Saturday, November 17, 2007

Where My Head is Tonight

About a year or so before I started this blog, I began a mission. I wanted to write a novel.

Like everything else I’ve ever dedicated myself to, I went crazy tackling every angle in order to learn as much as possible, to write the best book I'm capable of producing. I’d been reading books on writing for a while, but I kept ordering and reading more. I picked up the pace on my reading and began consuming as many great works of fiction as I could. I started to read writing websites and blogs and then I started my own blog. I found a great writing school, joined it and signed up for a week-long retreat. Then I signed up for a novel writing workshop and then another. I signed up for an experimental fiction class, with required reading. Everything helped. I had epiphanies daily. The blog has been helpful in more ways than I can count. Somehow, the decision to share my writing experiences has cemented my resolve and the people I have met and the things that I have learned from them have enriched my life in ways that go far beyond the writing.

And then --

I burned out.

Sometime in 2005 I started writing a story. I was on and off with it, but I worked on it for close to a year. I was 32,055 words into it (I just checked), so I’d invested a fair amount of myself and my time.

Then, after all of my reading and research and just before I went to the retreat in July, I had serious doubts about everything I’d written. The characters were too much like people I knew and although I actually did have a vision for the end of the story, I felt like I could do better. I felt like I’d gone into battle unarmed and it was better to surrender than to withdraw and retool.

I thought about a different story, and then another story. I wrote a couple of short stories.

Just before I went to the retreat in July, I had a story notion I was excited about and I started over again. I’ve been working on it ever since and I’ve been taking excerpts to workshop and I've been getting lots of feedback.

Then I hit a wall. I had a lot of work to do with my day job. The workshop forum was teaching me a lot, especially about editing. All of the sessions, classes, blog posts, craft books and DVDs (I have two on writing) had a lot to offer. The books I was reading inspired me, yet they also made me feel inadequate.

I lost confidence.

After I started the workshop process, I found myself endlessly revising and editing what I’d already written. New writing was coming slowly, if at all. I was self-conscious and worried so much about turning in pages that I couldn’t produce any more.

I went on vacation for a week and didn’t write.

When I came home, I opened up the manuscript I’d set aside and I read it, expecting it to be horrendous.

It really wasn’t all that bad. In fact, what I found was that the first manuscript sounded more like me. It’s rough, but it’s my voice. The characters felt more authentic. While I was working hard at the second story, I was editing my voice and my life experiences out of existence. I wanted my characters to be new and unique and different from me, but I’d subconsciously placed too much distance between myself and them.

Here’s a revelation that came to me. I read too many books that have been written by people who are completely unlike me. Most of the authors I love are people who have studied writing extensively, gotten MFAs and PhDs and teach writing. They tend to write stories with characters in them who are sort of like them. Not all of them, I suppose, but I’ve read (and loved) more books that take place in and around preparatory schools and colleges than you can shake a thesaurus at.

The truth is that there are very few college graduates in my family. I come from working class people. There are some exceptions, but not many. I was enlisted in the military for many years, which makes my background very different from most people and in particular it makes it different from most writers. Things that have touched my life and my family over the years include alcoholism, drug abuse, mental illness, suicide attempts, violence, sexual abuse, illness, death, poverty, neglect, closeted homosexuality, infidelity, divorce, crime and imprisonment – you name it.

For some reason, I think I believed that since I don’t read a lot about working class people and people with all of those messy problems, that I didn't want to write about characters shaped by those things. I thought I wanted to write stories about the people I liked to read about. The problem isn’t writing about them. The problem is that I can get into the heads of the more screwed up characters so much more easily.

That’s probably the reason that when I think about my favorite writers and books I’ve loved, I always get back to Ernie Hebert, the Dartmouth College professor who came from immigrant, working class roots and writes about working class people in New Hampshire. There is a copy of a speech he gave at an awards ceremony that brings me to tears every time I read it. The Dogs of March remains one of my favorite books of all time.

I’ve thought a lot since I got back from Mexico and I had a long conversation on the phone with a good friend (another blogger) just this week. Not all of our challenges are the same, but we are both struggling with that inner editor. We’ve both had trouble moving forward because we can’t seem to stop questioning what we’ve done so far and whether or not what we plan to do will be any good. We came to the same simultaneous conclusion.

We just have to tune everything out and finish that first shitty draft.

It sounds so simple, but it was so hard to see for such a long time.

A novelist is someone who finishes a novel. I am a person who could be stalled forever if I don’t stop analyzing, questioning, reading and tinkering.

