Every time I meet people at social gatherings (rarely, but I’m not a total recluse), I’m often asked: How’s the novel coming along?
They mean well, I know that. But the cartoon above makes the dilemma of the writing life clear.
I wonder if any other profession poses the same challenges as that of a novelist.
I’m writing a novel, but I’m not a novelist yet. Not only am I not sure of making any money on it, I’m entirely unsure it would see light of day at all. I’ve written 400k words in multiple drafts, and I’m told I might just need to shift around a few chapters here and there before I can consider it ready to be looked at.
I toss out chunks of 10k words or more pretty casually these days: Point of View change- slash, not much tension- slash, not the right order of things- slash slash slash. And then once in a while, I get days like this one– I stare and stare at the screen.
I don’t think about my lack of talent– that’s a given, but am physically paralyzed– what word can I write that would lead to another?
For those of you who write, does the above cartoon make sense to you? For those in other professions, have you faced a similar challenge? Want to share words of advice for the would-be, or established, novelist?
Please join Daily (w)rite on its Facebook Page in case you don’t blog, but would still like to be heard by this community.
Just write! That’s my only advice. 🙂
I really enjoyed the post and want to link it to my self publishing post. I hope you approve. It’s nice to know I can come to your site and actually feel like I’m getting good advice. Thanks! Doris
Sure, please go ahead and link it. As long as it is credited, I don’t mind anyone using or linking to my content :). Great that you found it useful.
I’ve written a pile of stories, but have only recently pursued publication, temporarily setting aside a trilogy I was writing to produce an anthology and another novel, releasing Arcane Synthesis a couple months ago. I’m working on another fun book now (much shorter, and with a good amount of art), and have several more lined up in various stages of completion, waiting their turn in line. I also write contemporary skits and plays, producing, directing and even acting in some of them (not professionally—I’ll be performing a big monologue next month for an event at my church).
Finding time and being efficient with my time are my biggest roadblocks. I’m highly motivated, but a little tired after a long day at work. I write seven days a week, but more on weekends than during the week, and rarely as much as I’d like.
We all need to live balanced lives, taking naps when needed, spending time with family, relaxing, walking the dog . . . I love walking my dog! It is a great quiet time you can spend to think about all sorts of things, including your next novel! I am my most productive while walking the dog or driving my car (I love red lights as they give me time to write my thoughts down before I forget them, including snatches of dialogue and scene details!) I always keep pen and paper with me wherever I go (usually a notebook).
Writer’s block has never been an issue for me. But then I spend a lot of time brainstorming and have been developing a universe of my own for well over three decades, so I’ve got more ideas than I know what to do with. Be sure to brainstorm frequently, and don’t worry about whether the ideas make sense or not, as that comes later as you refine your ideas. When dreaming up your novel, have fun with it. Brainstorms were never meant to be strangleholds on creativity. Once you’ve got your ideas scribbled out—literally – a napkin is fine, but I prefer paper), start zeroing in on the ones you like best—the ones that were meant to be (usually they tell me when they make sense or are a good fit), bearing in mind you can still change them later. Begin building an outline—broad strokes at first, and slowly adding layers of detail as parts of the story begin to fit together smoothly like a puzzle. Don’t force it, but don’t be afraid to take out the sandpaper either.
Outlines are crucial to a solid story in most cases. I know some think they stifle their creativity, but my guess is that people that feel that way are usually (but not always) looking at outlines from the wrong perspective. They are guides, not cages. As I’m writing, if I come up with a better idea than what’s in my outline, I alter my outline. They are liberating. You don’t have to worry about whether the scene makes sense or not. You knew that before you started writing. You don’t have to worry about the end of your novel. It’s all right there in your outline (not every detail, of course). All you have to do is take 1 piece of the puzzle at a time—a scene or chapter, and fill in the blanks, knowing it will make sense because your outline makes sense.
Great writing takes many drafts, of course, but at least you know you’re on track with a solid outline. Therefore your book is only as good as its outline. It can tell you a lot about your story, like whether you are meandering, how long it will be, if you’re suddenly writing at a slower pace than you intended, what characters are supposed to be where and when, and loads of other details!
I also do a separate write up on each of the characters so that I know what they’re like, how they think, and why they think the way they do. By the time I’ve done all this, I know so much about my story that writing it is the easy part. I’m already coming up with ideas for the sequel. But while writing it then becomes easier, of course it is still quite a challenge to make sure that it is well written. That’s where multiple drafts comes in. I usually do between four and six, with some scenes or paragraphs rewritten a dozen times and others just a few.
If while writing a novel, I decide a character’s motivations don’t make as much sense as I thought they did, or that another direction would be better, I simply review the outline. It will tell me everywhere that character appears, what impact the change would have on the story and that helps me modify it effectively. So, bottom line—since this is crazy long (Sorry!) is that I have found brainstorming, outlining, etc. helps make the actual writing part more effective, more fun, and produces a better manuscript with less stress. Hope that helps someone. Cheers!
Find my self in the situation all the time. Whenever I am working on a story the same thing happens but I actually find it really belpful. Procrastination at the end, turns out to be part of the writting process, at least for me, what about for the rest?
lol…other professions you say…sending business communications to client i do and to get started with words that dont mislead them to a contraversy is indeed a task.
Much sympathy. Even after publishing two novels, I had to grit my teeth at Christmas parties when I was asked (year after year) how the new book was getting along. I bet I was older than you when I published my first, and the third came out last December.
I’ve felt like that cartoon off and on for most of this year but something snapped a few weeks ago and now I’m just forcing myself to write (fast) everyday.
