When You Face Resistance as a Writer

Does anyone else ever feel like all hell breaks loose once you set a goal?

Recently I determined to spend a minimum of two hours each day on my novel. Since then my computer broke down and I was required to order a new one. We had “smoke week” here on the coast from the fires in the western states and this agitated me to the point where we needed to get a purifier. Some rearranging happened in our house which took up a lot more time than I expected. My husband became sick, so I tried to “nurse” him. I became sick, twice, and required a doctor’s visit. Family issues cropped up. In the middle we had the awaited “Throne Speech” and the looming threat of a federal election in Canada. And of course there was no end of strife south of the border, as I followed the news and political developments.

I also became aware that my other “work” interferes with my creative process. I am now working on a way to resolve this.

Upheavals in our lives and unsettled business constantly rob us of creative energy.

Some years ago I learned to give credit to the “stressors” in my life. Not surprisingly, I didn’t even know that certain things caused me stress. I ignored and minimized other stressors and this resulted in a kind of cognitive dissonance.

We’ve often heard the saying, The truth will set you free. It is a quote from Jesus Christ. It is remarkable how helpful a good, honest look at our situation can be.

We’ve also heard, “The trouble with being deceived is that you don’t know you are deceived.” We can’t deal with a situation when we don’t understand it. There are times of seeking and then there are times when all we can do is wait for the light.

In my case, my light came through a friend, some years ago, who loaned me a book on stress. I think it was called Pressure Points: How to Deal With Stress, by Don Osgood. Osgood talks about the fact that acknowledging stressors can be a significant key to overcoming stress. I highly recommend his book.

When I give proper credit to the stressors that impair my productivity, I actually have more peace. There are things that make it difficult to clear space in my head for writing. It is as though, by giving them a nod, they settle down.

Naming the problem has a way of reducing its power over us. Even positive stressors like a wedding in the family, or a vacation, or the Christmas Season can drain our resources.

When my children were young I learned to immediately acknowledge their distress. This made them feel cared for and removed the need for whining and nagging.

In my work with mentally challenged adults I took a Behavior Modification course which taught me that if I failed to be consistent in one instance, I could lose years of progress made with a client. I practiced consistency with my children and this made them feel secure.

We all need consistent validation and reassurance. We need to feel secure.

Since we don’t want others to minimize or ignore our needs, we should not be ignoring or minimizing them either. I find that at times I have to picture myself as the “other” in, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” We are often kinder to others than we are to ourselves.

Don’t ignore. Don’t minimize. Life is what it is. Acknowledge and work your way through it. Have a little faith that you will find yourself in a place beyond this that may be better.

Many times we don’t understand the seasons in our lives. Certain periods are characterized by unique circumstances. One season passes and we find ourselves in a new place, which requires adjustment. It may be retirement, or an addition to the family, or a child leaving home. The best we can do is be “faithful” and consistently apply ourselves to the next thing that requires doing in our setting.

I read a hopeful blog this morning at Another Slice, entitled Follow the Sun. I look for encouragement wherever I can find it. There is light at the end of the tunnel, I remind myself. There is a way and we will find it by persisting in the face of resistance.

Persistence may look different than we imagined. It may mean first taking care of things that get in the way and then returning to our writing. Think of this as a pause, not a stop. Or it may mean acknowledging and then ignoring them, so that we can write.

I heard a touching story that encouraged me in a strange way. We are living in challenging times and things can get worse. What if they do? How will we manage? Things may get worse before they get better. Some things will not get better this side of eternity. I think of this when my doctor says the word “degenerative.”

The story I heard was of a man who was in a concentration camp. Each morning the men in the barracks rose before sunrise and walked miles in every kind of weather to the place where they put in a long day of back-breaking labor. He and his comrades received almost no nourishment and many succumbed. The man noticed that when the guards saw someone stumbling and failing, the person was shot on the spot. Realizing this, he knew that if he wanted to survive he needed to appear strong and capable. He decided that each morning he would get up and shave. He was a survivor who lived to tell his story.

Each day we have to do the equivalent of shaving–the thing that tells us we are strong enough for what this day may bring. I may not be able to control what happens in my life, but I can maintain my dignity in my trial. This will serve me well in accomplishing my goal.