Today, I gave myself permission to write crap. And I sat down and I wrote and before I knew it, I had pages. I don’t know if they’re any good or if they’ll ultimately stay or go and it doesn’t matter. I’m giving myself permission to write whatever comes out, every day until I get to the end.

I’ve learned enough to know that the most important thing for me to figure out is my process. I don’t know what that will be yet, but for now, it’s just to keep going and to finish.

Sphinx Ink linked to a great post by the writer, Timothy Hallinan and it has turned things around for me. Maybe it's even saved me. Of the many things I’ve read about writing, his points about finishing have hit home unlike anything else. He’s got some great stuff here that really resonates with me. He is the author of more than a dozen books and his most recent is the thriller, A Nail Through the Heart

I know that a lot of the people who stop by here are published and have finished one or more manuscript and then some are like me and haven’t done either. I’d love to hear thoughts from you all on the concept of getting to “The End”.

47 comments:

Judy Merrill Larsen said...

Lisa, You're exactly right--you've got to get to the end. Until you do that, you've got nothing to fiddle with, polish, revise, shape. I had someone point that out to me this past August when I was stuck at the 50,000 word point in what will be my next novel. We chatted about the narrative lines, the two voices, but then she said, "Get to the end. Finish the damn book." It's what I needed to do. So I did. And now, when we look at the whole thing, we see where it sings and where it stalls, and more importantly, it's clear to both of us just what I need to do to fix it.

So, yes, give yourself permission to write crap. Just write. Sometimes, when I know what I'm writing will end up in the trashheap, I write "Yuck" in the margin, but I keep writing and eventually get myself to something worth keeping. It's a process. But a really cool one.

Sustenance Scout said...

Lisa! I'm so glad you wrote all this; I relate with a LOT of it, especially coming from a working class background and teaching one's self along the way. The trouble with that is getting so overwhelmed as you feel like you've got to rush to even get a glimpse of what those with all the degrees in English lit have been immersed in most of their lives. I'm so glad you've targeted the sources that really work and have realized how critical it is to put blinders on to everything else while you write write write. Critical, but not easy. Life just keeps getting in the way, doesn't it?!

Annie Lamott talks a lot about the necessity of shitty first drafts. Mr. Rogers still sings to me "You've got to do it" and Dora the fish with her "Just Keep Swimming" is a genius in my book. Thanks for the timely push in the right direction! We ALL need it from time to time. K.

Bernita said...

The way I look at it, it's damned hard to cook a new dish with everyone telling you how you should substitute this or that and mind the temperature and you didn't stir that enough, etc. etc.

kristen said...

Lisa, as you already know, I am with you 100 percent on this. We just have to finish and the only way we are ever going to do that is to stop looking back and to the side. Eyes straight ahead...

Stop counting words and pages and yes, stop thinking about it.

We'll get there.

Patti said...

here's what i know and some of what i don't:

you must write consistantly to finish. i can come up with every excuse to "just take a break for today"...my breaks come in the form of diy projects. maybe you have noticed.

write the stuff that comes and forget about it until you go in for the edits. i learned the most important lesson in writing when i decided to do nanowrimo for the first time. 50,000 words in one month? it had taken me 3 years for my first manuscript. no way would i finish. but, i decided to put the excuses aside and told my family that i was unavailable for the month. the month with thanksgiving and 7 birthdays! oye! but...i did it. i wrote 50,ooo plus words AND i did it in three weeks.

i likened the experience to doing anything you previously thought you couldn't do, but had never actually tried. you have no idea what you are capable of until you do it.

now, i left that manuscript for a year. and then nano came around again and i thought maybe i'd finish it. i did. and then i left it again. and that book is the one i am editing today. not only were the bones good but the writing totally didnt suck. what a surprise it was to me that i could write something so quickly and it stood up to my scrutiny in the reread.

i am currently unpublished in the big sense. no book deals for me...yet. i have published in smaller venues, but i want the big one. so i keep at it.

it's possible i suck. and about the education concern, man can i relate. i have always felt my stuff was/is pedestrian. that it might only appeal to those who could relate to my snakeboots (boots to prevent me from taking a deadly snake bite...not boots made from snake skin), and that used to hold me back. i felt not quite educated enough. but over the years i have come to know my voice will have a home. it has value.

and so does yours. so please finish. it doesn't have to be perfect or even close, but once you are finished you will be able to see your way thru the edits and to the final poliished product.

maybe you'll publish it,maybe not. but you will have written a novel. and that is something spectacular.

John Elder Robison said...