Re: your 400k comment. Do you rewrite each draft from scratch or edit your drafts? I’ve read about both, just curious.
Three of them have been rewritten from scratch, and the fourth is an edit, with a few chapters rewritten from scratch.
I know about the staring. I have even imagined that the computer is staring back at me (I could see it staring back at me, really), laughing, jeering, throwing convulsive fits at my lack of talent. I had to get away from it.
Yh…the cartoon does make a lotta sense. I am writing a novel and I can’t seem to go past the first chapter
I definitely understand the cartoon. There are days when I look at my writing and just sigh, distraught. Especially these days, as I’m editing through my novel, and noticing all of the things that need to be fixed/revised/re-written, etc.
I hope your book is coming along well, lately. 400k words you’ve written? That’s fantastic! Will it be one book or several?
Writing a novel, like writing poetry, stops when you abandon the work and refuse to work on it anymore. Normally, that is when it gets submitted but a lot of writers massively re-write after rejection. So when writing, the trick is to decide when to let your baby walk away from “mama” (or “papa” as the case may be) and enter the world only to come back bruised. I can, and have, gone back over something I wrote and got so disgusted with the words I used, the sentence and paragraph structures, and so forth that I just started all anew and just kept the basic idea.
I’ve done that multiple times with this one, even without sending it out. The 2nd draft, in particular, retained only the characters and setting, and changed the entire story. I may not be a novelist at all, because I write the short form so much faster, and imo, better. But I want to give this novel thing a short, drag it by the hair to completion, and then give up, after the job’s done, and I can’t do more.
Yeah I have abandoned stories also . Indeed the novel I am now working on is the third version and I am going back to the original idea which I gave up on after the fall of the US SR which had destroyed the historical background of the story . I also threw away a novel that I have tried to write three times but I was never able to get it right .
I think writers abandon their work more often than most people realize. The perception, from non-writers I know, is that regardless of how long it takes a writer never quits on a story. And, indeed, I know of a detective story that hinges on that perception.
I have abandoned one story at least three times and the last time is likely to be the last and I am contemplating abandoning an entire series of story idea for the same reason: as much as I like mysteries, I cannot write them.
I know what you mean. Mine certainly came back bruised, haha. Time for me to get out all of those bandaids.
I often deal with the problem of just sitting in front of my laptop not writing. I never want to write a bunch of nothing that I’m just going to end up deleting so I wait until inspiration hits me.
Writing as a profession is a very lonely job. One has to cut off many social connections and then reconnect to write and experience.
Personally, I find writing to be incredibly cathartic and uplifting, but if I try to write about the same thing for too long, or there’s too much of an obligation to write, I get blocked. Perhaps write about something different something out of your usual scope to get the ball rolling?
Christina, I’ve written more than a dozen flashes and about 10 stories in the interim, and had a few accepted for publication, as well. I might just be a short story writer and not a novelist 🙂
I just started writing short stories, and I find them liberating! I’m glad you got your writing juju back. I enjoy your work
Thanks, Christina. So far, I’ve always have my writing juju ever since I started writing, except for periods of bereavement. It is the ‘peace’ juju that escapes me. 😀
It’s about enjoying what I do. That’s what gets me through the anxiety (what am I trying to accomplish?), doubt (is my writing good enough?), and uncertainty (will I ever realize my ambition of getting published?). Writing is hard work, but if my labor ever becomes so burdensome that I find no joy in it, I’m done. But I don’t see that happening any time soon!
Keigh– you’ve spelt it out so well about anxiety and doubt: on the hard days I wonder why I’m putting in so much unpaid labour into something no one might ever read, and that self-doubt– am I good enough is a constant companion, other than the time when I’m actually writing– so I try to write more and more– to keep that doubt-monster at bay!
Doubt is not a monster — it’s a wild animal. Don’t fear it, but rather harness that energy. Let its burning rage lead you to unexplored territory, blaze new trails on the path of your writing. Left uncontrolled, doubt can easily destroy; if befriended, it can be inspirational.
Have you really written 400k words?
Your comment made me curious about the exact word count—I went back to check, and I’ve written more than 400k.
3 drafts of more than 100k each= 320k, 50k of a draft abandoned halfway for story reasons, another 40k again abandoned for POV, and about 60 k in the current draft, of which I’ve rewritten twice about 10 k. So I’ve written about 480k in all…possibly more cos have thrown away and rewritten bits during each draft.
ouch. That’s a whole new level of depressing. I guess no word is wasted, and the process has taught me to write better.
I admire and respect you for persisting with such a mammoth task, while here is me struggling to get to 40k! All the best.
Thanks, Roger. I’m treating this novel as my DIY MFA. Don’t care if it never sees light of day– I firmly believe that the only way to really learn writing is to write, take feedback, and write. 🙂
Reblogged this on Rooftops & Thunderstorms.
Too true. I have one book down and the second one is close, but it’s that much harder actually knowing that people are waiting to read it. (And me knowing that it’s not as good as the first one.) Sigh.
I haven’t written quite that much, but I totally understand. I’ll think of something cool to do in a scene and then when I research the thing I will find out that it is not at all possible. I will then scroll through WordPress reading you wonderful people until I figure out how to rewire the entire thing.
Don’t fret Damyanti, perhaps you’re a pantser and not a plotter. And part of being a writer is looking at that darned screen. When I’m drawing blanks I leave it alone and go do some writing prompts (by Natalie Goldberg) they always get the juices flowing. Nobody, and I mean nobody, understands a writer’s life except another writer. 🙂
Unfortunately that comic holds so much truth 🙂
But I also think we tend to think the worse, and then somewhere we turn the corner and…wow, at least that is what I always expect (and see) with your writing 🙂
oh with writers block, writing a single line would become a big deal. and the comic said it all.
