Musing after a long dry spell…

9 03 2011

Weather: Winter is still holding on. High: 48º & rainy, with rain later. This will be followed by the 30s & more snow.  Sigh.

Well, no excuses. It’s been a couple months since I posted. More for lack of ideas than lack of effort, to be honest.

I hit a wall. Hard. Mitigated with a case of bronchitis that laid me low for a while.

It’s a panic ridden frame of mind. When you’ve been writing for almost 3 years straight and the ideas are flowing, and then….a sudden dry spell hits? Yeah. It’s more than a little bump in the road.  You start to wonder whether you have any good ideas. Or whether what you’ve written so far is even worth keeping. Self doubt creeps in, making the panic and blockage even worse.

The problem isn’t LACK of ideas, you have plenty of them. You just start over analyzing the ideas and judging them more harshly than you really should.

My second stumbling block is completely self-inflicted. I’m watching a lot of my writer friends get published, or finish projects, or bank massive word count. So my lack of progress feels even more intimidating by comparison. I start to live vicariously through their successes. While I am genuinely happy for them, there is envy. Not jealousy mind you, just envy. The entire mind frame this produces is stultifying.  You can’t move forward when you place yourself in someone else’s shadow. My friends, for their part, have been nothing but supportive and motivating. Again, this is MY self-inflicted mindset.

So after all this psychobabble, and giant bag of excuses, what do I do?

Well, I started reading outside my genre. This was intimidating, but then, starting with Michael Chabon would intimidate anyone. (I found myself marveling at his word choices and inimitable descriptions. Not a bad model to follow.) I also tried writing some short stories that fell outside of my working universe. Came up with some good and some particularly awful things.

My fiction, mostly book#2 has languished. But in taking the time away from it, something fresh started forming in my brain. I’m happy to say that I’ve re-started work on my novel.

Book#1 is getting a final shine & polish. Then I’m going to self-publish it.

I think part of my stagnation was also sourced in my hemming and hawing over what path to take to get my book published. I finally realized I was more interested in getting the book out there on my timetable and with my control, than worried about sales and marketing. Odd thing is, while I was spinning my wheels, the publishing paradigm altered. I don’t think traditional publishing is dead, but I think it’s adapting to the marketplace. The perks and upsides to taking the traditional path are waning a little, making the downsides to self-publishing a little less off-putting. It’s still very much a red-headed stepchild of the publishing industry, but I also think it is what you make of it.

Of note, but not entirely on topic, I was recently reminded that I started writing very early.  I have stories, albeit brief, that I wrote as far back as third grade. But what I’d forgotten was that in High School I was a consistent straight A student in English, mostly because of my writing. When we were given an assignment to write a story around 15 vocabulary words, we were sternly warned that the story had to be at least 2 pages long. Most of my class struggled with the assignment. When it came time to read our stories aloud in class, I felt more and more uncomfortable as my classmates offered up their stretched-to-two pages pieces of prose, most of them just sentences strung together in a way that barely had context. The reason I was uncomfortable? I’d written 15 pages. I had characters, plot and a resolution.  When it came to my turn, I got several hairy eyeballs and snickers as I pulled out the sheaf of papers.

The point of this story isn’t that woo! I wrote more than everyone else. It’s that when I finished reading what I’d written, the class was silent. And then they clapped. My teacher asked me later if I would consider writing a book with her.  Now this is all well and good, but I wasn’t ready then. I had stories leaking out of my head. I eventually dropped into Fanfic hell for a long stretch, but I think that was more a result of not having a lot of life experience to use. Still, that moment in my Freshman English class still gives me a smile. And I look back on it as the first time I had positive feedback on something I’d written.

Today, the paper I wrote looks raw and unpolished. The flaws are glaring. But I cherish it as the first step on a path that I seem to have stumbled on today.

The nice thing about stumbling though? You can always pick yourself up, and try again.

Hopefully, that’s where I am today. Dusting myself off, clearing out the cobwebs of negative thinking and getting back to what matters to me: Telling stories.