You said, "Things that have touched my life and my family over the years include alcoholism, drug abuse, mental illness, suicide attempts, violence, sexual abuse, illness, death, poverty, neglect, closeted homosexuality, infidelity, divorce, crime and imprisonment – you name it."

You also said you have a working class background with the implication being that higher class people don't understand the things in your background.

My experience writing about many of those same things and speaking in person and via email with thousands of readers tells me . . . everyone has a connection to those things.

Some will admit it, some won't. Some are on one side, some on the other, and a few watch from the sidelines.

You should write what you know, just as I do.

And you should have come to the Tattered Cover!

woof.

steve said...

I remember seeing Peter Benchley on the Dick Cavett Show back in the early 70s, and he was told to write for an hour every day--it could be garbage, but he needed to write. Walter Mosley says about the same thing in his book on writing.

A little secret. I grew up in both worlds--my parents were both in the Iowa Writers' Workshop. My father was a noted Hemingway scholar. (See my archive for July 2005). But my parents divorced in 1965, when I was 13, and I lived with my mother. Financially, we were working-class, even if my mother was either teaching Rhetoric at Iowa ow working as an assistant to Paul Engle at the International Writing Program.

But I've known a lot of literary types. (Check my archive for May 2006 for an anecdote about Robert Coover.) They're really not much different from you and me. But you're better off writing about the people and circumstances you're familiar with.

Lisa said...

Judy, I remember you saying you sometimes write "yuck" in the margin when you write something you know you don't like. It makes me laugh because I do something similar, only it wouldn't matter if I did it or not -- the yuck sections jump right out at me without prompting! Yep, I think Kristen and I now finally convinced to "just write" and stop fiddling or we'll never get anywhere. Thank you so much. Your encouragement means a lot.

Karen, it's amazing how many things nag at our confidence -- I always think it's just me that has all these wacky insecurities and then I come here and I realize it's not just me. I sure had Ms. Lamott in mind with the reference to shitty first drafts, but I like your references to the kids shows and persistence too. I don't know why I always want to make writing problems harder than they really are.

Bernita, you are a wise woman and I am putting the cookbooks away and tuning out the advice. If I haven't absorbed enough by now, then heaven help me :)

Kristen, you are my rock. If not for you, I would not have figured this out for myself for a while. You're right. We'll both get there. Thank you for being such a good friend.

Patti, your comment is so very helpful. You know, I thought about nanowrimo for the last two years and I dismissed it because I thought I couldn't possibly do that much writing in a month and come out of it with anything of value. I've learned that I'm wrong about that and that if nothing else, people who write 50,000 words in a month come away knowing that they can do it. Every person I know who's done nanowrimo has told me they were pleasantly surprised and happy with the experience. And thank you for baring your own self-doubts here. The possibility of sucking and being somehow limited nags at me sometimes when I know in my heart that the only limitation it poses is the one I let it pose. Thank you for your sage advice and your support. And I know your voice definitely has a home -- between two book covers.

John, you are the coolest. I've started "Look Me in the Eye" (finally -- too many mandatory reading assignments!) and I am anxious to read the whole story. How could I have forgotten that your brother, Augusten Burroughs is probably the reason I started that first novel in 2005. I have read everything he's ever written that I can get my hands on and it's because what he writes DOES resonate with me and it's because he has managed, in the most courageous way I could possibly imagine to show us all of those things that most people would often rather not talk about -- let alone reveal. I know enough about you peripherally and him, from his writing that I have been astonished and completely in awe of what you've both managed to accomplish, given the significant challenges you each had in the same, but different for each family. I'll probably pull an all-nighter tonight to finish your book. I am SO sorry that I didn't meet you at the TC. I am enrolled in a class that only meets four times and the instructor is a Denver author I really admire. His name is Nick Arvin and he wrote a great novel called, Articles of War, which was selected by the Mayor of Denver to be 2007's OneBook OneDenver read. He's also published a fantastic short story collection, called In the Electric Eden (you may like it -- Nick's an engineer and the short stories all relate to technology) and he's had a short story published in The New Yorker. My backup plan is that I might possibly make a New England appearance -- that whole dysfunctional family of mine is still there and we may be visiting sooner, rather than later. Thank you John, for reminding me that people can and do relate to gritty reality.

Woof.

Lisa said...

Steve, I've always wondered about your literary roots. Your posts are always so interesting, educational and always written beautifully, in a way that leaves me eager to learn more. I actually raised my eyebrows when I read your comment about your parents. I can only imagine the experiences with writers and the writing life that you've had -- of course now I will be rooting through the archives too. I recently purchased Robert Coover's Pricksongs & Descants (but haven't read it yet). He is another of the writers that I want to read and I'm sure once I read your anecdote, I'll want to read him even more, and sooner.