It’s Not Who You Are

We can choose to be identified by our past or we can have faith to move beyond it.

As I commit myself to working on my novel again, I am having to deal with demons of the past. “You won’t follow through.” “You’ve failed before.” “What makes you think you can do it this time?”

If you’ve ever tried to change a pattern in your life, you will have run into similar taunts and fears. But there are numerous testimonials to the contrary, examples of how people prevailed against odds. You can be one of those people.

I have a large bookshelf and sometimes I look at my books and ask why my novel is not yet published. What am I missing that the other published authors have?

First of all, my worth is not defined by whether I am a published author or not. Secondly, my life is not over yet and the potential for publication is still there. I just have to persevere and acquire a few skills. This may still add up to publication. I will also have to do the hard work.

Doing the hard work is probably the most important part.

I once surprised a lot of people who never gave any thought to my capabilities. You see, I attended college when I was young, but I didn’t graduate. In fact, I dropped out of two classes during my final year in college.

Then I went back to college after our children left home. I had no confidence in my ability. A friend was working to finish her degree and my attitude was, “Good for her.” But I could never do that.

The truth is that I again dropped out of two classes. History was repeating itself. But the following year something changed and for two years I took a full course load, even more than a full course load, and I graduated with my degree, with highest honors.

That voice you hear in your head, telling you that you will fail, don’t listen to it. It does not know you. It does not acknowledge all of your capabilities.

We all have an accuser that tries to keep us from getting up and trying again, trying harder, and succeeding.

The first year I took a full coarse load in college I was extremely stressed but I set a daily goal of how much reading I needed to do. I scheduled a time to work on my assignments. I attended classes faithfully. All of these added up to eventually completing my degree.

That year our school went on our annual weekend retreat and while there I climbed a small mountain. It was challenging. I didn’t know if I could make it. But I did. Whenever I didn’t know if I could succeed in my studies, I reminded myself that if I was able to climb that mountain, I could do this.

Look at a success in your life. Remind yourself of your ability. Persevere. Prevail. Don’t allow that voice in your head to define you. It’s not who you are.

Update on My Novel

To my dear readers who have followed my story…thank you for your incredible patience.

It would almost make a story of its own for me to document my writing journey these past months. I finally decided that at the end of the year I will put my novel aside. In other words, it must be finished by then. There are other things I want to be freed up to do.

My biggest struggle has been that I want to write non-fiction. I don’t feel like I am a novelist. I’ve had to greatly adjust my writing style in order to write fiction. Many times when I have been blocked I have read a variety of books on writing, or I’ve read novels, or I’ve picked up Writers’ Digest magazines. I always find the magazines extremely motivating.

However, lately none of the above have helped me get out of my slump. I’ve had a series of revelations, however, and these are now beginning to motivate me to keep writing.

First of all I realized that I was embarrassed to be writing a “fluffy romance.” I actually kept thinking of people who I DID NOT want to have read my novel. My husband insisted that many people loved books by Louis L’Amour, and they were not profound treatises. He kept reminding me that I was a good writer. He told me he enjoyed the parts I had read to him, and that my writing was as good or better than published authors he’s read. “If you can do that, over and over, then you can write a good book.” Don’t underestimate the importance of novels, he’d tell me.

But, I argued, that is not all there is to a book. All of the pieces have to tie together and be in the right order, and you have to keep track of all the threads, and round out all the characters, and build the tension, etc., etc. It just seemed like I would fail, and worse, I might not even know where or why I failed.

I’ve had segments of my work edited and it has proved to be a very humbling experience. However, I decided I needed to move on from there by thinking about how much I learned, how my writing changed and improved, as a result.

I read somewhere that I needed to love my book. Someone pointed out that I had a bit of “self loathing” going on here. In other words, I no longer believed in my story, nor in my ability to tell it.

One day, when I felt particularly low–the day that my editor friend told me that my main character sounded pathetic (in other words), and that my language sounded like something from twenty years ago–yes, I was really told that…I drove to the ocean and was ready to delete my book and cancel my plan to attend a writers conference in August. The thing that held me back was that, for no reason I could put my finger on, I just believed that God actually wanted me to go to the conference this year. If I believed that, then I needed to go. I don’t want to live with having failed to have the courage to do what I needed to do.

