Stumbling Along the Writer’s Way

The group of us doing The Artist’s Way program are just over half way through the book. I wish I could say it’s led to a breakthrough, but it hasn’t. Each chapter I think, “Yes, this is the one that will make the difference.” And each time I find myself disappointed. If I were doing it alone, I would have quit long ago, so it’s a good thing there’s a group of us. I don’t see much benefit to the morning pages, though I do like starting the day out more slowly. And so far most of the artist dates have felt like an obligation and not a joy filled experience.

It has, at least, helped me to recognize some of the roots of this block. I found myself unable to write from the point I was forced to move last summer. I haven’t been sure why since I do, for the most part, love where I moved. I miss the view of the park I had out the window of my last office, but I think I love the new office more. It’s a cozy place to write. But ever since the move, I have been almost paralyzed over money. It is dwindling away as more and more repairs are needed. How am I going to get through inflation and gas prices. I feel like I’m in way over my head. That is not a good place from which to try to write.

Sadly, I don’t find a lot of advice to help me through those feelings in The Artist’s Way. But I continue to plug away and hope that eventually, something will break through and unleash the stories again. Today I at least took a stab at writing a short story for an upcoming writing contest. I’m not inspired, but I’ve got some words on the page. We’ll see where it goes.

My mind is filled with worry about Ukraine, Europe, and World War III. At the beginning of this I worried the war would spread and we needed to do everything we could to keep that from happening. But as each day passes, and I understand more, I worry the US will once again take too long to get involved. Hitler was redressing Germany’s humiliation and the world appeased him at first and let him annex countries. Putin is redressing the USSR’s humiliation and the world appeased him at first, letting him annex countries. If he gains anything from this invasion, it will be seen as a victory, and will give him the encouragement to keep attacking his neighbors. If we wait, millions will die, and we will still eventually get dragged into it. Perhaps we need to step in now and shut his aggression down. A terrible realization for someone who considers themselves a pacifist. And it’s a terrible realization of what that will mean for the world.

With all this on my mind, I am supposed to write? Yes, yes I am. And I’m trying. I hope eventually get back to it, but I think I’m done beating myself up over it. The stories will come back some day, if I and the world live long enough.

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Finding my Way With The Artist’s Way

Over the past month I have had moments where I almost get back into a writing flow. Then I sit down, try to do the work, and quickly give up. It’s been frustrating!

After much thought, I have begun to understand that I am, for the first time in my life, dealing with… (duh duh duuuuuuh)… Writer’s Block. I always thought writer’s block was when you couldn’t think of anything to write. There are lots of things to write, I’m just no longer sure there’s any reason to bother. 

Even my imagination isn’t helping. One way I used to fall asleep easily at night was to start imagining a story. Before long sleep would take me. But now when I try to do that, I quickly revert back to thoughts about my own life. I used to spend about 80% of my time in my imagination as a kid, and now I can’t get it going at all. 

Imagination drove stories and hope for me. I could see the possibilities of life out there, and they made for good stories. But as I’ve been worn down by life, the possibilities seem less and less. 

For the past two years I have gone to work, while others were paid to stay home. And for the past two years I have stayed home, while others went out to play with little regard for the role that might have in transmitting a virus that was deadly to some. So all work, and no play, has led to a blocked me. Covid, my finances, my age… all are working against me, and my ability to see possibilities. 

In trying to figure out how to combat this situation, I pulled out my copy of The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. I had first used it in the 90s. It had survived my yearly culling of books, and still sat on my shelf. I decided it was time to return to the program. It mentioned that you could do it on your own, or with a group of people, and suddenly doing it on my own seemed empty. I got a group of friends and we invited a few others, and we now meet weekly on Zoom to discuss what we’ve learned and the progress we’ve made. It’s so fun to share this journey.

We’re on week one, and already I feel a lightening of spirit and a sense of play I’ve been missing. I bought a paint by number kit, which I know isn’t really artistic, but it’s something I’ve never done as an adult. Also purchased, some watercolor and acrylic paints to try to make some original art when the paint by number is done. My final purchase… decent snow boots so I can take walks even when it’s cold and snowy. Imagining doesn’t feel quite so futile. It feels like there are things I want to accomplish. It feels like maybe I could accomplish them. I’m finding my way with The Artist’s Way.

Have you ever had writer’s block, or whatever art you practice? What did you do to get out of it? If you’re blocked now, give The Artist’s Way a try.

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Adapting and Evolving

Writing my first book turned out to be easier than I had expected. You so often hear about the agonies of writer’s block, and hours spent staring at the ceiling, looking for inspiration. I did not experience that. Sometimes I didn’t feel inspired to write, but I always had words to put on the page.

That stems from the fact that despite it being my first book, this is not my first time at the rodeo. I’ve been writing for most of my life and learning along the way. One book that made a huge difference was The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. I never made it through the book, but I made it far enough to benefit. One exercise has you write three pages of stream-of-consciousness every morning. It might be, “There is nothing in my brain. Oh, I need eggs. Shoot, I don’t have time to go to the grocery store. I can wait. Look at that cute guying walking his dog.” It really didn’t matter what you wrote, you were to just write. That exercise teaches you one main thing. Your words aren’t that precious. They flow constantly in a never-ending stream. Just put them on paper, they can always be fixed later.

As a writer, that was eye-opening. I had agonized over words in the past, and often stopped writing because I couldn’t find the right ones. No more! My method became to spit it out the best you can and fix it later.

The other book that helped me was On Writing by Stephen King. With 25 years of writing screenplays, I had become a slave of the outline. When you have to cram an entire story into just two hours, getting all the beats right is not only difficult, but crucial. It’s like doing a Rubik’s cube. But, for me, the outline took all the joy out of writing.

Stephen King taught me to let go of the outline and let the story tell itself. Don’t worry about where it’s going. Don’t worry about structure. Just let the story unwind. Let it sit, then when you come back to read it, you will see obvious themes. Rewrite everything to those themes and voila… you have a really good, well-crafted story. Now working in novels, and not tightly structured screenplays, I can more easily follow his advice.

Cameron and King were the foundation of the easy flow of my first book. It was great, but the editing process showed me the cracks in my foundation.

With book one I did not edit. I didn’t want to slow down the flow. However, when I got to the end of a 75,000 word novel, I was completely overwhelmed by the amount of editing needed. I didn’t know where to start. I was too impatient to get it to an agent and publisher and couldn’t seem to take the time I needed to really evaluate and fix the manuscript… especially since my “just dump it on the page” method left a lot to be fixed. Thankfully I have a miracle worker of an editor who did all my heavy lifting for me this time around.

Last weekend, with the major editing behind me on book one, it felt like it was time to turn my mind to book two. I sat down and started to let the story flow again. Oh, what joy! Much to my surprise, I discovered that once again, my process is adapting and evolving. In the past it was common to write 2000 words a day. This time around, 1000 words seems to be the mark to hit. Now, I actually catch myself writing in the passive voice. I see where a verb could be more active. Or dialog can have more impact. I stop, consider my sentence, and rework it. My editor had warned me about this, but so far I don’t feel like it’s a problem. It slows me down, yes, but it doesn’t stop the flow. In some ways, it makes it far more enjoyable. Like savoring the scene instead of racing to put it down.

And this time I will set aside some time each writing day to go back and edit the previous day’s work. That way when I get to the end, I won’t be quite so overwhelmed. My first draft will be a much more polished, ready-to-publish, work.

Everything in life is a process. Just because you’re good at something today doesn’t mean you can’t be better at it if you adapt and evolve. Even this old dog is learning a few new tricks.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather