Category Archives: Writing Fears

Time is On My Side (Or is it?)

Can’t you just hear Mick Jagger’s rousing voice now? Of course he was only twenty years old when he uttered these famous words; plus, he was referring to the inevitability that a lover would return to him. But in essence, time has been on Mick’s side, hasn’t it? How else could he take part in the production of one-hundred singles, over two dozen studio albums, various compilations and live albums, and not to mention the fathering of an inexplicable amount of offspring? Besides, fifty years later and Mick (along with the Stones) are still touring, performing, and rocking out.

Pretty impressive. Not going to lie.

Photo Source: newyorkchronicles.blogspot.com

But this isn’t about the prowess of The British Invasion. It’s about the life of the average writer—particularly those writers leading a presumed double life, i.e. day jobs, parenthood, general housekeeping—and his or her capricious relationship with time.

Over the weekend I went to Sears to pick up my newly repaired watch. As I forked over the fifteen dollars it hit me: I’m actually paying someone to provide me with yet, another device to tell time. There’s a clock in every classroom at the college where I teach. My husband and I have two alarm clocks in our bedroom. Downstairs in my kitchen, I sometimes feel cross-eyed staring at the double digital imprints on the stove and microwave. Our cable box tells the time. If I turn on the television and go to the preview channel, I can see the exact hour, minute, and second of the day. Sometimes TD Bank even offers a courtesy update in between commercials. My car shows the time. This laptop I’m currently writing on shows the time. My iPhone has clock app. If interested, I can view the time in the Philippines.

mrceviz → in Graphics

It’s no wonder so many people I know (myself included) are near-lunatics. The constant ticking and tocking and shifting numbers are forever reminding us of the things we haven’t yet done, of the things we’re supposed to be doing. As a writer—particularly one who aspires towards publication—this obsession with time has had some pretty negative impacts on my psyche.

Many of us have been asked this question: what is your biggest fear when it comes to writing? Some obvious answers might be “failure,” “success,” or “failure to reach success,” or even, “successfully reaching failure.” Others might say, “Never being good enough,” and “not finding an agent,” etc.

In hindsight, my personal writing fears have always been rooted in Time. Not finishing in time. Not finding the time [to write]. Or worse, not making time to write—in essence, wasting time. Wasting precious, valuable time. Not using enough time. The list goes on.

Consequently, this fear often spirals out of control into some sort of wicked slippery slope. The ‘what if’s’ run rampant and in a span of two minutes “time” I wind up feeling depleted, doomed, and hopeless.

It sounds something like this:

How could that author finish an entire, polished manuscript in only nine months? Well maybe if I had all day every day to write then I would too. Oh my God, I’m thirty years old and I have nothing to show for it. The publishing industry is changing faster than I can write and what if by the time I’m finished with my book no one is reading anymore? Everyone is just watching cat videos on YouTube? What’s the point of investing all this energy into something people don’t even do anymore?!

Every time I open my inbox I get flooded with offers—webinars on the ‘craft,’ books on snagging an agent, methods for improving characterization, tips to enhance social media! At this rate, it’ll take me a decade to master all this stuff, never mind actually write a novel…what if I compose an amazing story, written brilliantly, but I get rejected because I’m lagging in social media? What comes first? Chicken? Egg?

Not to mention with all these other things on the horizon—buying a new house, selling this house, and starting a family, what if I lose track of my goals? I’ll end up putting it off and putting it off and next thing I know I’ll wake up one day and I’ll be seventy years old and no one will be reading anymore because the world will have gone to s**t and in fact no one will even be talking to each other anymore, let alone reading, we’ll have the attention spans of fish and…and…and…it’ll all be lost, and I’ll say, Man! I wish I had spent more time on this when I was thirty….

Merelize → in Objects

And so it goes. It’s one thing to write, it’s another to revise and edit. Even still, there’s mastery of the craft. All of this takes…you guessed it, time. And this is why I fear time. I don’t fear failure, actually. I fear not having the time to fail. I don’t fear rejection. I fear not having enough time to be rejected.

