Monday, May 3, 2010

A tale of woe, and not-so-woe.

Hi! A bit overdue for a blog post, I am.

I've had a bit of a struggle with my personal life for the past week. Stuff is rocky and I am not feeling particularly confident or secure about my social and emotional future. Additionally, I have been feeling rather sad and rejected with some aspects of my life and frustrated and angry with others. So clearly I haven't been in much of a mood for cheery blogging. I'm working on feeling better about things, though. It is an uphill hike.

I came up with a really brilliant idea for a literary novel but try as I might, I was unable to outline it or even write a synopsis. I knew my characters, I knew their initial circumstance, I knew how the book would end, and I knew the theme of the story. I absolutely could not figure out anything else. The entire middle of the book was and still is a mystery to me. I decided to wing it and write without an outline. I've never done this before.

Now, I am not one of those writers who rigidly adheres to her outlines. Not at all. Outlines can and do change dramatically as I go. But somehow, having the outline on hand keeps me focused and confident. Whenever I start to feel unsure of what I'm doing, I can tell myself, "Relax...if you need to, you can refer to the outline to refresh your memory." With historical fiction and my short sci-fi that has worked very well. But I've never made a serious attempt to write a literary novel (I don't count my teen-age flailings at literary fiction as "serious") and literary novels are all about internal conflict. That is somewhat hard to outline, I suppose. So even though my outlines are always flexible, at least I've always had them. When I tried to outline this new novel, it was so hard I was making myself cry so I decided to just stop.

Yeah, I made myself cry. Oh, that's not the worst of it, Dear Reader. Over the past two weeks I've discovered that I am a very sensitive artistic type. I didn't know this about myself previously. I'm rather embarrassed to be such a cliche, actually, but I'm trying to accept myself for what I am, here.

So I decided to proceed without an outline. The story crept forward at a disgusting and alarming pace, something between continental drift and languid snail. I was writing perhaps three hundred words every two hours. It was absolutely distressing.

I do not believe in "writer's block" -- I think it's a term people apply to themselves in order to excuse inactivity. "I CAN'T write; I have writer's block." Fie! Libbie does not suffer from some external and uncontrollable force which robs her of her abilities. When Libbie has a hard time writing, it's because of Libbie.

So in an attempt to increase my productivity, I tried various tricks -- changing up the time of day when I write, writing free-hand on note cards at a lovely park, etc. -- and while I was able to work out some kinks in my story this way, no significant progress was made. After a good two weeks of rusty occlusion, combined with my dual-faceted personal issues (longing/rejection on the sinister and frustration/anger on the dexter), I was fairly constipated with emotion and was in a fragile and embarrassing emotional state.

I went to my weekly writers' group like usual and made an ass of myself by CRYING in the middle of the bar once my friend started to prod at me to find out why I seemed so down. Then I went home and sent ridiculous emails of apology to everybody in my group re: the crying incident. Then the next morning I sent more emails (slightly less ridiculous) apologizing for the ridiculousness of my previous emails. THEN I sat down to write, and oh god, it was like flogging myself. I was so upset over what a dope I'd made of myself in front of some of my best friends for the past twenty-four hours, and I was so upset that what I KNEW was a really great story -- a seriously fantastic and important work -- was stuck inside me and refused to dislodge. All this upset plus shame over the previous day's ridiculousness plus the negative emotions I was feeling from my long-standing personal difficulties plus WORDS WOULD NOT COME OUT OF ME equaled a colossal digestive upset on a truly impressive scale. I was so sick, I thought maybe I'd contracted food poisoning at the bar, but nobody else in my writers' group was sick, and everybody had nibbled off my hummus plate.

Between searing intestinal cramps and sprints to the bathroom, I figured I must be having an anxiety attack. This was pretty interesting -- I used to be under medical treatment for severe anxiety, years ago, but wound up discontinuing that treatment once I found some ways to cope with it. Apparently it came back to visit me.

As you may imagine, the realization that I was having an anxiety attack made me go OH NO NOT ANXIETY, THIS MAKES ME FEEL ANXIOUS and exacerbated the problem. (I hope by now you are laughing -- I am.) In an attempt to relieve my anxiety by expressing it, I made what I thought was a rational post on Facebook explaining what was going on with me. Then I kept working on my book, as I had been doing all along (albeit without much success.)

The next morning, all the anxiety was gone. I don't know where it went, but I was relieved to see it had vanished. I read the Facebook post, laughed about it, and promptly deleted it -- it was something along the lines of BLA BLOO BLOOOOO, WHY CAN'T I WRITE, BLAA BLOO BLOOOOOOO, I FEEL SICK AND NOBODY LOVES ME, BLAA BLAAA BLOOOOO. Oh, boy.

Conclusion: I am a precious snowflake, apparently, who is way emotionally involved in her writing and is fully capable of a public freakout (or two) when things aren't going well in her life. Who knew? At least now I am aware, so I can avoid such scenes in the future. I hope.

But this story has a happy ending. Maybe I just needed to have a couple of meltdowns and really and truly vent my emotions. I've been keeping them wrapped up pretty tight for -- oh, eight years or so. After waking up anxiety-free, I was also blockage-free. Suddenly everything was clear to me. More than clear! I was really FEELING my characters and their story. I still had no idea about the middle of the novel, but I woke with an absolute trust in my characters as real people, in the truth of their story, and in my ability to tell it. Not only to tell it, but to ROCK IT.

I ran to the library, where the quiet and the view of Puget Sound always stimulate my brain, and ripped out about 5000 words in record time.

And I'll tell you something: it's the best writing I've ever done.

The working title is Baptism for the Dead. And it's going to blow a lot of minds. I can't wait to get it finished and sent off to my agent. I have never felt more confident about my future as a writer than I do right now.


  1. You will pull out of this dark spiral. You obviously have intelligence -- and a feeling heart. Using those two, you will find your inner light. And once out of this valley, you will use this experience to make your future writing the more authentic because of it. Roland

  2. I am a firm believer that first drafts are the hardest. Revisions are grueling, but sometimes it's like ripping out teeth to get words on paper. I'm glad you worked through it- 5,000 words is pretty amazing stuff!

  3. I feel like that every once in awhile, but you will pull out of it. You're an awesome writer. I haven't read your work, but we share an agent and I know she doesn't pick up weak authors. And besides writing 5000 words is a helluva lot to write. You go, girl!

  4. Ugh, we writers are a mess, but don't worry you are not alone and you will get through it!

    Congrats on the breakthrough at the library. Amazing what a change of setting can provoke.

    I started following your blog after you left such insightful comments on my "Secret Agent" entry. Thank you! Best of luck with your new novel.