I love dilbert strips because they are really realistic.
I recently finished a short story, and editing that, as well as just getting from sentence to sentence during the writing process, felt tortuous, so I have no idea how I’d fare with a novel. The above cartoon makes so much sense to me. A lot of the time writing feels like 10% writing and 85% staring at a blank screen, interspersed with 5% of freshening your drink.
I used to let my ideas slip away. I could lie in bed in the middle of the night and compose a complete poem or my response to something I was interested in. Unfortunately by morning those fully composed poems and paragraphs had vanished.
Now, I get up and and write them down. They are often rough and incomplete in the morning but they are a jump off point. I often get a dozen ideas in a night, depending on creative energy. I put them in a notebook under ideas.
This simple action saves me the frustration of having nothing to write about. I believe it has been three years since I have experienced that
sensation of drought.
I like writing, but so far I’m not ready to put anything out there other than my blog posts. Most of those are so quickly written and posted, I cringe at the thought of my English teaching friends reading it.
“I wonder if any other profession poses the same challenges as that of a novelist.”
I fully understand where you’re coming from. It would be like a construction worker thinking that he wants to build a wall but when he holds up the hammer, doesn’t know where to put the nail, or he’s not even holding a nail and can only stand there not knowing why. Writing is a strange thing.
Ah. You’ve understood me…I’ve been doing various things like gathering nails, wood, brick, with no idea of quality or quantity. I’m not the sort who can make an architectural plan: I did try very hard, and utterly, utterly failed. Planning is just not what I can do with fiction. I must write first, and then find the plan in it. Thanks for putting my entire dilemma into words!
I don’t plan either. I just get dialogue in my head, form scenes, see the trailer in my mind (as if it’s a movie), write all of that stuff, and then fill in the blanks as I go. It’s like a puzzle that I pull out of my head and then pull together. Having a touch of OCD helps with the organizing.
By the way, if you’d like me to take a look at something you’ve written and give you my opinion (as if my opinion really matters), feel free to hit the Contact button on my page and send it to me. In writing class, workshopping was one of the things I enjoyed.
Anyway, good luck with your writing. 🙂
I don’t have word paralysis but the need for perfection gets in the way every time and more often than not results in no productivity at all!
Haha. This cartoon conveyed it brilliantly. I’m not writing a novel but sometimes owing to lack of inspiration, I just stare at the screen and think about how I had the guts to assume I would be able to pull this off. All this happens at work too, where I write for a forum. Sigh!
This cartoon makes perfect sense. Writers always feel like we’re alone, but really we’re all alone together.
I always take a deep breath at that question especially since my current project (and last) is fanfiction, which I then have to validate why I’m “wasting my time” at all. I do have an original novel and one short published in a very obscure journal, but I’ve switched platforms for a bit due to what rejection did to me. I consider writing the second job that I don’t get paid for (yet? I hesitate to say that word because of the fear of talentlessness), but it’s one I have no choice but to do. I also don’t think non-writers/novelists understand what it entails to not only create a manuscript, but also get it out there.
I’m not worried about rejection– my work gets rejected each week, and I’m used to it. I never had any talent, so I don’t worry about that.
For me, it is a feeling of being lost, of literally standing in a dark room and trying to find light. And now that I’ve found light, and can see the room around me, I need to throw the trash, spring-clean, and do up the furniture and furnishings. And of course, getting it ‘out there’– don’t even mention that right now 🙂
As a writer myself, those words make perfect sense! You will have those days when you can’t think of what to write. When I do, I don’t just sit and stare at the computer. I give myself a break for however long it takes (which usually isn’t very long), and the next thing I know, my writing juices are flowing again. As to what your escape should be, it’s different for everybody. Usually, I just stop writing and get back into my normal routine of doing other things. Sometimes, I’ll pop a CD into the CD player. I have found that music really does stimulate my writing muse. I don’t think that writing should be forced. It should be fun and enjoyable (depending on the subject, of course.) As regards to talent, I am a firm believer that the more we work at something, the better we will become at it. Also, reading the work of others (especially in my genre) helps me. I try not to copy them, but it helps me to continue writing in my own style as I add my own flavors. Whatever you do, if you really enjoy writing, don’t give up. Best wishes to you!!! 🙂 🙂 🙂
“How are your novels coming along?” is a more apt question for me. It’s a little like being trapped in a crowded room where dozens of characters are vying for attention. It can be a bit overwhelming, but I find I respond better to challenges. I keep multiple projects open so I will have something new to chew on while I ponder what needs to be addressed in another. This really helps me through the more difficult times. You know, the ‘ugh everything I write is RUBBISH’ mentality. It happens to us all. But if I find I cannot pinpoint what’s wrong with any of my projects, I’ll read. Sometimes reading a book in the same genre as yours will help clear the cobwebs. Freewriting is another great exercise. Taking a scene out of the main story and building on it may reveal things about your characters you didn’t know. The key here is to keep writing, even if it ends up on the cutting room floor. Good luck! 🙂
I know exactly what you’re talking about. Oh, loved the cartoon. I’m 40K into a novel and just the other day…it stopped! Nothing. OMG! I was in a stupor for the next twelve hours. I washed dishes. I Swiffer swept. (I’m a retired prof turned house husband) mowed some grass. Read poetry. With a kiss from my wife, we went to bed. I lay looking up at a dark ceiling, nothing.
