Welcome to Writer’s Block – again.
I seem to go through this periodically. Sometimes it’s stress related, sometimes not. Stress doesn’t always trigger it, but sometimes it does.
But first, an explanation:
I’ve been trying to finish the revisions on my novel The Deepest Blue (set to come out in the fall of this year). I had every intention of getting it done before the end of the year, but the last two months of 2012 were just a hair shy of total insanity. I left a job I’d only been at for six months to take a job that lasted only two weeks. I didn’t know it was only going to last two weeks, but then I also didn’t know I’d been hired by crazy people. I also moved – which is a long and complex story that doesn’t really need to be given detail other than to say “I HATE MOVING!” Then, of course, the holidays were upon us, accompanied by frequent calls and visits to the unemployment office. I kept working on the revisions, but I was moving at a pace that would embarrass a garden slug.
I swore, though, that in the new year (being as I was unemployed), I would get the revisions done.
And then I became blocked.
There were a number of factors that went into causing this block. It took time to identify them, but it’s important to know what triggers a block so you can be more alert to potential blockages in the future! (It’s sort of like paying attention when your drain starts to run slow – better to clean out a small clump of gunk than to have a plumbing crisis on your hands.)
The first thing that contributed to the conundrum was putting deadlines on myself that might not have been reasonable given my circumstances. Moving, changing jobs, holidays, and dealing with government inefficiency all take a toll on one’s psyche. They drain away energy from where it is more useful and better served. Then there was the internal conflict I had over a scene that my editor wanted moved, changed, or deleted. I felt very strongly about the scene and it’s placement. I seriously agonized over how to please my editor while staying true to what I believed was necessary for the story. I rewrote the scene five or six times, and each time I felt it got worse. Enter contributor number three – the hyper-critical internal editor. Nothing pleases this chick! If I had to describe her, she would be six feet tall with long, straight, black hair, and fingernails that look like talons. She sneers, she gives exasperated sighs, and she says things like “That is the stupidest thing I think you’ve ever written. What were you even thinking? OH – I know – you weren’t thinking.” She’s a sarcastic wench, and she makes me doubt my ability to create (despite having six published books under my belt). At one point, I was so frustrated by this internal editor (which, YES – I KNOW – it’s my own self doubt and criticism. Sheesh, I’m not schizophrenic!) that I was about to call my editor in tears and tell her I’d pay back my advance because I just couldn’t write anymore.
It’s obvious NOW (of course, hindsight being 20/20) that my whole blockage was really self-inflicted, but in the midst of it, it felt like hitting a brick wall in your car going 60 miles an hour.
Everything came to abrupt halt. Just the thought of sitting at my computer to try to revise would make me nauseous. I’ve gone through bouts of writer’s block a few times – which is really the Universe’s way of punishing me for saying once (a very long time ago) that there was no such thing as writer’s block – it was just a lazy writer’s excuse. Yeah – that’ll learn me.
Thank the heavens for wise friends who know just what to say and just when to say it. I was expressing my frustration and telling a friend of mine that I just didn’t have what it takes anymore. I told her that I felt like I was a fraud by telling people I was a writer. She gave me a very kind smile and said, “Your thinking that you are a fraud is insecurity. Insecurity is a character defect, and underlying every character defect is fear.” She looked me in the eye and asked, “So, what are you afraid of?”
Before I could even think about it, the words fell out of my brain, into my mouth, and out into the open. “I’m afraid of disappointing people.”
Yeah – I’m a people pleaser. I want everyone to like me. I don’t want to make anyone upset at me and I felt like I was letting my editor down, letting my writing friends down (the ones who offered to help with the read-through), and letting everyone I’d ever told about this upcoming book down. That fear of disappointing people nearly paralyzed me.
Then I said, “I’m afraid it won’t be perfect.”
Whoa – that caught me by surprise. This book is still going through revisions. It isn’t meant to be perfect. It will never be “perfect” in the sense that no one anywhere will be able to find fault with it. I remember hearing Jane Yolen speak at a conference and talking about how there are scenes in her book “The Devil’s Arithmetic” that she would still go back and revise – and this book won all kinds of awards! I realized that I was trying to achieve a finished product, but it isn’t time yet.
I meditated a long time on what this friend had said and what my answers had been. In the mean time, I also started a new full-time job (also quite stressful), but while I was sitting at my desk at work, inputting numbers into a database (not real stressful), the solution to the block arrived. I almost couldn’t get through the rest of my day because I was so eager to get home and write! That was a magnificent feeling. I sat down, I dug in, and I solved the problem. I found a happy compromise for the scene my editor wanted changed and I didn’t (well, the scene isn’t happy, but resolving where to put it was). I got through the remaining chapters, and I sent the entire manuscript off to my wonderful editor before my self-imposed deadline of the end of the month!
Lessons learned? Um – many. First, I am terribly hard on myself, and I need to learn to just let it flow. Writing “Beautiful Monster” happened during one of the most stressful times in my life, but that story flowed because I allowed myself to admit there would be issues and errors, and I could go back and fix them later. Second, I need to address my frustrations earlier. I do a lot of “I’m not blocked, I’m not blocked, I’m not blocked, OH CRUD! I’m blocked!” Backing off sooner, removing obstacles when they are small instead of when I’ve made them into demons – this is the better way. Finally – remember who you’re writing for. It’s not an editor, it’s not an audience. I’m writing for me. This is – and always has been – my passion. I do this for my soul and for no other reason. I’m going to make a sign that says exactly that and hang it right behind my computer.