Photo by Jamie Moncrief/Copyright

Sunday, August 01, 2010

back in the saddle

I'm a bit shocked to see it's been more than a month since my last post. I meant to give myself a break, but not five-going-on-six weeks.

I have plenty of excuses for why it's been so long: A blissful week of beach vacation during which I only left my lounge chair to take a dip in the ocean or grab a meal; nearly a full week in the Boston area for a staff meeting; a crushing backlog of work for the day job because of time lost to reasons 1 and 2.

While all of those are good -- and legitimate -- justifications for my writing break, I know they're just excuses. The real reason is that it's time to start something new, and that nearly paralyzes me.

It's not writer's block. I have several ideas for novels, all of which are pretty exciting. In fact, that's part of the problem. I like all of the ideas well enough that I can't decide where to go next. Should I write the middle grade novel with the character who haunts me but whose story is hazy? The romance that came to me while I was in Paris, for which I have well-fleshed-out characters, conflict, and a pretty fair idea of the story? Perhaps I should write the literacy tale based on the true-life experience of a young man I once tutored. Or the semi-autobiographical (and, therefore, absolutely terrifying to my subconscious) story of a girl growing up during the 1960s. They're all good projects. But which one should I choose?

Beyond that, there's the burden of putting those first words to paper. I'm surprised to discover this still scares me. The weight of that first line kept me from writing for years. I thought it would set the trajectory for the entire book, that I might write for months before realizing I'd launched the story in the wrong direction, forcing me to throw all that effort away. I now know that's just another excuse. I've totally changed the first chapter of every book I've written. It's critical, of course, to get that first line right. But I sometimes don't know the first line until I write the last one, and it's always possible to go back and change it. It's my world, after all. I create it, and I can alter it at will. Yet the trepidation of setting those first words to paper remains.

It's also tough to put myself back in the traces after such a long and enjoyable break. I'm a hard worker but, deep inside, I'm basically lazy. Although I am infinitely happier when I'm writing than when I'm not, it has been fun to go to movies and baseball games, to spend time with my husband, to just live. Writing, when I'm doing it, consumes every waking moment I can steal from the day job. It requires me to wake up two hours early on weekdays (a true sacrifice for one who loves sleep as much as I do) and grab the laptop, to spend almost every evening and every minute of the weekends bent over the keyboard. It's not a hardship once I'm deep in my make-believe world; I'm quite happy to live there with my new friends. But when I come up for air, I do worry about neglecting my real life and the wonderful people in it.

For all these reasons, it's tough to take the plunge and go back to work. But it must be done. My stories aren't going to write themselves, darn them. I've learned a valuable lesson about myself from this hiatus, however: I can get away from the day job to recharge the batteries, but I must never, never, never take a break from writing. Creative momentum is tough to gain and, once gained, must be maintained. The only way to reclaim it is to ignore the pain and climb back in the saddle.

To the writers and other artists in the audience, I'd be interested to know: What is your pattern? Do you take breaks between projects, or move directly from one to the next? What games does your subconscious play in an effort to break the flow of your creativity, and how do you overcome them?

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  1. Hi Bernie

    I understand all that you say! I am also writing a novel and I have writte 20 pages. THe best way for me to make sure I would make progress and get enough confidence to move forward was first to take a writing coach. She is great and is franco-canadian, I thonk she speaks a perfect english so if evenr you are interested, let me know... I have been working with her for almost 3 weeks and I have mpade impressive progress since I started working with her. She has written many books and knows all the tricks. The second thing is that I have found the way to encourage and unblock my subconscious (the novel is semi-autobiographical (and I can only encourage you... to write THIS VERY novel!!).. as you may know I am a certified hypnotherapist so all that concerns my unconscious... is something I know how to change for the better.... so when you wake up at night... when you are almost asleep but not awaken.... repeat yourself: I am a writer, I write novels... I write very easily this novel about by story... so easily.... and I just have to write and the words comme easily... in a fluid manner.... very easily..... and the mire I write and the more the words come easily... and I write pages and pages.... it workds very well for me! good luck Bernie :o)

  2. A week on the beach? Sounds like bliss. The only way to keep writing to is too keep writing but you know that. As for which story to start first...all of them sound fantastic and interesting. I'd go with the one that comes to mind first when you wake up.

  3. what helps me is that as soon as I finish a project, I immediately being the next--even if it's just a few paragraphs or the inciting incident. Then I have a new WIP and can't put off getting started.

  4. I always have more than one project in the works, so never take a break between projects. I set my afternoons aside for writing and the rest of my time is for house stuff, personal things, like my morning workout, and I build in at least a little time for fun every day.

    I think if I took a break between projects, I'd never get going again. LOL.

  5. Great post!

    I just returned from a short vacation trip that centered around visiting a setting for my next writing project. I also carried a book to read that focuses on the time period and issues. That is keeping me in the right frame of mind for the upcoming writing. While on vacation, we visited tourist sites and a recreation park as well. Who knows--those outings may lead to another book idea.

    Linda A.

  6. Thanks so much for the suggestions and comments.

    - Zohra, I'm so excited to hear about your writing coach and how good you are feeling about your own progress. You go, girl! And I think you're right. The 60s novel is the one I think I was born to write, but I want to be up to the task when I do it. I truly don't think my skills are quite there yet, and my heart hasn't told me the theme of that one yet. But soon, soon....

    - Keena, you know my weaknesses too well. :-) But that's the mark of a true friend.

    - Caroline, Susan and Linda, thanks for stopping by and adding to the discussion. I hope you'll come back often. In fact, if you'd become followers of the blog, I'd be thrilled. Nothing gets my juices flowing like the opportunity to discuss the issues we all confront with other writers.

    I love your strategy for keeping the momentum going, Caroline. Keena taught me the same trick for not losing momentum between chapters. Can't believe I never thought to apply it to projects as well. Great idea.

    And I did do a lot of reading on that beach trip, Linda. Thanks for making me realize that time was not a waste, but an opportunity to let new inputs percolate in my brain.

    Susan, I envy your ability to have mornings to write and afternoons to do what needs doing. Someday, God willing, I'll have that luxury, too. Just...must...keep...writing...

    Great feedback, everyone!