So, I just sat the next morning on my back porch–with coffee– and stared at the green wall of trees that rises up just beyond our back yard. Stared and stared. Birds flew back and forth. A red wasp flew in circles over a spot of grass. Crows called back and forth. Clouds drifted over. An idea struggled through. I got back to writing. That’s my method. It seems to work. 🙂
Sometimes I have a lot of energy and the words just seem to flow from my head to the screen (as described in my blog post about daily word count goals). Days – even weeks – can go by and I’d wonder why I’d ever doubted myself. Then suddenly the well will dry up quite spontaneously and I’ll be the one in the cartoon staring agitatedly at the screen while my Rottweilers ask me when they can hear more stories – or at least the clicking of the keyboard as I type.
You’re not alone – we all land in this horrible desert once in a while. I haven’t been able to look at the third draft of my YA novel in weeks…
Sometimes a bit of spring cleaning helps. (As I’ve found out this past week – undiscovered little gems of writing can be hidden all over the house waiting to be found.)
I feel exactly the same way.
I’ve tried to make up for that apprehension by just writing, without any regard to quality, just to get my ideas out there. But then I get stuck on the editing phase, debating which ideas to keep and whether I’ve used the right words to convey them.
Writing short stories is a daunting task in itself, as I’m always trying to make the maximum emotional impact in a few words, and some things sound so much better in my head than they do once written down.
Sometimes I’m amazed I get anything written at all.
I am with you. Utterly. Entirely. Writing exposes, taunts and tortures. It terrifies. But how can we not do it?
I was going to say 400000 words is a lot, but I saw it’s four different drafts. So my guess is each one is better than the previous one, right? For me it’s around the fourth draft that it seems to come together in a coherent manner, as a meaningful whole with the different connections between the parts made in more or less the right places. There could be a lot more drafts after that but it’s more a matter of tweaking sentences or paragraphs. I hope you’re seeing that progression from one draft to the next. It’s bound to come eventually. Good luck!
Reblogged this on oshriradhekrishnabole.
Damyanti, I know exactly how you feel. On days when I struggle to write, I give it up and go do something else. It usually works because sooner or later, the insight flashes as to what I need to do to get the next chapter flowing from the previous one. Or, what is wrong with what I have written, causing unhappiness.
Oh, “how is the novel coming” has to be the WORST question ever. I think that’s why I also write short stories…it allows me to call myself “writer” rather than novelist and I can be working on the novel but talking about other things. It sounds like you are doing the tough editing not enough people do, though. Don’t give up. You wrote a novel, you are a novelist. The rest matters, but it doesn’t define you.
Hi! ☺ I had not really had that problem until getting into fiction.
Non fiction should take longer with all the research tools, statistics, interviews, bibliographies, foot notets, etc.
Yet it is much easier than fiction.
Why is that? I believe it is because non fiction has a format almost written in stone, to follow. You think about the easiest ways to describe real things for Professors and students mainly.
Poetry and lyrics? The same. You basically can follow a set format.
By format, I mean a set of writing goals in a set order, everything is pre broken down into chunks to work on , with page number sets or word number sets per chapter/work books.
It does not feel as though you are truly creating non fiction. I’d say that to be a major difference, so that one stressed, creating, is not really there.
Everything for non fiction is already put together and one simply
sets them in a specific order. Rules for non fiction have standard formatted rules rarely divergent.
Poems, lyrics and children’s stories are whims that are pretty much perfect as soon as you set them down. Easier to set down as you just write what you are feeling. Although I have been given topics on all 3, one being lyrics for the music and the title of Biological Warfare.
Another is to just brainstorm ideas and choose the best.
Let the singers choose different titles if they want as they change certain words usually, all the time.
Children’s stories, well you pretty much need to have had children and one does what comes naturally.
Poetry, does not need to rhyme, yet still sound logical or logically whimsical.
Again, basically pre formatted from life experiences to draw on.
Fiction, whether comic books, novels, plays, theater, film, etc, now THAT is the, ” Duh factor. ” ( ” Okay, I’ve written the title, maybe a sentence or paragraph. Now which way do I go? ” Moments. )
Fiction is the ultimate challenge.
Even short stories like , ” My Toy Uncle. ” Written by me, using the pseudonom Ellie Lamb.
Though a lot easier than true fictious short stories. I did that one for a group novel of short stories so, formatted, plus, 98% true just fictionalized for legal purposes.
Take everything +, used for all of the above and try to overcome blocks such as those.
I have always had a bad/good habit of always having numerous journals everywhere including my little purse.
That way, one is always able to jot down their sometimes flash ideas for writing a fictatious story.
No matter where you are or what you are doing.
Then fact checking to make sure it is actually your own original thoughts as sometimes we read headlines, titles, hear lyrics, movie frames , etc that we do not realize we have kept in our self consciousness.
Making fiction even more of a challenge to write.
I also paint fine art and various other arts.
There are brain burps in those as well. Unless doing portraits and logos, following something requested. But one’s own unique art work is fictious as writing fiction.
I have done a lot if Chamber of Commerce, Political, and other News Paper Articals.
Not nearly as difficult as fiction except making sure there is nothing slanderous or fake.
I have been writing since I was 8 years old.
In closing, I’d say sometimes you just need to take a break, night out, weekend get away, etc. Just never forger to bring with you, a reliable pen/pencil and even the smallest of journals or even use scrap papers and make sure you can paper clip them subject by subject or title by title. Or even the sticky putty for hanging posters, art, etc as to not damage walls.
Works for sticking grocery slips, restaurant receipts, flyers scraps or anything you’ve written on.
No. Still not an answer to the dilema but can be a start.