Thanks for your thoughts on this. You, Patti and John are helping me to shed much of my reluctance to write from a place closer to home.

Ello said...

Lisa,
I'm so glad to read that this post explained how you worked through your own problems. I would only repeat what you learned yourself and am relieved that you did not give up. I feel like throughout my seven year writing process, there were so many walls I could have built another Empire State building from them all. Sometimes the wall is reading a book so fabulous it makes you dout you could ever write something like it. Sometimes it is other people who criticize and tear you down. Sometimes it is yourself just like everything you have written here. All I know is that you just gotta put your head down and keep going. But also recognize when you are not true to yourself. You can write about alien worlds and past civilizations and still write what you know by writing characters that are true to you ideas and visions. I hope to read your finished book one day and hear your true story.

Yogamum said...

I don't know what I can possibly add to all of these wonderful comments, but I'll try. I think being in a workshop is great, and I've enjoyed it, but I think it's also held me back somewhat from just forging ahead and not worrying about the suckiness. I guess it's just a back and forth thing -- periods of fiddling alternating with periods of just writing.

Literary people can be very boring. Give me the nitty-gritty so-called nonliterary folks any day.

Julie said...

Lisa,

Thanks for this post.It helps. I have settled 'borderline' roots and hybrid experience as an adult in different class environments.

Beginner writer, but creative in spurts so occasionally rough draft at 20k a week.

Wrote a complex novella in a month at that rate - not marketable, but I learned a lot. Writing and scrapping hasn't phased me too much
up to now because theres been no real pressure to submit.

In the end ghosted a 30k war veterans bio and the beeb picked it up and based a docu on it some time ago. Fluke, but a pleasant one.

Now working out where I want to go from here. All the best with your writing.In the end the only person you can be is yourself.

(I 'see' characters and can watch the story unfold if I'm in the zone I'd now take it much more slowly if I was aiming to submit.)

Charles Gramlich said...

In some ways I was lucky. I started writing before I'd ever met a writer, before I'd read a book or an essay on writing, before I'd had any education in writing at all. I knew nothing and so I just wrote, and I finished a few stories, and a novel. Those stories and the novel were not very good and not publishable, but as I began thinking about writing and studying to become better, there was never any doubt in my mind that I could finish a piece of writing. And if I could finish it I knew I could improve it through rewriting. I think you are on the right track. First you must finish, then worry later about what comes.

Timothy Hallinan said...

Hi, Lisa --

Thanks so much for your nice words and also for the link. I'm really happy to see all that renewed commitment and (at least implied) intent to ignore the inner critics when they tell you to quit, to slow down, not to write about anything that's too personal, ONLY to write about things that are too personal -- just screw you up in general. Getting it down is what matters; you can go back and get it right later. But there's no way to improve an empty page.

I'm about five days and 11,000 words into a novel I had no intention of writing, but I'm between books while I wait for my publishers to tell me which of my proposals they want me to work on, and this character suddenly bloomed in my mind. And I love writing him, writing his world (the world of petty and not-so-petty crooks in the San Fernando Valley), and his first-person voice just flows through my fingers. And I know I'm going to get a call this week from my editor, telling me which book they want, and that adds urgency to getting as much done as possible on THIS book. No time for doubts, no time to wonder whether it's perfect (as if anything ever is). Just get as much of it on the page as possible while it's still energized and moving.

Listen to me. It's just barely possible I've had too much coffee.

Shauna Roberts said...

I can't think of anything original to add, so I'll just second everyone else. Just keep plugging along! If it's crappy, you can fix it later.

Lisa said...

Ello, I'm learning I don't have any more challenges than anyone else does. We create our own obstacles, right? I doubt I'd ever tell my own story, but it's given me plenty of fodder for stories and characters to last a lifetime. I'm glad you mentioned being true to myself. I haven't gone so far from my own comfort zone with my characters and manuscript that I can't bring them in closer.

Julie, thanks so much for commenting. It sounds like you've got some great experience behind you -- when you say "the beeb", do you mean the BBC? That's so impressive. It sounds like you can be quite prolific when you're in the zone! This weekend was a good writing weekend. I didn't keep track of the word count, but I'm not even going there yet. Going back to it every day will be a big first step for me. I was previously deluded into thinking I could be more sporadic and wait for big chunks of time to write, but that obviously doesn't work for me.

Kristi, it's a relief to know that I'm not the only one having trouble making forward progress in workshop! If you are, then I'm not worrying about a thing. And thanks for the input on the nitty gritty too. I suspect there's a bit more nitty gritty underneath every character than I assume -- the ones on paper and real life.

