Friday, February 10, 2012

Buggy Pleasures or Draw a Sword?

CONTEST REMINDER: We think pretty highly of the novel around here, and from your devotion to reading and developing craft, it's clear you do too. We're dedicating this year to answering the question: Why does the novel matter? Answer that question with panache and you just might win a Kindle Touch. Read rules here.

I did not forget. Honest! I've been waiting for the right moment to continue our book talk of Anne Lamott's contemporary classic, Bird by Bird. And wouldn't you know it, Anne comes along with a chapter on writers block? While I don't have an official diagnosis, I suspect I may be experiencing the dreaded WB. This description from Lamott's book comes pretty close to how I've been feeling lately:

A blissfully productive manic stage may come to a screeching halt, and all of a sudden you realize you're Wile E. Coyote and you've run off the cliff and are a second away from having to look down. Or else you haven't been able to write anything at all for a while. The fear that you'll never write again is going to hit you when you feel not only lost and unable to find a few little bread crumbs that would identify the path you were on but also when you're at your lowest ebb of energy and faith.--Lamott

So I read the rest of the chapter, looking for something to transform me back into the roadrunner. Beep! Beep!

Lamott's advice rings true enough: Write one page of ANYTHING per day. Do grocery lists count? Make a commitment to the characters rather than the novel. I like my characters. No problem. And "just take in the buggy pleasures" of everyday life to refill what must be running on empty. Really? How many legs do these bugs have?

Overall, however, I did not feel better or energized after reading this chapter. I. Want. To. Write. So I reached for another book on my shelf, The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. This guy takes no prisoners in the battle of Resistence, that inevitable battle when creating art. He's kicked me in the bum before. I think I even wrote about it here.

There's a secret that real writers know that wannabe writers don't, and the secret is this: It's not the writing part that's hard. (Patti here: Well, it's a little hard, wouldn't you say?) What's hard is sitting down to write. (Yes!)--Pressfield

What keeps us from sitting down is Resistance.

Resistance can best be defined by what it keeps us from doing, like starting and finishing anything worthwhile--diets, exercise, and writing among those listed. And Pressfield characterizes Resistance with ominous adjectives: invisible, internal, insidious, implacable, impersonal, and infallible. All true.

If you believe in God (and I do) you must declare Resistance evil, for it prevents us from achieving the life God intended when He endowed each of us with our own unique genius. --Pressfield

This puts writers block in a new light, doesn't it? Evil? A little like burying our Master's talents? Hmm.

I've allowed Resistance to put my latest WIP on hold for a few months. I have my excuses, thank you very much. And it's not like I haven't been bubbling and stewing and mulling, even had a few false starts. But I do find myself wearing that "Writer" tee shirt Katy talked about. Truth is, I've been miserable not writing.

If I'm going to be honest here, time and/or exhaustion isn't my problem. Fear of failure is. Like Lamott, my last manuscript didn't evoke the love of editors or agents or anyone. I don't even think my mother liked it. Pressfield addresses that problem, and I'm going to copy the whole chapter for you. Here goes:

Henry Fonda was still throwing up before each stage performance, even when he was seventy-five. In other words, fear doesn't go away. The warrior and the artist live by the same code of necessity, which dictates that the battle must be fought anew every day. --Pressfield

The battle goes on. Either that fact makes you reach for your sword or sends you to the bomb shelter. I'm off to war!

Whether Lamott's approach or Pressfield's makes more sense to you may be a matter of personality. Know this about me, I cannot wait to mount up and follow the Lord back to earth at the Second Coming. Yep, there's a warrior behind this mild-manner facade. It's time to wake her up. Writing novels is too important. I offer another view of how the world should look. I offer hope! I entertain! I like to think that I add a respite of beauty, too. So do you.

How do you wake up the warrior within? How do you write when everything is saying no? Is Resistance evil or just maddening?


BK said...

Definitely a battle that has to be fought every single day. And some days it's just creepy that cold fear that overtakes you and the doubts that set in and make you want to knuckle under.

But the sitting down to it is the hardest part. I'm learning (even though people have taught that for years!) this year that demanding a weekly word count of myself, just as if it were my day job (though it's insulting to compare writing to my day job). And so far, that has helped tremendously.

But of course it's early in the year. My toughest challenge will come in the coming months when I am most susceptible to--not necessarily writer's block, but writer's burnout.

Wendy Paine Miller said...

When it comes to this kind of stuff, I'm a fighter not a lover. I can't afford not to be. Not enough time here.

I feel like we're in the middle of a Braveheart scene and I'm ready to yell, "Let's battle."

~ Wendy

Susie Finkbeiner said...

{Sigh} I haven't been writing much because I'm exhausted, stressed and finding so many things to distract me. Megan and I were talking the other day about how I wear too many hats.

I'm about to get rid of some hats. Unfortunately, "dish washer" and "laundry folder" aren't hats I can toss.

Patti Hill said...

BK: Word count--say that, goals!--are great little taskmasters. The key is being realistic. When I get to the writing part, I'm about 750 or 3 pages a day. That doesn't sound like much, but it adds up, marathon style. When I get to page 100, I bite the bullet and print the pages. I love the heft of the paper. That spurs me on.

Wendy: Maybe we could "moon" resistance just like the Scottish hordes! Figuratively speaking, of course.

Susie: As chief laundress and toilet bowl cleaner, I so understand. Add to that the many pressing needs of those we love, and finding writing time can be tough. For me, the key is to have working hours, even a working hour when life gets especially crazy. Hanging up a hat can be hard. The best to you.