One obtaining a start and trying subtle formats to begin with, it seems like you’ve finally achieved something actually useful and one can go through all their ideas, brainstorming, etc. The reason to always have journals, even the smallest, paper, something to write in and with.
It can be quite helpful once you’ve gotten a start. Even if the start gets changed later.
Truth be told though, I have a few semi written books, needing editing, fact checks, backups, etc , that I have been working on since 14 to 18, that still need to be completed. Hopefully one day I will.
I just can’t yet.
So one has to know when to put something on the back burner and start up something new.
Putting those one’s on back burners and leaving them for who knows how long, is yet another challenge if one has any, even the smallest compulsive disorder to get what you began finished or what some people call, ” Anal retentive. ” Cannot move on to another task while one is still sitting there undone.
I have this.
It is very difficult to over come.
Thing is, stay positive.
Complete something even on small scales, have a friend, spouse, w/e, read them.
They may be a lot better than you thought and not many people can read those without giving honest opinions of what they would have written in place if something else, or on how they would have had chapter 8 as chapter 10, chapter 10 as some other chapter, and so on.
No. They are not writers, would not be even if they could be or vice versa. Thing is? Everyone has a little writer in them.
Probably sounds like nonsense to you but that is just imo. It is how I work. Forever dovetailing. How I eventually get everything organized. Themed.
Probably would not help others, but maybe as most authors tend to have at least one similar quirk to yourself.
Imo? At least worth a try.
Nothing to lose. Like the saying,” You can’t win if you do not play or how can you if if you don’t take a chance, or you can’t win the lottery if you don’t buy a ticket.
You just never know what could be useful among things you thought if as garbage, yet further down the line, thinking that piece would tie this chapter/segment/script, etc up quite nicely or even perfectly.
Sometimes my husband asks when I am going to burn or dispose of all the paper junk. I have learned the hard way, ” Never. ” lol! ?
Good luck and Blessings
Hey, Damyanti, I feel the same about short stories and novel I’ve been writing..thought and word paralysis..they say, one should try writing 500 words everyday but haven’t really been trying it seriously.
I don’t consider myself a professional writer but I do like writing and its purely for the fun of seeing a story unfold in my mind. There are times when I have other interests taking my mind completely from the computer, but then there will be a compulsion to write and I have to stay with the story watching it unfold and putting every other thing on hold until the vision fades and the story concludes.
** but no matter how hard I tried all my attempts at fiction turned in poetry …
I bet your book is wayyyyyy better than you’re giving yourself credit for! Have you considered beta readers? Just to get someone with fresh eyes to look at it? Also sometimes you have to be a little ruthless when you edit. I always remember something I read that Joss Whedon said: sometimes you have to take a scene that you absolutely love and just rip it out of the manuscript. It might be the thing messing up the rest of your book! Good luck, Damyanti!
I think one must write because you love it despite all the setbacks, frustrations and writing blocks, you write for the love and because something inside just tells you that you have to! From what i have read, after all the endless hours of writing, re-writing and then the dreaded editing, it will finally go to that place called publishing and you will have accomplished something most people think about doing but never actually do.
Haha! It’s my dream to write a decent novel one day if life permits me! I can see the challenges already 🙂
As both a writer and a techie, I have experienced this from both sides. Anything where you strive for perfectionism can cause you to build something and then completely destroy it because it has not reached that completed status in your eyes yet. Also, sometimes you can just go brain dead after working at something too long so my advice is to walk away, experience life and nature, then come back to it.
At the risk of sounding naive…maybe its finished, your novel. 400k seems a lot- unless its a series? What feedback has your editor(s) given? As for ‘staring at a blank screen’ syndrome, it seems part of the course as a writer; it is what it is. I fail to see how you have suffered this at 400k words. Bravo! And good luck.
400 k words is different drafts of the same novel, at about roughly 100k on each (almost completely rewritten from scratch) draft. Thanks, I need all the good luck, I think.
Surely this is a writing parafigm which has to change? Why must we torture ourselves? Perfectionism is slow death. So whqt if we keep editing and re editing, we live in changing times so naturally our writing will be affected. If non writers font understand too bad!
Yep, I’m one of those who is never happy with my writing. It goes for publication when I tweaking it seems to make it worse. So far, it has got better. I think, lol
I think at the point you’re at, someone else looking at the novel can be invaluable. It’s just a shame willing proofreaders can be hard to find. I also wouldn’t be scared to spend a little time on other projects as a break.
Yes, other eyes of good crit partners are working on it. I’m hoping not to have to change it too much again, but I will, if I have to.
Reblogged this on Gifford MacShane and commented:
For those of us who struggle — whether it’s occasionally or every day …
I’ve documented my issues with my attempts at my novel many times. Most recently, my post on “How To Write a Novel” has been making a few ripples.
When I first started saying “I want to write a book”, it was met with mild interest and some eye-rolling. 3 Chapters into the book, I realized I knew nothing. That’s why I took to blogging; to shake off 3 decades of rust and drive myself to write, practice. I created multiple blogger personalities to teach myself different voices. First to find out what *my* voice was and then to experiment with keeping those characters going.
But no matter how hard I tried, all my attempts turned into fiction, as documented in “A Fictional Romance”. Then a single line in a post about Fish turned into my first short story. Shortly thereafter, I wrote another and sent it to a friend. It became bigger with that feedback and it has now turned into a 3-Act play..
The trick is to keep at it and don’t fix on a format. I have a feeling that before I’m done, it will turn itself back into a novel or a novella. 🙂
Looks like you have the strategy that works for you.
Liked the post. It is lonely there. But word by word is the only way to do it, I suppose.
Yes, Rajat, it is, sadly.
