, don’t like to face, but all writers have to endure: rejection.

Rejection hits hard. Like criticism it tears you apart, makes you feel as if what you poured your heart into is worthless. I have taken both hard, and in some cases I reacted badly. But they are learning experiences, not the end. I’ve learned as much, and am continuing to learn. Change your perspective when receiving criticism and rejections, and you’ll realize it’s a moment for personal growth. You made a good effort, you can now do better. After all, with the effort made, you cannot give up now. I know I cannot, not after all these years.

Patience, diligence, temperance, and humility are the chief virtues of any writer who must succeed, I believe. Writing and publication take time. I’ve learned a desire to rush to being in print will not bear the sweetest, ripest fruit. Diligence enables a writer to endure rejection and criticism, and to keep trying. Pick up any bestselling or classic novel, and you can be guaranteed virtually every time what you’ve read not only is not the first draft, but the author had to endure rejections and criticisms the same as you. With patience and diligence they endured, and became the role models for us who follow.

I must keep trying with this novel in querying agents and hopefully publishers too. While I certainly want it to be a success enjoyed by many, I must also accept the possibility that this book may not be the first published. For many writers it is a fact, their first published novel is not the first they wrote.

A classic example is Charlotte Brontë. We all know her for Jane Eyre, her first published novel, but not the first she wrote. Her first was rejected by every publisher she sent it to. But she persisted and wrote Jane Eyre. The publisher to whom she would send it had rejected her first book, but encouraged her to submit other works. Her success shows a thoughtful rejection is always preferable to a hasty acceptance. There are always vanity publishers who will take what you write right away.

Temperance and humility come into play when dealing with those who reject and criticize. Humility is a double-edged sword, in that while you must continue to break new ground and not be beat down, at the same time you must accept that you can make mistakes, otherwise you will never grow or make your writing better.

Be courteous and kind when receiving rejections and criticism. It’s hard, and has been hard for me. If you take it hard, even if you don’t agree with their opinions, don’t let it hurt those who are trying to help you. If they treat you harshly in response, you are probably better off then not working with them. Even so, if you ever react badly, you must always apologize no matter how they treat you back. Remember the next time to work together. Explain why you are hurt, but do not take it out on them.

Writing is hard, but if it weren’t, I doubt I’d be as passionate about it as I have become. For all you aspiring authors out there, take it from one who has endured hardship, self-doubt, and emotional turmoil. I still face it, and likely always will. But I cannot let it control me. I tell myself as well as you: endure, learn, be constructive, kind, and you will succeed.

Why Do I Write?

With Christmas and New Year’s on the way we start to think of New Year’s resolutions. More often than not these are taking the next step in a number of things from exercise to careers and education. For me, writing has been a recurring one. So perhaps now more than ever, with the latest draft of my current manuscript nearing completion, I start to think more of why I write and continue to write.

Thinking of the future often brings up memories of the past. At times I have had trouble answering how I came to be a writer. It started as a hobby, much like play-acting and even drawing. In all these as a child I relished the opportunity to enter make-believe, to imagine myself as someone else in another world. Sometimes I imagined friends and others joining me in my fantasies. Some even thought I might have as easily become an artist as a writer.

So why didn’t I? Looking back, the answer seems to be I didn’t have persistence or confidence. While I enjoyed drawing, I never pushed myself into getting better. Acting was for fun too, which I pursued most especially in high school. With writing, and my first attempt at writing a novel at age 13, I poured my heart and soul into it and getting better. I persisted, and pushed myself for the first time. There I found my artistic expression, with words instead of pictures.

I have enjoyed the challenge of weaving words together. It has given me a sense of purpose outside of work. I write because I alone drive myself to reach greater heights. But I am not alone. Were I alone, I might have crumbled. Sharing my experiences with family, friends, and fellow writers every time brings out my confidence, my belief that I can do this. And I admit, there have been times where I am consumed with doubt that I will ever be any good.

In my yearbooks from middle school onward, even before I took writing seriously, many peers and teachers encouraged me to keep writing. One even said I might be the next J. K. Rowling. Even today people speculate on how if my work appears in print they can say they know the writer. While such talk makes me smile, I have to remind myself that fame and fortune are not the motives of a true writer.

I must bear in mind my father’s advice to me: tell a good story and tell it well. Without that main focus, I don’t think it is possible to be a good writer. I must continue challenging myself to tell a good story that I wish to share with others in the hope they will love it and remember it. To that end, I dream of venturing into multiple genres and even forms of writing in order that I may always travel into uncharted territory.

Not doing so would lead to what I call the Misery Complex (in reference to the Stephen King novel), where the author’s wants conflict with those of his or her audience. From the start I have never wanted to be confined to one or two genres, and I intend not to. Nor will I write anything of a serial nature without a set ending in mind, or a set number of books. Ultimately what I write will be what I want to write, otherwise my heart will not be in it. Without heart, without experimentation, trial, and error I feel I can never grow as a writer.

So what are my New Year’s Writing Resolutions this year? Not merely to keep writing and finish this book and search for a publisher, but to write more, and try new things. And this time I need to be serious about it, like I was when I began writing my first draft of a novel. There will be errors no doubt, but I must remember those are learning experiences too.

Many thanks to all those who have been there for me and are here for me now. Happy Holidays!