Charles, I wish it had occurred to me to try a novel years ago when I hadn't read all these books and there was no internet! I think the challenge of finishing is #1 and then all of the angst that comes along with worrying about how good it is and what needs to be cut, revised, edited, changed and all the rest is step #2. I've been trying to do them simultaneously and it doesn't work for me -- at least not now. Apparently, your process works well for you. Is it four books published and a whole bunch of short stories and papers? You definitely know how to finish!

Timothy, I'm going to have to post those words "There's no way to improve an empty page" all over the house! Your posts on finishing and process have really helped me profoundly. The right words at the right time.

Five days and 11,000 words with two proposals out -- WOW! Yes, I will be checking your blog daily. I hope you flesh out as much as is humanly possible before you get the request for one of the other two -- sounds like a good problem to have :)

Lisa said...

Shauna, your support is always important to me, but hey, since you did stop in, I have a question for you. My experimental fiction class discussed To the Lighthouse, by Virginia Woolf this week. At one point someone brought up the fact that the book is FULL of parentheses, even brackets and a few em dashes every once in a while. None of us could recall when parentheses in fiction disappeared (and I have no idea what the proper use of brackets is -- they aren't even addressed in Elements of Style). Since you do a lot of copy editing, maybe you might include something in a future post on punctuation and the extinction of parentheses?

Larramie said...

You were doing your best to "follow" the runner's technique for a successful marathon, Lisa, and have now realized there's no such thing.

By stopping to look within yourself, you found yourself...just as I knew you would. Congratulations, now enjoy writing!

John Elder Robison said...

Let me just offer one more thought on "writing gritty reality."

If you write a book, and it's a success, you'll be out there explaining the story to readers, some of whom will have read the book and others who are considering it. So make sure you write things you'll be comfortable talking about.

I tell readers, "There's nothing in my book that will embarass you to talk about, the next time you see me."

Some writers seem oblivious to this simple point of reality.

Shauna Roberts said...

Interesting question, Lisa, about the parentheses in fiction, and I don't know the answer. They're still used a lot (and brackets, too) in the scientific stuff I copyedit. I printed out your post and will put it in my notebook of blog ideas.

Lisa said...

Larramie, thanks so much for the encouragement and it already "feels" better. If still have a long way to go, but I feel a lot less uptight than I did.

John, your advice is absolutely spot on and it is an issue. Writers who go to dark places are inevitably asked about how or if the fiction (and I only write fiction) merges with reality and their own lives. That's one of the reasons I admire people who write memoirs so much. It takes incredible courage to not only open oneself up to questions and scrutiny, but it takes a brave writer to risk the consequences when writing truth about those around them. To be clear, I don't intend to do that. But I am very aware that tackling tough subjects opens up all kinds of questions to the author. I know when I read a fictional account that talks authoritatively about alcoholism, for example, I assume the writer has either dealt with it himself, or has lived with it. If I were to write about it and be fortunate enough to have people read my work, I know I have to be expect that people will ask about my personal experiences with it. It's a good point that certainly bears discussing.

John Elder Robison said...

Lisa, when you finish my book you may think I write about "gritty reality" too . . . I don't know.

I think my writing ends up in a happy or triumphant place, and the fact that my book has a happy ending means I am not asked to dwell on the darker parts, because the dark did not win in the end.

You and I (and any other two people) could be in the same place, have the same experience, and write totally different accounts, one of which is dark and the other of which is light. And both would be true; they'd just focus on different things.

Actually, people do not even ask me about the stories in my book or how I wrote them. Almost all my questions (as your friend could attest) are about the thoughts and concepts that underlie my book. For a writer, that is the best possible place to be, because you are discussing the ideas your book is based upon in a larger sense rather than discussing/defending/explaining the specific words on your pages.

Sustenance Scout said...

Not to disagree with JER because I know he's got a lot of experience in this area, but as far as fiction goes, if you're ok discussing certain issues--maybe not as someone who is an alcoholic, for example, but as someone who's witnessed the impact alcoholism can have on an individual or family--I think addressing them can add a lot to a work of fiction. It is possible to talk about these things at a book club meeting or a signing without naming names or getting too personal. Fiction readers seem to understand when you don't want to divulge such details. I really enjoy talking to readers about a traditionally avoided topic--interracial relationships and families--because it not only relates to my novel, but because I have personal experience and through such discussions can answer questions people would otherwise hesitate to ask.

