- I've had two short stories and one essay published. I'm currently working on a "coming of age" novel set in the 1960's. I started this blog with the hope that I could share what I've learned/am learning about writing with other people and would get some of the same in return. If you know of anyone who might be interested in such a blog, please let that person or persons know about "The Writing Process." 7-8-12 I haven't worked on the novel for quite some time and doubt that I will take it up again. I'm currently working on a short story that I have high hopes for--or, if you prefer, for which I have high hopes. There is the possibility that I'll try another novel with some of the characters in this short story. Current and probable title: Not a Blind Date
Monday, July 16, 2012
Scottsdale Civic Center
Photo by my (much) better half, Gloria
As a writer, sometimes your subconscious tells you: “You’re worthless and you don’t deserve to succeed. You will fail and in failing, prove to others that you are worthless.”
That’s a bit harsh, don’t you think? And you would dismiss it as absurd if directed at anyone else. But when your subconscious presents such self-destructive nonsense, you buy into it, unaware.
When my oldest son, now 37, was in grade school, I helped him train for the half-mile run, part of the school’s annual field day. I wanted him to do well, but not to feel pressured. I told him, “You are not your performance,” and explained that he had a basic value as a human being, a value that wouldn’t change however well or poorly he did. Here’s a quote from A Return to Love, by Marianne Williamson: “Again—nothing you do, or think, or wish, or make is necessary to establish your worth.” *
When your coworker struggles to finish an assignment, your daughter stumbles through a dance recital, your grandson has trouble learning to ride a bike, you don’t decide that any one of them is now worthless as a human being. When you struggle with your writing—or any other endeavor—neither do you turn into a nothing as a result.
So many of us believe subconsciously that anything less than perfection in our writing will prove that, as human beings, we belong on the trash heap. We’re garbage. And, since we know we can’t achieve perfection, we fall into the real failures: not giving our best—“Hey, I didn’t really failure because I didn’t really try”—or not writing at all.
Writers are often admonished to “just put your butt in the chair and do it. Everyday.” It’s not that easy. If I can force myself to write everyday, sometimes it allows me to flush away negative thoughts, but other times it only compounds the problem.
Writer’s block is tough to beat whether you’re staring at a blank page or blinking cursor unable to put more than three words together or whether you have a palpable fear of even putting your butt into the chair. Your fears have become a pavlovian response to writing.
You’ve probably read or been told that writer’s block comes from fear, either fear of failure or fear of success. Fear of failure is understandable to you, but fear of success? Well, that’s really just fear of failure cross dressing. Suppose you get a story, or some other type of writing published. Your subconscious will answer your “Hooray,” with “What if I can’t do it again? What if I fail next time? ”
But your subconscious is just obscuring your greater fears:
1) People will judge me by my work and if it’s lacking, they’ll deem me a lesser person. And, if I’m not writing at all, they’ll have a lower opinion of me.
2) I really don’t deserve to suceed.
Here’s how you earn the right to succeed as a writer: work hard learning to write, work faithfully on your current project, and submit your work, and submit your work, and submit your work. If you have to somehow prove you deserve success, that’s really all it takes.
In any case, are you are really obligated to be a perfect person in order to deserve success as a writer? An editor who reads your work will accept or reject it, not you. An editor won’t care if you’re a drug pusher or a saint, a brilliant story will be accepted, a lousy one rejected. Nor will most readers care, or even wonder, what kind of person you are.
Enjoy any publication you may have and, if you actually earn a few bucks, enjoy that, but don’t rejoice that you’re now a better person, otherwise, your next rejection will convince you you’re now as worthless as bellybutton lint.
Writing is messy and difficult.
From We Wanted to Be Writers, Eric Olsen and Glen Schaeffer, quoting Marvin Bell: “Writer’s block comes from one’s wanting only to write good stuff. Well, the good stuff and the bad stuff are all part of the stuff. No good stuff without bad stuff.”
From Artful Sentences, Syntax as Style, by Virginia Tufte: “Writing is difficult. Whether a writer’s sensibilities are informed by one or several languages, it is not easy to capture a unique perception or idea in poetry or prose.”
In case you’re wondering, I struggled with some major writer’s block working on this piece. But I got through it by focusing on the fact that what I’m telling others applies to me as well. I hope this post will help other writers too.
*Quoted, I believe, by Williamson from A Course in Miracles.
Friday, January 6, 2012
Scene from favorite used bookstore (more like a book campus): the Book Barn in Niantic, Connecticut, USA.
[I liked this photo so much I asked fellow member tymfos of LibraryThing for permission to snag it. The photo and the text next to the photo are by tymfos.]
Monday, January 31, 2011
Last October my bicycle and I vied for the same point in space as a young man and his van. That didn't work so well. The van escaped unscathed; I suffered a “slight” separation of my left shoulder. It started whining immediately, then followed up by howling like a whipped puppy for weeks.
Later that month I lay on my back waiting for an MRI of my shoulder, waiting to be inserted into the machine like a pizza into a brick oven. There I would be required to lie still for thirty or more minutes. No scratching an itchy nose, no stretching a cramped muscle.