Even deciding to love my book didn’t help me keep writing. I still wanted to quit more often than not. The truth was I didn’t believe what I was writing was significant.

I had been trying to dig deep, to get in touch with my characters’ feelings. Yes, there was some good writing. I could tell when it was good and that I needed to do more of that.

I think the breakthrough came when I realized that I knew my book inside and out. I had lived with it so long, I understood my characters better than my editor. And I had grown. I was able to recognize pathetic now and use it. That day I wrote back to my editor friend and told her that, yes, my character starts out with weaknesses, and she knows this, and it bothers her. I told her that maybe I am writing in a twenty year old style, but I’m OK with it. I’m probably not going to change that.

I began to see strength in my story. I took ownership.

I had taken pieces out of my story. Now I began to integrate them once again, in a different way, because I could see they contributed something vital. I slashed whatever didn’t serve a clear purpose. I made a list of what I wasn’t sure I should include and as the weeks passed the decisions became clear. I finally had a sense, not only of where I was going, but what I was doing with my story.

If I had not put a time pressure on myself, I would not have been pushed up against a wall. I would not have realized how much I hated my story and how I was actually seriously avoiding finishing it.

Most of all, I would not have come to the conclusion that I was the only one who could prevent it from being pathetic. I was the only one who could make my story as strong as I wanted it to be. I was the only one who could say, this was how I intended it and I love it now. It is now a true representation of me as a writer.

I finally found my strength and the strength in my story and it motivated me. I saw that I could write a book I would love. And this was the book I wanted to share.

 

 

How I Beat Writer’s Block

At the Peace Arch border crossing, entering the U.S. from Canada, the border patrol person asked me what I did for a living. He seemed very interested when I told him I was a writer and offered me a cure for writer’s block.

“You know what you have to do to overcome writer’s block?”

Of course I wanted to hear what he had to say.

“You have to travel. That’s what will get you over writer’s block.”

He sounded so confident, I decided to take his advice to heart.

I travel to a park or the beach, and sit in my car and write. I travel to a local tourist area and walk around for half a day. I travel to home decor stores to see their enticing displays. I visit the ocean, or the mountains. Since I live in the Pacific Northwest I have access to numerous places to get inspiration for writing, places like Granville Island, Fort Langley, White Rock, Crescent Beach, Deep Cove, Belcarra Regional Park, Stanley Park. I could go on.

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Granville Island, British Columbia

My budget constricts me a little, but I have still managed several longer vacations in the past year or so, traveling to the Okanagan Valley, to Manitoba to attend two weddings, to Ontario to visit family I hadn’t seen for decades, to New England to do research for my novel, and most recently to Portland, Oregon to attend a writers’ conference.

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Red Lion Hotel on the River-Jantzen Beach, Portland, OR

 

I’ve read a lot of advice on how to overcome writer’s block. If I am blocked, it is for a reason. Usually it is the pressure of the urgent. The sense that something is more important than writing.

I am also an artist and a musician and the answer to why I don’t paint, or play piano or guitar is the same. The mundane duties of life supersede my artistic ambitions. If I am not writing or painting or making music, it is because I have not placed a high enough importance on these activities.

I recently visited the website of an author and agent I met at a writers’ conference and saw that his last writing post was dated June 28. My natural response was one of sadness. Why is this skilled writer not writing regularly?

Maybe it is because we writers are not machines. Yes, we can seat ourselves at our desks and determine not to get up for four hours. This will produce results of sorts. Some writers are able to adhere to a self-imposed writing deadline and I expect their email as consistently as Saturday, or a full moon. But we are not all like that.

The greatest hindrance to good writing is a depressed spirit. Traveling, getting into a new space and making new encounters, works very well to lift one’s spirits.

One weekend I travelled down to Lynden, WA to help my son and his wife paint the interior of their house. My husband took a separate car and came later, after work. When I returned back home, my husband went through the border first and I followed after him. The border guard greeted me and I told him I had been visiting my children.

“I heard you ‘Tom Sawyered’ your husband into painting a house.”