I try not to wait. Every professional I know seem to be professional about it. They sit down and do the work and have a strong routine. I have benefited from that more than anything else. I just started a restaring your book challenge (terrible grammar I know) on my blog, check it out!
Robert, I’m one of those, too. If my novel won’t progress, I write a short piece, if that doesn’t work, I edit. If none of it makes sense, I blog. But I have to be at my desk at least 6 days a week.
Good one. I think I already discussed with you about how desperate I am to write like authors do, but I also know that I don’t have the time to think so deep. So until then, I’m going to be a blogger and a ghostwriter.
You’re doing a great job at what you’re doing, Sharukh, and one day, you’ll live your dream. never doubt that.
Hi. Me again. After commenting here I went back to work on my story. I’m referencing Marc Cohn’s song, Walking in Memphis, and went to wikipedia for a little research. You might find this interesting, particularly the section about his inspiration for the song and what James Taylor does when he suffers writer’s block.
It took me over 25 years to publish my first novel. It started as sci-fi, changed to fantasy, kept growing into epic fantasy, and went through at least three historical period experiments before I created the dark fantasy/ steampunk/ urban blend that the series has now. I gave up on counting the number of drafts I made, but after blowing through three computers in one summer I shelved the whole thing indefinitely … until a friend inspired me to try one more time. Now I have four published novels and a fifth one on the way. 🙂
Don’t give up. Don’t tell yourself you lack talent. Just focus on learning your craft well and give your mind fresh material and experiences to inspire creativity.
The only time I suffer from writer’s block is when depression has me in a fog (because that’s just what depression does — it steals your energy and mind). Otherwise, my mind has no “off” switch because I’m always observing what goes on around me and taking notes on how I might use it in a story. Staring at a blank screen wastes time. Worrying about trying to please readers wastes time and compromises the integrity of the story you have to tell. Shift gears or walk away from the computer and take along a notepad. (I use Evernote in my phone, so it’s usually always nearby.)
Give your character the same lunch you had. Watch the sun set and try to describe it poetically. Take a walk and be conscious of how the air feels. Look into local history or research folklore, especially if your story is a period setting. The last article you read could have plot material, character development events, or spark an idea you hadn’t considered before … like growing human organs is now possible, but what could possibly go wrong with that? That woman in the news that you can’t stand or that actor in the celebrity news and gossip that gets on your nerves: instant character creation template. What do you “see” in your head when you listen to music? Browse art folios online or in library books. Play with flash fiction challenges and word games. Try your hand at fan fiction. Read someone else’s books. Watch TV and take notes on anything that even remotely matches your own themes or settings or whatever. One of my favourite ways to get into a character’s head is to throw them into video games and restrict myself to what kinds of actions or decisions they would make. And often doing that leads to other kinds of inspiration. I even take screen shots as storyboards, for future reference.
For example, I once entered a dungeon in which my character was knee-deep in spider webs. She stepped on something that scraped against the rock floor, but I couldn’t see it, so the sound was the first impression I got. Readjusting the camera angle, I saw that it was a human skull. And then I realized there were dozens of bones littering the cavern. This kind of thing is generic enough that copyright wouldn’t apply. How I experienced it and internalized it is my own. So, I noted what I heard, what I saw, and how I felt during the experience. I added ideas for how I could personalize it further. Now I’m hanging onto that note for the next time I need a dungeon scene. The dungeon I create will be in my own world setting, and I can alter anything I want as needed. Perhaps the bone crushes, rather than scraping … something to demonstrate the age and brittle quality of the litter underfoot in an ancient tomb rather than hunting a giant spider in its den. Perhaps something grabs her ankle from under those bones. A hand, a tentacle, a snake, something mechanical, something cold, something that burns, something that stings or paralyzes? Ideas are like wildfires — just note the sparks and then follow wherever they lead. Note all possibilities no matter how ludicrous. You can always toss out the ones that don’t work or recycle them in another story.
There is nothing new under the sun, and there are only three plots ever: man vs. man, man vs. nature, man vs. himself. But if you dwell on that, you will definitely end up staring at a blank screen and thinking you have nothing unique and interesting to offer. … There is no copyright on themes, archetypes, tropes, and how we interpret them through personal experiences and thought processes. There is no limit to imagination. Live your life, observe what goes on around you, take lots of notes, then put the notes together in a somewhat logical manner to either expound on truths about human nature or disguise the truths in a more palatable, imaginative lie. That is what a writer does. Sometimes it requires tremendous amounts of time, attention to details, and script vivisections. But when you look at writing this way, inspiration is everywhere, both in real life and in fiction. 🙂
Melody, that’s like a writing memoir in itself– what an astonishing, and inspiring journey. and this is my mantra : Note all possibilities no matter how ludicrous. You can always toss out the ones that don’t work or recycle them in another story.
Thank you for stopping by, and I hope to remain in touch with you via our blogs.
I’m bogged down in the editing process too, but I’m getting there.
I didn’t even address the blank screen question in my previous reply. I frequently get stuck at a new scene or a new chapter. How to start? I’ll go back to the previous scene and try to feel what the character is feeling. Then try to imagine how I might react. Would I sulk? Would I get angry? Would I be happy and to something spontaneous? It involves long periods with my eyes closed and my feet up on the desk, trying to find the next move. If I get too hung up on whether or not it’s the right thing to do for a publishable novel, I say the heck with it and write what I want.
Joseph, the blank page is our nightmare, isn’t it? Some days I just fill it up with any odd scribble. But I find that routine and discipline work for me: I write a lot more and a lot easier these days than I used to five years ago– and the chief reason is perseverance, and discipline.