But at least I’m discovering that this is a counterproductive way of thinking. In all the time I spend seething about my lack of time, I could be well, doing something about it.

I’ve discovered some “truths” to help this issue of time when it comes to writing.

1. The writing industry IS competitive. But that’s a good sign, because it means that there are thousands upon thousands (probably millions, in fact) of literary types out there that want to keep this craft alive. And where there are writers, there are readers.
2. Some of the greatest novels I’ve ever read took the author years to write.
3. As long as I’m doing something towards my writing goals each day I’m making good use of my time. Even if it’s simply subscribing to a helpful blog.
4. It helps tremendously to ask myself where I was in the writing process one year ago today. This shows me how far I’ve truly come

Then of course there’s Mick Jagger. You could always reflect on that guy’s life. Because, be it as it may, The Rolling Stones know how to make good use of time.

Osama Hasan Khan → in Objects

I’ll leave you with some of my favorite quotes on “Time”:

“All that really belongs to us is time; even he who has nothing else has that.”
-Baltasar Gracian

“An unhurried sense of time is in itself a form of wealth.”
-Bonnie Friedman

“Calendars are for careful people, not passionate ones.”
-Chuck Sigars

“If we take care of the moments, the years will take care of themselves.”
-Maria Edgeworth

“We must use time as a tool, not as a crutch.”
-John F. Kennedy

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Filed under Why We Write, Writing Fears, Writing Process

Why I will not publicize my writing goals

Anyone who follows this blog knows one thing for sure: I want to write. Not only that actually, in fact, I want to be a writer. Yes, this is a goal of mine, but that—aside from the various writing-related quandaries I discuss so ebulliently with you on a weekly basis—is about as far as I’ll go. I will shed no light on my specific goals, nor will I enlighten you with the proverbial notion of where I’d like to be in five years. Why? Because despite Emma Bombeck’s adage, “It takes courage to show your dreams to someone else” it has never, ever worked for me.

In the past, publicizing my aspirations has lead to one of three outcomes:

  1. The corresponding person, in blunt terms, doesn’t give a rat’s shiny ass
  2. The corresponding person masks an envious expression, which leads me to believe that he or she secretly hopes I will fail.
  3. The corresponding person feigns support by smiling and nodding; this is where my ability to read minds comes into play. He or she is churning this perception around his or her brain: Yeah sure, like that’s going to happen.

Recently, I came upon number four on my list of “Clandestine Ambitions.” I commonly use talks from www.ted.com in my English classes. In turn, I regularly peruse the site for interesting lectures to entice thought in both my students and myself. I came across Derek Sivers’ three-minute speech, “Keep your goals to yourself.”

I’ll paraphrase. When one spreads the word of a new resolution, it is more likely that said person will not reach said goal. Why? Because, psychologically speaking, simply relaying the fact that I will learn French, or I will open my own yoga studio deceives the mind. It makes us feel like we’ve already accomplished something. In turn, the goal is never realized.

I recommend watching the clip. It’s ingenious, and it totally supports my argument.

I’m not saying that this works for everyone. I was born an introvert, and holding in my personal feelings has always come naturally to me. Sure, some need the motivation that comes from others. I am not one of those people. My intrinsic determination runs deep, and I know exactly what I want to accomplish. I have a clear-cut vision. I’m just not going to tell you what it is. (Sticks tongue out).

Agree? Disagree? As always, all comments are welcome.

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Filed under Breaking the Rules, The Writing Life, Writing Fears

You might be an aspiring author if…

I started thinking about Jeff Foxworthy, and the old red neck jokes, and came up with this: You might be a writer, author, aspiring author/writer, if….well, here are ten of my own benchmarks. Let me know if you agree…or can add a new one!