In a work of nonfiction like a memoir, I'm sure it's impossible not to answer such questions if they're mentioned in your writing. It's almost as if non-fiction readers have a right to know even more than what's already been divulged. As a novelist, I'd feel free to explore any and all issues as long as you know how you'd manage tricky potential questions. Addressing a social issue can give a work a unique marketing angle and often can lead to increased understanding of difficult topics. It's totally up to you what you want to reveal about the truths behind your story. K.

Lisa said...

Karen, I have to agree. And actually, a lot of fiction writers do explore some pretty gritty subjects and they really don't have any personal experiences that relate. I think fiction writers aren't expected to be nearly as forthcoming about how their work might or might not relate to their own lives as non-fiction writers are. Our lives do inform our fiction, but it's still fiction.

Sustenance Scout said...

John, the readers at TCover definitely did ask many questions about the thoughts, concepts, and ideas explored in your book and most (!) of the other questions had to do with AS rather than stories from your past. As a novelist whose work doesn't explore my personal life, I find people ask me more personal questions. In book club meetings, I'm usually the one steering the conversation back to story elements to try to keep things on track and make sure all those questions are answered, but ultimately the conversation returns to my family. Not that I mind, it's just kind of funny the way that works. K.

Sustenance Scout said...

Lisa, then there's the whole other issue of whether fiction writers should be limited to writing only what they know (which I find an incredibly silly idea). This is especially tricky, though, when it comes to writing about a person of another race. K.

Shauna Roberts said...

To follow up on what John Elder Robison and Sustenance Scout said, accurately talking about the darker side of life adds authenticity to your book.

Nonfiction or fiction, if a book deals with a topic such as, say, cancer, it's likely to particularly attract people who've had cancer or who've been affected by cancer in one way or another. Such people would notice if you did not have a true perspective on cancer, and they appreciate it when a writer gets it right. It resonates with their own experience and makes the book more meaningful.

I'm tired tonight and am not sure where I was going with that point. It seemed important when I started typing, so maybe tomorrow I'll finish the thought.

Julie said...

Lisa

You may know this already, but there are a number of approaches to handling a strong left-brained critic. One route is to listen and work out where the comments are coming from in what people may have said to you in the distant past - and how far it is a realistic evaluation in the present. (ie updating how you saw reality as a child).

An awareness of basic CBT insights (cognitive behaviour therapy)is eye opening, - there are plenty of books available - relates to above.

Unravelling the threads in journaling may help - but although this gives clarity, and you're not under pressure to write, some writers I know of find it drains energy out of their writing. Others find it ultimately enhances it.

I'm (hopefully) one of the latter - I've partially worked out a lot of ideas this way. I recently burned 150k - for this years entries, but wasn't writing anything specific at the same time. Blogging no doubt serves the same function; but you'd need to be pretty prolific to do all three!

Yes, interesting experiences, though not on a grand scale and nothing exceptionally dark; and yes, word driven. Simple meditation helps if I'm too wired, and an awareness of how to handle creative mood shifts. (Write when up, edit when down was one writers dictum).

Not professionally trained but have read a bit in the area of psych - did 90 hours counselling training -
is the background. And yes, beeb is BBC. Regards.

Julie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Writers' Group said...

I saw so much of myself in this post. It's fine writing, Lisa. You're fine.

Every writer here can probably agree that everything you've experienced thus far is pretty much universal. You're not alone, instead take comfort that you're exactly where you need to be.

Keep going, the end is in sight. You're getting there. We all believe in you.

Amy MacKinnon

Patti said...

i have been thinking about this post all weekend and i wanted to come back and say that you inspire me to be more honest in what i give to others in my blog. you give us your scary and heart-quickening worries and then others come to tell you that it's ok, we have them too. and it's a beautiful holy thing to connect to each other in the way you allow by your truth.

i am so glad that i have the opportunity to come here and share with the fine folks who visit as well.

i appreciate you and what you are teaching me.

gobble gobble!

debra said...

Lisa, your post is incredibly honest. It takes a lot of courage to look oneself in the eye (mirror?) and to be clear. AND--you posted it here for the world to see!

I don't consider myself a writer; I have, however, been engaged in the creative process for a time now, and I truly believe that the process is the product. It's mostly the being rather than the doing that makes a difference (we're called human beings rather that human doings, yes?). Can you give yourself permission just to write--without judgment and to see what happens.
At least you can enjoy the ride without worrying about the destination--it will take care of itself.
Warm wishes and hugs to you.
Gobble Gobble, indeed!

Steve Malley said...

Go, Lisa, GO!!!!

:-D

Therese said...