I know when people ask that question they do mean well and hope for the best for you. However, it is annoying when people ask only because they don’t understand what we go through. Sometimes I think people believe writing just comes naturally. It does to a certain extent, but for the most part it’s a lot of hard work and thought.
“for the most part it’s a lot of hard work and thought”
It s so true. On some days I feel like I’m digging my grave with a toothpick: none of the stuff I write will ever make it anywhere, and I’m not doing it fast enough. But for the toothpick to become a shovel, and for the grave to become a garden, it takes time, blood, sweat. And even then, most of the time, you end up growing weeds.
Being a writer with enough talent to be publishable does not mean that you will ever be published. Like many other things in life, timing and a certain amount of serendipity is involved. I’m in the midst of my fourth novel and like everything I’ve written, I worry about plot, character development, pacing, exposition and everything else that I’m supposed to worry about.
And then I come to a passage that delights me to write, usually about a burgeoning relationship. The coy dance of two people getting to know one another. I’m never sure if it’s a good fit for the story or if an editor would give it the axe, but the writing of it gives me pleasure. When I go back and read the passage weeks, months, or years later, it still gives me pleasure. When I’m 97 and I read it again, it will give me as much pleasure as an old photograph found in a shoe box.
So I won’t be a slave to the agents or editors or publishers. I have to write words that mean something to me. If it rings true for someone else, so much the better.
Joseph, thank you for taking the time out to write comments here, and inspire us. I think my biggest block comes in the editing phase, when I’m worried about whether any of it makes sense to readers.
I simply sit down and write, by hand with a fountain pen, and as long as the words flow from my pen I keep on writing, When they don’t flow I stop and go on the next day, Never force ti words out of you, they should come just like that.
This comic makes too much sense to me! Another one that always gets me is when people ask what is going to happen in a part of a story I haven’t even reached yet! “How’s it going to end?” questions always have me overthinking and stunted in the writing process.
I’m just wondering, but does anyone else feel like responding “None of your business!” when someone asks what you’re writing? That’s my go-to (but unspoken) response no matter who is asking. I find it strange because I want to tell as many people as possible about a finished project, but feel the need to surround my unfinished work with barbed wire and landmines…
Reblogged this on ugiridharaprasad.
Writing only makes it worse for me because that means I’ve committed to another story. Darn it, how do I keep doing that?
A short line of good advice from Lauren Groff’s new novel, ‘Fates and Furies’: To dare is to do.
issue47 had some good advice:put it aside for a time and come back to look at it with fresh eyes. How to put it aside? Begin writing another novel or write a short story. 400k is long for one book. Have you thought of dividing it into three books? THE LORD OF THE RINGS was meant to be one book but the publisher balked at putting out a book that long. It did rather well as three books, don’t you think? Dilbert most always makes me laugh. Have a great new week.
Not published but am working on a Non fiction memoir at the moment and man, is it tough! I am only 11k words in but there are days I think, ‘Hey! I am 11k words in! That’s something!’ Yes, there are moments when I stare at the blank screen and I have also removed the word ‘writer’ from my online bio pretty much everywhere, because, let’s face it, I’m not a published writer, unless you count my blog posts.
That being said, this IS one of the hardest things to do, I’ve found. Add to that the fact the people around you are all getting published, probably with sub-par material and you just want to tear your hair out in frustration and envy. Sigh, I wonder what I am doing on some days.
All good advice above. Thanks for reminding me why I do this writing thing.
I used to beat myself up quite a bit in the past about my writing style: particularly, my poetry. I have gotten much better and anytime I feel there’s nothing to write, I don’t move. I do not write unless it is trying to break free. I respect the words and give them room to breathe and saunter forth. What I have learned is that if I relax and do any things, possibly things that invoke inspiration, the words introduce themselves to me without much probing. Good luck!
That’s a beautiful way of putting it! Writing is an intensely creative process and if we force it, it just doesn’t come out the way it ought to, right? Thank you! Loved this thought.
You’re very welcome, not a problem at all 🙂
I write because I am a writer. Not yet a published writer, but still a writer. I have two books more-or-less finished, I am working on the third in that series and I have another book that I work on when inspiration doesn’t show up for my other works; and another series that I am thinking of doing. And yet, it is all too easy to look at what I have not accomplished and feel despair. But I plug away at writing because I am a writer.
Every problem you face, has been faced by others. Some have dealt with the problem with success and some not. All you can do is keep plugging away. At least you do not have to worry about a maid using your manuscript to start a fire.
400,000? Wow. You seem to have words spill out of you like a faucet!
Keep up the editing, but mostly, keep up the sense of humor. It is bound to be a bridge from one difficult day to another.
Well done, you!
Yes, I understand.
I’m working on 3 full length books. When I get itchy at about 75% I start another. I can’t seem to finish. I wish sometimes that I had not told anyone ^_^
But I also appreciate that they care. Others who do not understand why someone would write change the subject quickly when I bring it up haha
I’m going to start wear a shock collar and press it every time someone asks me what I am working on. When I say I am writing a book/novel the next -and worst- question is, “Ooohhhh what is it about?” I hate trying to explain it as their eyes glaze over because I didn’t say, “Romance novel”, “Self help book” or ” Cookbook”. And I can’t say, “It is about spirituality,” because then I feel the need to follow up with,”but it isn’t about religion.” Then They stammer and their brows knit and I just want to crawl back into my turtle shell and walk away. I often think that although I love to write and feel I am very good at what I do, that perhaps I was just not meant to publish anytning. I am not aggressive enough. Sigh…
Not published and not working on anything of length or substance, but I write a lot bot personally and for work. I have also frequently written stuff on behalf of others. I find that people who say they can’t write something, can usually edit like crazy. I find that that holds for me too. When I am stuck with writing something, I can usually put something awful down on paper and start editing. I don’t know if that would work with longer works, but it works for me.