10. Entering a bookstore (full of works by already published authors) leaves you feeling both invigorated and envious.

9. You read novels, short stories, memoirs, poems for both pleasure AND education.

8. Every email, flyer, notification, tweet, blog post, magazine ad, etc. that offers a webinar, class, conference, getaway or service that you cannot attend, drop in, frequent, or take advantage of due to time, money and practically leaves you with that regrettable notion that you’re missing something important.

7. Every fantastic novel you’ve read since you’ve started your own has made you want rip out the pages, pour water on the Kindle, and throw them both in a fire pit; because, daaamn, this author is SO much better than you are!

6. Laundry, food shopping, house cleaning, wedding planning, tooth brushing, eyebrow plucking, nail clipping–just about everything other than writing–feels like a GIGANTIC waste of time.*

5. Everyday you kick yourself for not beginning your project sooner–like when you were 12.

4. What to do first? Research publications? Network? Blog? Tweet? Read? Write? Drink?

3. On a daily basis, you: curse out the world, for moving too fast; yourself, for getting to old; your friends, for using one of your perfectly good, full-of-spare-writing-hours weekends to whisk you away to Atlantic City; your cat, for sticking her butt in your face as you try to write.

2. You’ve realized by now that in this creative pursuit, there are no patterns, no formulas, no quick tickets to success; in fact, the only thing you can really count on is sheer persistence.

And on that note…

1. No matter what stage of the game you’re at, you’re going to keep doing it, because frankly, it’s who you are.

*This does not include new episodes of Mad Men.

 

 

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Filed under The Writing Life, Top Ten Lists, Writing Fears

How often should we be writing?

I believe that this is something writers often ponder. I’ve read interviews of prominent authors, attended panel discussions, participated in writing groups, taken writing courses, etc. and usually at some point in the discussion, this question will pop up like a shiny, red pimple on the morning of the prom. The truth is, various writers will give various answers. Some well-established storytellers will tell you to write everyday for hours at a time. Clearly we don’t all have this luxury–I sure don’t, but I’m working on it! Here’s my personal opinion on this widely debated writer’s conundrum.

On average, I write five to eight hours a week. When I say “write,” generally what I am referring to is my novel-in-progress or one of my many, many underdeveloped short stories. For the most part, I don’t include writing this blog or engaging in other forms of social networking as part of my writing time. I am solely commenting on my ‘work,’ or in other words, the pieces I hope-upon-hope, wish-upon-wish will one day be in print.

I teach both day and evening courses, and as a result, certain days of the week are unavailable for writing. The benefit of this is that on other days, I have a light course load, which leaves plenty of (non-excusable) hours to enter the thriving world of my own creation. In other words, it is necessary that I both find and make time to be the scribe I so desire to be. On Tuesdays, I’ll grab an hour after work. Thursdays I finish teaching at 3 pm, hence I can fit in two hours or more. This quarter, I am off on Fridays, so I take at least a three hour chunk to devote to the art. Then there are the weekends, which depending on my level of ‘open availability,’ I either have two extra Fridays, or, sadly, a Monday or Wednesday (days in which writing is not possible).

Of course when the quarter changes I’ll have to formulate a new plan, but until then this is what I work with. Are there some weeks when I write only three hours? Of course; life’s ebb is ever changing, but the key truly is persistence. If I miss a day, I’ll find another where I can make up for it. But regardless of the unpredictability of time, I’ve been working with this (albeit inconsistent) schedule since August 2010. The truth is, though I am still in the midst of perfecting it all, I really have made considerable progress.

I think the key is this: Look for time, make time, and utilize time. You know your schedule better than anyone else. But if you decide to write, you need to sit down and do it. Trust me, in this enterprise, it truly is the only way.

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Filed under The Writing Life, Why We Write, Writing Fears, Writing Process, Writing Tips

Just maybe

“We, and I think I’m speaking for many writers, don’t know what it is that sometimes comes to make our books alive. All we can do is to write dutifully and day after day, every day, giving our work the very best of what we are capable. I don’t think that we can consciously put the magic in; it doesn’t work that way. When the magic comes, it’s a gift.”
—Madeleine L’Engle

It’s true. I wonder everyday if what I’m writing is good enough, interesting enough, worthy enough. I dreamed that one of my short stories received an honorable mention in a particular contest. When I woke, feeling jubilant no doubt, I realized that I never submitted that story to said contest. I’d let the deadline pass, assumed another rejection. My dream woke me up (no pun intended). What I really let pass was an opportunity.