Bonnie Grove said...

I read this yesterday: from Stein on Writing:

"Others find excuses for not writing at the same time every day, balk at re-resising incessantly, or excuse themselves because their lives are beset by difficulties. I am deaf to that excuse because I worked with the most disadvantaged writer in history, Christy Brown, who had the use of his brain, the little toe on hi s left foot, and little else. [. . .] Eventually someone at IBM made a special typewriter for Christy that enabled him to punch in a letter at a time with his one working toe. I published five of Christy Brown's books, one of which made the national bestseller list. I urge you to see the video of a remarkable film called My Left Foot. It won an Oscar for Daniel Day-Lewis, who played Christy. The film may cure you of fishing for an excuse for not writing."

I read that yesterday, looked up at hubby and said, "I'll never complain again."

Patti Hill said...

Bonnie: Or the guy who had trapped-in syndrome and wrote by blinking his eyes. Excuse me, I'm off to write.

Sonja Hutchinson said...

Great post - thank you for not letting me rest on my excuses. Conquering the fear of producing something unworthy is where I struggle the most.


Suzy Parish said...

Patti, your post gave me goose bumps. I sent the Fonda quote to my husband by e-mail. He is in Afghanistan. I realized the common thread that he and I share, he is a warrior and I am an artist.
"The battle goes on. Either that fact makes you reach for your sword or sends you to the bomb shelter. I'm off to war!"
That quote was poignant to me, as in October my husband's camp was attacked. Men ran into the bunkers, as they had been ordered to do, but my husband ran to protect the front gate. Thank you for a very timely post, God Bless, Sue Williams, AKA Suzy Parish.

Bonnie Grove said...

Suzy: Mwah.

Bonnie Grove said...

". . . which dictates that the battle must be fought anew every day. --Pressfield

Can I add that this is true in the writing as well as in every other aspect of being a writer working toward (or attaining) publication. Every step is a battle, and the artist must be prepared for that. There are voices in the industry that would have you believe that getting a publishing contract is, in and of itself, a finish line (or, signing with an agent, or writing a second book, or you name it). It isn't. This is where the artist must embrace, if only temporarily, the mind of the realist. One goal achieved means a new set of battles spills open.

The industry of writing isn't easy, and it never gets easy. The art of writing isn't easy and it never gets easy.

I'm astonished daily how far I have yet to go.

Patti Hill said...

Sonja: Yes! So what I do is give myself permission to write three poopy pages. I make it less poopy the next day before I write more poop for the new day. Leapfrogging poop like this gets the novel written, and actually, it's not half bad by the end. I hope I didn't offend anyone.

Suzy: Oh my, my deepest regards to you and your husband for fighting REAL battles for me and all those I love. You must be very proud of him. Blessings on you!
We are warriors--all of us--on so many levels. The sooner we embrace it, the more fruitful we'll be.

Take to heart what Bonnie is saying. She speaks the truth in love. These aren't words meant to discouragement but to equip. Writing and the business of writing doesn't get easy, ever. Take up your swords!

Megan Sayer said...

When I first read this it felt a bit strange, probably because I'm in the middle of a crazy patch of "writer's diarrhoea" (not that I'm complaining!), but knowing that you guys are all 11 steps or so ahead of me makes me stop and think.

I'm 2/3 of my way through the first half of one of my childhood goals: write a book and get it published (I said the FIRST half, okay?), and of course I'm thinking about what's next, what after this. In some ways that's kind of scary, but it comes back to fighting the battle at hand and rejoicing in victories, not preparing for the battle up ahead just yet.

Makes me think though, I'll one day achieve my goal. Good. And then there'll be others. Okay.

So...(this is the real thought)...this path of writing I've set my heart upon is less about a series of goals and more about a lifestyle choice. I love to write, and it excites and awakens me and is in so many ways positive. But although a book may be a project, a home-reno-job, a career is more like housekeeping.
I can get off the roundabout, but then I'd sit and watch with sadness those who are still riding, and, regardless of the time sacrifice and the emotional cost, I want to ride too. Highs and lows. I'm a bit crazy like that.

Oh, and Bonnie: I copied your last quote into a word doc and filed it. Much to think about. I'm crazy like that too : )

Marian said...

I'm in a not-writing slump. All excuses work. I'm hoping this "Why the Novel Matters" contest will set me back on track.

Thanks for the post. I didn't realize this not-writing was so prevalent among writers.

Kathy said...

Just the post I needed to put some fire into my writing and fend off the excuses threatening to sidetrack my writing. Currently I set aside Tuesdays and part of Wednesday to write but now I see the whole purpose of writing rests on a daily habit. So tomorrow (or tonight) I'll take up my pen or go to my computer to put down more paragraphs for my WIP. Thanks for all this encouragement.

Kathleen Popa said...

Oh dear. We have to ride into battle?

Suzy, I'm in awe.

Patti Hill said...

Megan: I think you've hit upon something important, that writing is a life style, not a goal. Less task, more love.

Marian: We're all hoping the contest will spark a love and appreciation for the novel as an art form and as a tool God uses to enrich. Can't wait to read your entry.

Kathy: You have to do what works for you. I suggest you "try on" what other authors do, but I guarantee that you'll make adjustments until your writing style matches your personality. Have fun with it. Don't judge yourself too harshly.

Katy: Perhaps you are one to gain refreshment from buggy pleasures. That would be great.