What can I add to all this wonderful and thoughtful advice? You know my take, and you know my work--but let me encourage you to do what you've already concluded: write whatever comes out until you get to the end.

And don't be afraid to "fail." I have two unpublished novels--they were my dress rehearsal for now. :)

Carleen Brice said...

I've gone through something very similar, TMI. Writers need input, but sometimes we get too much! Not only is finishing before you worry too much about a good goal, but so too is sticking to YOUR voice and YOUR vision. I'm all for classes, as you know, but sometimes it's wise to step back from everybody else's (real and imagined) input and just write what you want. Good for you for doing that...and maybe stop reading so much advice for a while?

Calenhíril said...

I do NaNoWriMo so I can get that crappy first draft done. Of course, 50,000 words isn't usually enough for my first draft...I've only ever finished a story during NaNo once, though I've gotten to the 50k goal three times. I think what I love about it is that it gives you the freedom to write whatever, because you know you can edit it later. And the creativity boost is pretty amazing.

I might just be able to say "the end" on this year's NaNo novel, if things go as (completely not) planned...which would be hugely satisfying.

I've learned that no matter how many books I get on writing, it's better to just write than to read about writing. That's what I keep telling myself, anyway...

Lisa said...

Karen, I agree that fiction writers are capable of convincingly portraying all kinds of things without first hand knowledge -- considering all the sci-fi, horror, crime fiction and thrillers out there, I sure hope they don't have first hand knowledge! :)

Shauna, now tonight I'm tired, but I feel like I'm on your wavelength from last night. Yes, the darker subjects do add so much more depth and good writers pull off convincing portrayals of all kinds of things without first hand knowledge. As a matter of fact, William Haywood Henderson, the author of a novel called Augusta Locke wrote in great detail about the physical sensations of pregnancy and childbirth from his female MC's POV and was astonishingly genuine. I guess the lesson being that if you're good, and you do your homework and research, you can probably pull off writing about nearly anything.

Julie, I used to journal quite a bit and it was quite helpful. I don't do it now. Blogging provides a similar outlet for me about writing. For me, the process of putting my thoughts together for a post, in order to tackle a concept or a challenge I'm dealing with, is a great tool. Although I pay a little more attention to my punctuation and spelling in a blog post than I would in a private journal, the posting and the dialogue serve a similar purpose.

I like "write when up, edit when down". I suspect I'll come to use editing as a reward for word count achieved.

Again congrats on the bio sold to BBC.

Amy, you're the best.

Patti, thank you. I learn from you every day and thank you for that and for your friendship.

Debra, sharing my fears and doubts about my writing doesn't feel especially brave to me. I guess sharing them "out here" is somewhat empowering to me. I'm glad that I can recognize and own the artificial limitations I've imposed on myself, because it sort of makes them far less important. I don't know if that makes any sense or not. And you are an artist and since I live with a painter, I know that the emotions and challenges for all creative types are pretty much the same. Yes, I can write and just see what happens and as a matter of fact, I did this weekend and from what I can tell so far, it's not half bad. It is all about the ride isn't it, because there isn't really any "there" to get to. It's all about making the most of every day. Hugs right back.

Steve Malley, so glad you stopped by and thank you!!!

Therese, I'm so glad you came by. I consider your unpublished novels and all unpublished novels to be successes because most people will never finish a novel at all. I'm working toward the finish and doing the best that I can, and if my first best try is a dress rehearsal too, I know I'm in excellent company.

Carleen, that's it in a nutshell. Exactly. It's all good input, but there is a time to step back and block it all out. I may not be able to keep myself from perusing the good advice I see on line, but I'm not fixated on all of it anymore.

Calenhiril, glad you stopped in! Even though I didn't sign up for NaNoWriMo, I'm now a believer in the power that a word count goal has. Congratulations on your successes with it in the past and good luck to you in reaching the end of the story this year. Thanks again!

Julie said...

Lisa - thanks for your comment. I just posted briefly about 'journaling' and the response was revealing. (I post every day).

One person commented they split into writers journal as record and incentive and a memory journal to mine for ideas; I'm finding I'm doing that now instinctively.

Agree on blogging - find it a tighter discipline. I'd got lazy with no external point of reference. Think you have to ask honestly with journaling what you are doing it for.

These forums are great, especially if they do what you've done and tell it like it is for you.

Bio was charitable - now looking at epublishing for it. Interested to see Amazon have the new wireless book-sim Kindle out with a option for publishing. Suit some?

All the best. Hope all these great posts galvanize you into action!

btw - Think TIM HALLINAN'S posts have been great on writing, but am wary of leaving personal details online re contact.

reality said...