They’ll be more contests. Not all is lost. But maybe my subconscious is telling me that it’s possible. Everyday I pray, not for success or fame or bestselling novels, but for belief. To dare believe I can do this. Perhaps it’s working? I’m pushing myself to break through?

I’m not sure that what I’m doing is groundbreaking. To be honest, that’s not really my intention. All I truly want is to believe. Yes, that and both the liberty and leisure to able to write more. My whole life maybe. This sounds so pseudo-inspirational. But to me it’s actually very important. Regardless of what happens.

So I won’t stop. I’ve been rewriting my novel and discovering all the things it didn’t have the first time around. Now it does. It brings me personal happiness each day. In this endeavor that’s all I can hope for. If not for that, I don’t have much. I’m glad I’m learning to understand this.

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Filed under Breaking Through, Inspiration, The Writing Life, Why We Write, Writing Details, Writing Fears, Writing Process, Writing Tips

Perpetual Darkness

“I do not rewrite unless I am absolutely sure that I can express the material better if I do rewrite it. —William Faulkner

Well, Faulkner, that’s my problem these days. I can never tell when I’m finished. The other problem is, I always think I can express it better. For me, my already written text is like an iceberg–stands in the way, won’t move, won’t budge, actually, and blocks a calm, smooth sail. It’s a crutch, a challenge, a ‘hard place,’ if you will.

The other night I dreamed I was sitting in a park on a bench as day gradually turned to night. At one point I thought to myself, ‘Hmm, it’s dark, maybe I should get up and go.’ I began to feel spooked actually, so I got to my feet, and strolled over towards another bench, where apparently all my stuff was: my school bag, my purse, and, oddly, a small, brown dog. I fumbled around aimlessly, trying to collect my items as the duskiness of night set in. I don’t have a dog. I’ve never seen this one in my life. But I picked him up, along with my other (less furry) cumbersome items and began to walk.

Then I was walking down my grandparents’ street–towards their house, I suppose–and the world began to light up again, gradually, in degrees. I still held onto my things, dog included, but I felt resolute in making it all the way to my grandparents’ house without dropping anything.

All my dream research points to darkness as a sign of doom, evil, the death of the spirit. But I don’t think I believe that–not in this context anyway. I think I’m ‘in the dark,’ about what my writing should look like, should sound like, etc. I’m fumbling around, trying to figure it all out. I’m determined to hold on, to make it back, and little by little, the fog–or darkness, in this case–will dissipate.

I don’t think anything I’ve ever written is perfect. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to tell. If there is even such a thing as ‘perfect writing.’ I’ll keep aiming for perfection; maybe one day I can get close.

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Filed under Revision, The Writing Life, Writing Details, Writing Fears, Writing Process

Love Thy Writing

The most important thing is you can’t write what you wouldn’t read for pleasure. It’s a mistake to analyze the market thinking you can write whatever is hot. You can’t say you’re going to write romance when you don’t even like it. You need to write what you would read if you expect anybody else to read it.

And you have to be driven. You have to have the three D’s: drive, discipline and desire. If you’re missing any one of those three, you can have all the talent in the world, but it’s going to be really hard to get anything done.”
—Nora Roberts

This is legitimate advice: Love Thy Writing. Whenever I read a book that I love, it lingers…days after I’ve finished, weeks after I’ve finished, months after I’ve finished, and yes, years, sometimes. I’ll catch glimpses of it in my mind at various, unexpected moments. It’ll shoot waves of comfort through me, no matter if what kind of situation–pleasant or unpleasant–I am in.