I laughed, and thought to myself, border guards read too. Once again my little journey proved to be inspiring.

Maybe traveling isn’t your way of getting over writer’s block. Find out what works for you and do whatever it takes to get your thoughts out there for people to read. Somebody is waiting to hear from you.

 

My Writers’ Conference Experience

Last week I attended the Oregon Christian Writers Conference in Portland, Oregon. The conference began on Monday and ended Thursday afternoon. For any writer who has never attended a conference, I highly recommend it.

One of the reasons to attend a writers’ conference is that writers have access to agents and editors in a way that doesn’t happen by simply sending in a query. Editors and agents pay more attention to writers who attend conferences because they can tell that these writers are serious about their craft and willing to invest time and money to improve their writing skills.

If you are planning to attend a writers’ conference it is important to thoroughly familiarize yourself with who will be at the conference and know what you want to accomplish. This will help you to prioritize and make the most of your time. My priorities were 1) to help out with morning worship by playing the guitar, 2) gain a better knowledge of the craft of writing women’s fiction, 3) talk with a mentor about writing as a career, 4) build relationships with agents, editors and authors, 5) get an understanding of the place of my writing, 6) volunteer, and 7) spend time in the pool. I managed all of the above.

Before the conference I selected a coach and signed up for a Coaching Class–seven hours of in-depth teaching in three morning sessions. My class was taught by Angela Hunt. Angela has written contemporary fiction, historical fiction, children’s fiction and several books on the craft of writing. It was inspiring to hear her tell about her writing journey and her technique, which she covers in her book, Writing Lessons From the Front: The First Ten Books.

I also selected a Mentor for a half hour appointment. Poppy Smith–an author, international speaker and life coach gave me some helpful input as we discussed writing as a career path.

At the conference I signed up for 15 Minute Appointments with Editors and Agents, based on their availability. If I could not get an appointment I waited for mealtime and sat at the Tables of Editors or Agents I needed to meet. I also had a conversation with two agents during the Thursday afternoon one hour Autograph Party.

There were twenty-six Afternoon Workshops. We could only choose four. Since we were not committed to particular classes ahead of time I was able to change my plan at the last minute and attend the class of an agent I was encouraged to see, based on my other meetings. Thankfully I managed to spend time with every person I planned to talk to.

At the end of the day, after the Keynote Speaker, I felt too tired to attend the final Night-Owl Workshop. I went to my room to rest and my roomie almost dragged me to the Night-Owl. She knew I needed to go and she was right.

One of the things I discovered in speaking with several agents about my book is that it may not be suitable for Christian publishers. The Surrey International Writers’ Conference is a renowned conference held in my hometown every October, so I’m thinking of attending it next year and hearing more on the subject.

The hope of every writer is to get a publishing contract but, realistically, the chance of this happening at a conference is still pretty slim. As you may have noted in an earlier post, I participated in the Manuscript Submission Program by submitting my first ten pages, cover letter and synopsis to two agents and an editor a couple of months before the conference. The response was that my novel has “promise” and “potential” and needs more editing.

In summary, I got much more than I expected out of the conference. If you are going to a conference I suggest you read Chip MacGregor’s post, Ask the Agent: How Do I Get the Most Out of a Writers’ Conference. I heeded his suggestion to plan which sessions to miss in order to have time to spend with friends and added my own version–remember to include time at the pool too!

Getting Past the Fear

Last night, at 4:00 a.m. I finally pressed ‘Send’ and submitted my first ten pages to the Oregon Christian Writes Manuscript Submission program. For $5.00 you can have an editor or agent look at your first ten pages when you attend the conference. They may or may not want to meet with you and possibly ask for your complete manuscript.

Before I go on, I’ll just give you a brief summary of what has happened since I dropped off the scene for awhile. I hope we can be the kind of friends who can pick up where we left off because that’s the kind of friends I mostly have. We are in this for the long haul and know there will be interruptions for various reasons.

I have been doing a lot of thinking about the direction of my life and during the last three years I took two different admin assistant jobs. Previously when I was blogging regularly (2012) I was between jobs and very focused on moving ahead with my writing.

