Saturday, November 28, 2015

Writer's Block, Part Two

A week or so ago, I took myself to Union Station in Denver and spent a blissful morning curled up on a cozy couch in front of a friendly elf, sipping a vanilla steamer and getting unblocked on a new project. I wrote the first page of chapter one! I wrote the second page of chapter one! I wrote the whole darned chapter! The book was begun, and begun is everything in writing!

Well, not quite everything.

The next day I read over what I had written, eager to preserve my newfound momentum.

I didn't like what I had written.

I didn't like it at all.

My main character was whiny and victimized; she opened the chapter with a sigh, sighed twice more on the first page, and ended the chapter with a sigh huge enough to eclipse the previous three. Her mother was an overbearing cliche; it was unpleasant for a reader to have to be in her company. My poor character has no choice, it's her mom; but readers DO have a choice. So why wouldn't they make a choice to close this book and open one that is funny and fun? Did I have anything at all in this first chapter that was funny and fun? Nope. Nothing. Nada. Zip.

I didn't write for the next few days, because why throw good pages after bad? Why keep going on a project that is doomed from the get-go?

But then I re-read Elizabeth Gilbert's beautiful new book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. She recommends the following strategy to take regarding writing, or any other creative activity: "My ultimate choice . . . is always to approach my work from a place of stubborn gladness." She said that she's held on to her "stubborn gladness" when her work is going badly, and when it's going well. She said she's learned to trust that inspiration "is sitting there right beside me, and it is trying. . . . Inspiration is always trying to work with me. So I sit there and I work, too. That's the deal. I trust it; it trusts me."

So yesterday, I got into bed with a mug of hot chocolate made more festive with two outsized dollops of leftover Cool Whip on top (I had to do something with it now that the pumpkin pie was all eaten). I sat there for hours scribbling notes about how to fix my fatally flawed chapter one - or, rather, how to put it aside, richer from all I learned in writing it, and write a completely different chapter one that will have fewer sighs, a more three-dimensional mom, and at least something in it that is funny and fun. I haven't written that chapter yet - it's number one on my to-do list for tomorrow-  but Elizabeth Gilbert reassures me that inspiration will be sitting beside me when I do.

I'm going to trust inspiration and be grateful that it trusts me. If this new chapter is still unusable, I'll write another one, and I have a hunch that one will be pretty darned good, or at least pretty darned okay. If I need more Cool Whip, I'll buy more. And I'll keep on writing.


  1. I kind of like all the sighing... reminds me of me.

  2. I'm working hard on the book today and have to say the sighs are growing on me! Most of them get to stay - for now at least.

  3. I'm sure you'll get some good chapters finished! Thanks for your honesty. Even when you are feeling discouraged, you are encouraging other writers who don't have almost 60 books to their credit, just by reminding us that we all have to keep going, wherever we are in our writing.

  4. Thanks, Julie. It's strange how the process never gets easier. The only thing that gets easier is the comfort in remembering how each time I reflect that it never gets easier, and yet each time I get the book written somehow.