I know I love my own novel, because it too, catches me in the midst of my day. I see the images, I feel the characters, and I sink into the setting. Sometimes it’s as if it were another person’s work, not my own. I imagine that this is a good sign; after all, I’ve written a novel that I adore, that I cherish. I’ve formulated such a story that if I were to ever come across it in a bookstore, I’d pick it up, take it home, and devour it. I’d long to spend Saturday night at home with it. I’d read it in days, or maybe even hours. Upon completion, I’d press it against my heart and wrap my arms tightly around it. OK, maybe not so dramatic-like, but something to that effect. Either way, I’d feel the ripples of the tale undulating throughout my being. And in a small, but significant way, I’d be forever changed.

Is this to say that my book has this kind of mega power? It can magnetically grip all who treads upon it? No, sadly, I don’t believe that’s the case. My wish, my life goal though, is that someone will…love my book that is. Of course by someone, I mean other than me. I know it’s not perfect, and frankly, in writing, nothing ever is. I’m aware of the work it needs, and I plan on seeing that through. But it’s comforting to know that I do, in fact, love my book. I love it. So much. That fact alone makes all the painstaking revision, all the doubt, all the self-torture one-hundred and fifty percent worth the while.

Any intrinsic writer must enjoy his or her story. It comes with the territory. I used to wonder if musicians or singers loved their own songs. I imagine they must, they have to. At least the ones who write the songs themselves, anyway. I just can’t imagine the process being any other way.

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Filed under Breaking Through, Characters, Inspiration, The Writing Life, Why We Write, Writing Details, Writing Fears, Writing Process

Revision Check

“… Falsely straining yourself to put something into a book where it doesn’t really belong, it’s not doing anybody any favors. And the reader can tell.”
—Margaret Atwood

I may be an intrinsic writer, but I’m not an intrinsic revisionist. The act of writing doesn’t frighten me. If everything I ever wrote came out perfectly the first time, I’d have endless material, stacks of paper up to the sky. Revision, though, terrifies me. It’s what holds me back. I’m not sure what exactly bothers me so much about cleaning up text–maybe the irrational despair of having to do ‘the whole thing over again.’ I think it’s this notion of running out of time. Writing can be a blissfully painstaking process (yes, I’m aware of the oxymoron I’ve just provided, but any intrinsic writer knows what I’m talking about). The idea of starting from scratch, the idea of something “not working” in my writing sends me into lunatic mode. I start thinking of the months, years, even it’ll take to complete, and that, who knows, by that time, maybe no one will read anymore…

Senseless thinking? Yes. Absolutely. But this is what keeps me up at night. This is what depresses me as I listlessly cruise through my daily activities. I’ve started my thesis seminar. It’s me, the professor (my adviser) and two classmates. Last Thursday, for the first time ever, I got a response to the opening pages of my novel. I expected criticism. I knew it wasn’t perfect. I’ve been in many writing workshop situations before, so I knew the drill. What I didn’t expect was to feel so…discouraged…at the end of the night. They said my structuring was off, and that I needed to shed some light on the time period I was writing in. Excellent points. Very true, I know that now, I knew that then. But I spiraled into a sort frenzied depression for two days. I refused to look at the novel. On Friday afternoon, instead of writing, I took personality quizzes online. I felt, well, completely doomed.

Then on Friday night I had a dream. My fiance and I were on some kind of vacation with his siblings. We were in this cabin on top of a huge mountain, covered in snow. We played this game with each other, or we challenged each other…I don’t know, but these were the circumstances of the dream…to climb first down the mountain, and then back up. I walked all the way down the mountain in the freezing cold. I doubted I could make it back up and wind up in the same place. I feared veering off into a totally new direction and never finding my way back. But I ascended anyhow, and when I made it to the top, I saw my fiance’s brother smoking a cigar (weird, I know) and I knew I’d reached the right place.

Yesterday morning I sat down and rewrote/restructured the opening pages to my novel. And it looks…well, better. In fact, in some ways, I have a whole new feeling about it. My professor had stressed the importance of the opening pages. She said now that I’d gone through and written the entire story, I know the focus of the novel, the purpose of the novel. The opening pages have to express that. Are they perfect yet? Probably not. But I’ll find my way back up the mountain.