Working at these jobs made me realize that I have a very strong admin gift, as I have been told, but that my passion is not so much in the area of keeping a machine running as it is in connecting with people and finding ways to make meaningful contributions. I like to contribute in many ways. Hosting a meal, planning a birthday party, interacting with children and seniors, finding and sharing significant information, decorating my home, creating beautiful paintings, taking photos, building memories with loved ones, problem solving, and enriching my marriage.

While I was working I kept thinking that I was wasting my time. I know I wasn’t actually wasting my time, but maybe I was missing opportunities. I felt I was missing the things that only I could do. However, I had to counter-balance this with the fact that I was helping others on my job reach their goals and that is very significant to me. I love to help others in this way.

But now I feel the time has come for me to start my own business, in a sense. This is the second go I am having at building a writing career and to tell the truth it scares me. I could have pressed ‘Send’ at 10:00 p.m.yesterday but I had a fear of putting my work out there. When you are younger, I think, your mind doesn’t go so many places and consider so many possibilities before making a decision. In other words, you basically just think, if I mail this, then I might get a publishing contract. What could be more exciting?

But me, I was sitting in bed thinking, is this really how I want to be perceived? Is my novel saying what I want it to say? Am I being true to my characters? Would I be embarrassed if so and so read this? If so, why?

I have a lovely friend, a published author, who is nudging me along with my writing. She even came over this week and helped me sort out my first ten pages. I was completely stuck. I have spent a very long time trying to find out where my novel starts, how much is back story. After sending her several different chapters, because my book is mostly complete, she finally said, “That’s it! That’s where your book starts!” I was so relieved, until I tried to figure out how to move ahead from there and suddenly it looked like none of the rest of the book fit. Thankfully she was able to help me out with that too.

It’s an understatement to say I’ve learned a lot in this process. But one thing I do know. I keep getting excited about sharing what I have learned with my readers, right here, on this blog. It is what I have finally discovered to be one of the things I love the most. As I said before, I love sharing significant information. So, I am keeping this thought in the back of my mind and trying to figure out the best way to do this.

Back to last night. With those questions rolling around in my mind I took another look at my writing, and specifically my last page, because I felt uncomfortable with it. My friend, Gail Sattler (check out her novels-she writes humor), had helped with my edits on these ten pages and really improved my writing. She has a lot of experience and knows how to put the feeling on the page, unlike me. But, as I looked at the last page I saw it wasn’t me. I had to take out the things I loved that she had suggested and turn it into my writing. When I finally did that, then I was able to press ‘Send.’ Incidentally, she is also the kind of friend who says, “I’ll mail yours with mine.” I wonder why?

Writers can relate to the fear of putting ourselves out there. There are so many ways to fail. My plot might be weak, my middle story might lose the reader’s interest, my writing style might be boring, or I realize I can never write like so and so.

Nobody in my family is a writer. I am breaking new territory. I admit I am afraid of what people will think of me, of my writing. I want to be seen as a thoughtful intellectual, but maybe I am just a hopeless romantic. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, and that is confirmed by book sales. I am just trying to find the courage to put myself out there, whatever it is.

I read something helpful today in Techniques of the Selling Writer, by Dwight V. Swain.

Don’t try to be all things to all men. Universality of appeal is a myth….Quit wasting your time pretending that it doesn’t exist, or that there’s some esoteric way around it….You can’t change yourself at will to suit a given public. You must accept yourself the way you are. Then, seek out an audience that sees the world the same way you do. Can you be sure that such an audience exists? You can. Individual you are indeed; and different. But not that different, for you’re human also (p.117-118).

“You must accept yourself the way you are.” Haven’t we all heard that a million times before.

I didn’t want to hurt Gail’s feelings by taking out those really good bits, or re-wording them. But the writing process is about helping the writer become the best they can be and that means the best THEY can be. Gail gets this. She’s awesome.

I truly hope that I will be able to write here with some consistency over the next months. But, one of the best things that I have learned this past year is that this is a dialogue. It may look like the conversation has ended when bloggers stop posting for awhile. Maybe for some it is. But others just need to re-group, decide what they want, figure out the best way to move forward, and trust the timing. The break may be exactly what was needed.