I would love to have a conversation about this. I’ll check back later.
I’m only self-published, but I have very strong views on this issue. I don’t get writer’s block vey often because I try not to worry about whether what I’m writing is any good. I just hit the keyboard and see what happens.
Who cares if the novel is not quite right or even terrible. Throw it out there! Sure, that crazy guy on the street corner with the “The End Is Nigh” sign could do with editing and improving his apocalyptic message. But if he’s getting heard now, right now, and my novel is still in its third or fourth draft, then he’s winning. Don’t let the madmen win! Hurl your half-baked drafts out into the ether and see where they land!
This is known as ‘the writer’s block.’ But, sometimes we writers just can’t help it. ‘Just writing’ something is extremely difficult.
I agree with Kristina. Just keep writing and practicing. It sounds like you know what you need to do to get it ready for alpha reading, and that will give you some solid feedback from varied perspectives. You’ve done what I think is the hardest part for many writers…getting the initial story out of you onto “paper.”
To me, talent is subjective since readers are all over the place in terms of what they enjoy. I think few writers fail because of lack of talent. They fail because they think writing a book is easy! What most writers learn very quickly is that there’s tons of toil behind each book. That’s what you’re experiencing. It gets less anxiety-provoking the more times our go through it.
So feel proud of yourself!
Yep, I can relate. I have completed two manuscripts, but am still nervous calling myself a writer to anyone because the next question that, eventually, comes up is what the name of the (published) book is! It’s difficult to keep up when you’re an unpublished writer, I guess. But I find Kristina’s comments (above) really helpful!
Love the cartoon!
My advice is probably not the best since I’m not a published writer. However, reaching a point of creative paralysis is natural and is a good sign that a writer needs to focus on something else.
Basically sit on it long enough that you’ll approach it with a fresh set of eyes. Could be a month, maybe a year. Maybe more.
But don’t be idle with the time, otherwise you lose the skills you’ll need to finish the novel.
I get up really early when everything is quiet and write something for two to three hours. I often read and reply to emails first, but mostly I tend to warm up with poems that I post on my blog and then write at least 500 words, no matter how bad or good they might be. It is important just to get something down. Once that’s done, I go back and read what I have written, editing as I go. Then I am ready to get on with the next 500 words or so, which might be the same day or the next day, depending on what else I have to be getting on with.
Most creative endeavors face this problem . But don’t ever let the blank screen become the tyrant that stops you from writing . “what word can I write that would lead to another?” I hope you are not searching for the perfect word or the perfect paragraph, “Perfect is the enemy of good” . I recently read this book called the Achievement Habit by Bernard Roth . Different field but he had some interesting ideas for unblocking
Makes a lot of sense to me! I spend far too much time blogging and tweeting and not enough time on my fiction. It’s the worst kind of procrastination. Just keep going…it’s all any of us dreamers can do! Best wishes.
I think martyvee is right. When you’ve been so engrossed in a piece of work for so long, it’s hard to stand back and appreciate what’s good and pinpoint what’s bad.
The best thing I ever did when writing my first novel was shelve it for a while (perhaps I did it for a bit too long though – about a year and a half). When I came back to it, I had forgotten the stress and the worry. And whilst I remembered the basic story and characters, I had forgotten the nuances and great lines I’d written. It also meant that I could see the bits that sucked (and there were plenty of them) and yet somehow knew how to change them to make them right again. It was almost as though I was reading it as a reader rather than as a writer, which made me much more objective.
Space from your work really does do wonders! I’m not at that stage at the moment. Having just started writing my second novel, I’m still full of excitement but I have no doubt that the time will come when I need to step away for a few months to let the dust settle!
I’ve been there many times and the only way I’ve found to combat it is to push on with the knowledge that if I don’t work on it, it won’t get done. Worrying about not being good enough is normal, but the love of the craft will more often than not overpower those insecurities. Give yourself permission to write badly and you will discover that you will hit your stride before you know it. Besides, you can always edit out later. I just published my fourth book on Amazon and am starting a new project, but I still get those gremlins rattling around in the Old Brain Case. Best wishes. 🙂
Difficult. I always tell people I’m at the research stage of my novel. That usually shuts them up. It’s worked like a charm for the past 15 years!!
All the best. Kris. ???????????
Oh it all makes too much sense to me lol. I’ve heard the same thing about sticking to a routine regardless of progress but bloody hell that’s hard to do. Here’s how I see it:
‘How is the novel coming along?’
‘Oh, didn’t I send you a copy – here scribble your email down on this napkin and I’ll make sure my PA sends you one.’
‘You said that last year!’
‘Damn PA – I need to fire him.’
Fob ’em off – them and their simple bloody questions lol
I’ve always lived my life sideways – makes it far easier to avoid what lies ahead!
Oh yes. Agree. Agree. Agree. I know some people sit down specifically to ‘do some writing’. I don’t. I just make notes whenever and write them up whenever. I find that works for me so I’m never staring at the screen lost for words.
Writing is difficult to gauge. I read other authors and can form an opinion, but I read my writing and always feel insecure. I think that’s normal. Have you considered walking away from this novel for a month or two and working on something else for a while?
I’m going to guess that many writers worry about talent. The best advice I ever got on this subject it to just keep writing and practicing. It’s the persistent writer who gets there. For me, if I’m staring at the screen, I get up and go for a run or walk my dog. That usually clears my head and I can get back toward.