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Filed under Inspiration, Revision, The Writing Life, Why We Write, Writing Fears, Writing Process

I am what I am

You have to follow your own voice. You have to be yourself when you write. In effect, you have to announce, ‘This is me, this is what I stand for, this is what you get when you read me. I’m doing the best I can—buy me or not—but this is who I am as a writer.”
—David Morrell

This is an incredibly important point to consider. Often, we intrinsic writers feel that we have to sound a certain way, or write a certain way to be considered something of significance. I read many short stories, novels, and memoirs and admittedly, sometimes in the throes of reading the words of the others, I’ve questioned not my ability, not my talent, but my voice.

I truly believe that in my writing, the only element that ever truly came naturally–or, intrinsically–was voice. I’ve had to work ceaselessly on characters, setting, plot, description, diction, word choice, etc. but voice, that was always there. It was always distinctive.

I remember once, back when I was teaching high school, during a creative writing unit in my honors English class, I typed up a paragraph to demonstrate to the students the multidimensional qualities a character can and should have. I distributed the paragraph, saying nothing about who the author was; I simply wanted them to analyze the text. I had them read the sample silently, and then asked a volunteer to read aloud. As we discussed the piece, a student raised her hand and asked, “did you write this?” I was stunned, taken aback. How did she know? I asked her just that. “Oh I don’t know,” she said, “it just sounded like you.” It was then I became aware of my ‘voice’ in writing. I pondered this notion; do I have a unique flow?

Think of authors or characters who have discernible narrations–Holden Caufield of course, Jack Kerouac, who once said: “Oftentimes an originator of new language forms is called ‘pretentious’ by jealous talents. But it ain’t whatcha write, it’s the way atcha write it.” A personal favorite of mine–Wally Lamb–also harbors that refined quality that makes readers say, “Oh…this is soooo (fill in the blank). It’s like music. When you hear Elvis sing, you immediately know it’s him. Likewise, The Beatles, Queen, Led Zep, you get the idea.

I want to honor that voice that is my writing. Because, like Popeye said, “I yam what I yam.” In life, and in writing.

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I defend my right to write

“The real writer learns nothing from life. He is more like an oyster or a sponge.”
—Gore Vidal

I want to talk about this one for a bit. What makes a real writer? Extensive travel? Interesting parents, background, etc.? Exemplary intelligence? Does it take having something ‘special?’ Luck, perhaps? All of the above?

If so, well, I’m in trouble. Often when I meet or read/hear about other writers, there seems to be a cloud of “interesting-ness” (I’m aware that I just forged a word) surrounding them. Their fathers were award winning professors who drank a lot, their mothers were mentally unstable poets, they’ve been married and divorced ten times, they lived in Sri Lanka for two years, and Venice for three. Now they live in either a bustling, ambitious, intellectual city (i.e. New York) or in some lovely country home–lakefront, oceanfront, etc.

I have no clue where I’m getting this from. Of course it’s not even true. But somewhere in my mind, I believe it is, especially in comparison to my own life, which I’m readily willing to admit is frankly, ordinary. Happy, safe, wonderful, but ordinary.

Yet, I’m still a writer inside, an intrinsic writer that is. Is there a difference between a ‘real’ writer and an ‘intrinsic’ one? Can one decide to become a writer at a point in life after an array of odd and uncanny experiences? Is that possible? Or does the urge always have to be there? What if it’s all one’s got? No therapist’s dream of a childhood, no complexities of love or of the heart, no real travel except for 5 nights in Las Vegas for a friend’s wedding (OK, I’ve been to more places), and no living abroad. Just the natural inclination to write, write, write?

Well then, I suppose that’s all there is. I defend my right to write.

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Filed under Breaking the Rules, Breaking Through, Inspiration, The Writing Life, Why We Write, Writing Fears