Because I'd had two MRI'S in the past--both to diagnose knee injuries--I was unprepared for the panic that assaulted me when the conveyor belt began to move. In 1982 two, armed, young men held up the supermarket where I worked. Fear assailed me then, but not panic. And I had some control of that fear. I had virtually no control as I moved headfirst toward the maw of the MRI machine.
I sat up as though spring-loaded, fueled by fear of entombment. My heart threatened to rip away from its moorings, my lungs to burst through my chest. The conveyor belt stopped.
For ten minutes, the two young women administering the test counseled me, obviously having faced this situation before. I was embarrassed by my newly-discovered claustrophobia, embarrassed that I'd acted frightened in front of two very pretty women. That's probably a sexist attitude, but eventually it helped me to lie back down and ride into the bowels of the machine.
There I was assailed by sounds of intermittent pounding, like elves hammering on the outside of a drainpipe. After perhaps fifteen minutes, my fear-meter--heart rate and breathing-- returned to near normal readings as I silently chanted “These people are here to help me. Nothing bad is going to happen.”
Mid-afternoon Christmas Eve, my sister Laurel and her ex Herb picked up my wife Gloria and me from our home in central Phoenix. Usually when I'm in a car, I'm driving, not a passenger. And riding in the back seat is definitely a rarity. Even so, I never expected a claustrophobicly-induced panic attack.
The doors of Herb's car shut with a solid, new-car thump. As he backed it out of the driveway, the terror from my MRI experience poured into my mind like water flooding a basement. I worried that I might not be able to unlock the car door in case of an emergency. I drive a 1993 Corolla with old fashioned pull up/push down door knobs. New cars always seem to have more complicated locking systems.
Three blocks down the road I nearly screamed, “I've got to get out of here.” My inner child was floundering in a flood of panic without a sump pump to drain it. I imagined myself diving out of the car, rolling to the curb, and running home as fast as my bum knees would allow.
Herb turned the car off McDowell Road onto I-10, causing my panic to hit its zenith. I felt like a death row inmate being escorted down a corridor by two prison guards heading for the death house.
I took deep breaths and tried to follow my family's conversation, even throwing in a few lame comments. I used my cellphone to snap a photo of Laurel as she leaned between the front seats to talk to us, then took a photo of Red Mountain in the distance. As with my time in the MRI tube, eventually I was able to calm down, to “get a grip.”
Gloria and I decided to celebrate New Years Eve 2010 by going to an ASU women's basketball game. I'd followed the Sun Devils in the Arizona Republic and watched an occasional game on television, but had never been to one.
To avoid parking hassles we rode the two-year-old light rail from Phoenix to Tempe, and got off just a few blocks from Wells Fargo Arena. Seated at mid-court, we watched the Sun Devils win 49-46. Oregon missed a potential game winning shot at the buzzer.
On the ride home, cold air whooshed into the car at each stop as the doors slid opened to swallow or disgorge passengers. Law enforcement officers from Tempe, Phoenix, and the Department of Homeland Security bounced in and out of the train ready to pounce on holiday revelers who reveled too much.
As we left Tempe and entered Phoenix, I tried to recreate my panic attacks, a decidedly bizarre impulse. I have no idea what put that bug up my butt, but there it was.
At first I could dredge up only a pale reflection of my previous demons. That was puzzling since I'd realized all along that lack of control was the driving force behind my panic attacks, and I certainly had even less control of a train that must weigh hundreds of tons.
Against all reason, I worked diligently to recreate that nightmarish, wild child panic. As I began to succeed, my fear rose. Eventually I asked myself, “Do you really want to do this?” I decided that past a certain, indefinable point, doing something stupid edges into insanity. I stopped.
So, what does this have to do with writing? After all, this blog is supposed to be about writing.
John P. Marquand wrote a novel called Women and Thomas Harrow. The protagonist was a writer who forced himself to go to a party or some such event despite not wanting to go. He did it because, after all, he was a writer. And it was an experience.
Henry James said something to the effect that a writer was a person upon whom no experience was wasted.
Draw on your experiences.
(Does anyone know the exact Henry James quote? I poked around the internet without any luck.)
Addendum: February 10, 2011
A Henry James quote from my friend Wes: Experience is never limited, and it is never complete: it is an immense sensibility, a kind of huge spider-web of the finest silken threads suspended in the chamber of consciousness, and catching every air-borne particle in its tissue.
Friday, December 31, 2010
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
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Chess Pictures - Pictures
In his novel class, Jim Sallis often says not to settle for "first thought" ideas. They're usually not original, nor especially creative. He also says a danger for writers is to think you "know how to write." The idea there being that you should always be open, indeed searching for new ways to achieve the effect you want in your fiction. I assume this would apply to writing non-fiction as well.
In Andy Soltis column "Chess to Enjoy" in Chess Life Magazine (November 2010) he notes that even top-level chessplayers often fail to force checkmate in the most efficient manner, i.e. the fewest moves. This happens both when they solve chess problems and when they are playing chess games. He writes: "This phenomenon is striking to psychologists, who gave it an impressive name: the Einstellung effect."
The basic idea is that you tend to solve a problem with ways you know and are comfortable with even though there may be a better way or ways to solve it. It seems to me that Sallis is warning against the Einstellung Effect in your writing.