I have missed you and now I know why.
You know me and my lousy methods of work and that is to just keep on writing.
So Lisa remember that excel sheet I sent you. time for you to put it to use. I'm with you.

Rebecca Burgess said...

Lisa, what a beautiful post.

I have been writing off and on for ten years now, I completely understand where you are coming from.

It's true, just keep swimming like Bonita pointed out.

Sometimes it's helpful to stop taking classes, stop showing your work, stop trying to fix your work, stop reading books and blogs and essays about writing and just write. Write your story until you see it through to an end, any end, at least once. Let it sit for awhile, then go back and read it, share it, shape it, fix it until it is as perfect as you can make it.

It's messy and horrible the first time through. It can be incredibly discouraging to read your own slop when it isn't yet fully formed. Finish first.

I for one look forward to reading your first novel about working class people with the kind of problems that touch all our lives.

Josephine Damian said...

Lisa, I struggled for years to finish my first novel. A big incentive for me was facing down the barrel of a gun known as a significant birthday - you know - the kind that ends in a "zero."

Months before my big b-day, I got a Tiffany's catalog in the mail, and I picked out a nice piece of bling I'd buy myself but only if I finished. Well, I've been wearing that 18K ring for going on 7 years now, and every time I look at it on my hand I feel a sense of acomplishment because I know how hard I work to earn it.

Maddy said...

It seems that self confidence is a very fragile thing. I hope you have the chance to pick up where you left off.
Best wishes

reality said...

Lisa see my blog. Sorry for the delay in replying.
I have been so busy that I didn't even go to my own blog and missed your message.

Kim Adamache said...

Hi Lisa!

This posting really resonated with me. As you know, I am a visual artist, who after years of neglecting her talents re-joined her tribe several years ago. I, too, took workshops, classes, read lots of books and magazine articles. What I found was that it became too much. One viewpoint conflicted with another. This instructor said “do this” and another “do that”. I was comparing my work to all sorts of accomplished artists and feeling depressed because they were so much better than I was even though all their styles were different from each other. It was all starting to scramble in my brains and it was time to stop the workshops, reading and comparing and put my tools, lessons and skills to work. While I value the input of more experienced artists, I learned the best teacher was practicing as much as possible. While some of the pieces are crap, some are not bad, each painting is a building block for the next, and slowly I see my own personal and unique style emerging.

The creative process is challenging and rewarding. I love your musings and believe you are well on your way to a great story. Just hang in there, get the crappy novel under your belt, so we can read your best seller.

Melissa Marsh said...

WOW. Look at all these great comments!

I printed out all three of Timothy Hallinan's posts and plan to read them on the trip home this week for Thanksgiving.

Have a great Turkey Day!

Josephine Damian said...

Lisa, great responses you've got here.

I wanted to add that while I may be one of those "high brow" English majors, the writing advice books that have helped me the most talk about the bare basics of craft and storytelling - nothing lofty about them.

I've posted these writing advice books on my blogroll (but not for long since I'm moving the list to a linked blog post soon).

It's all about learning craft - you don't need the Iowa Writers Workshop for that (but kudos to the 2% of applicants that get accepted).

Bottom line, you've got to finish or you'll never get published.

Lisa said...

Julie, I've been visiting Timothy Hallinan's site daily and it seems to be just what I need at the moment.

Usman, I went and checked and it sounds like your trip to Viet Nam was what you had hoped it would be. I am leaning more toward your writing habits, but I'm not all the way over to tracking word count yet :)

Kim, you are not the first visual artist to tell me that the same workshop burnout phenomenon happens in your world too! I find that nearly every challenge I face has a parallel in painting. I am glad you're back from your trip and hope to see you soon.

Melissa, I hope you had a great Thanksgiving and that you enjoy Timothy's posts I much as I have. Since you have a lot of writing behind you, I suspect you already do a lot of the things he recommends.

Josephine, Thank you so much for commenting. I believe everything is helpful, it's just a matter of proportions for me. I agree that working on craft is absolutely essential. Where I ran into trouble was not knowing when to say enough -- for the moment. I am looking forward to reading your post about books on writing. You've got a great blog and I enjoy all your insights.

Oh -- and yes. For now, my focus is on finishing a first draft.

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Literary Quote

It is worth mentioning, for future reference, that the creative power which bubbles so pleasantly in beginning a new book quiets down after a time, and one goes on more steadily. Doubts creep in. Then one becomes resigned. Determination not to give in, and the sense of an impending shape keep one at it more than anything.


Virginia Woolf