by J.T. Ellison
I’ve had one of those strange weeks, when good things shower down from the sky like raindrops, and I sit back and ask myself when the other shoe is going to drop.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m as optimistic as they come. But sometimes, I worry that things are too good. Have you ever had that feeling?
And it’s funny, because that’s not how my week started. On Saturday, after reading Alex’s wonderful post, I was super bummed. I’ve been having an incredibly difficult time with this new book. The subject matter is hard to digest — one of those where I wonder what in the world I was thinking when I started it, no one is going to want to read about this… all the usual doubts creeping around. And those doubts can derail a writer pretty damn quick. As I’ve just experienced.
It’s not happened like this before. I’ve had moments of concern, worry that I wasn’t doing the right thing, but the story has always been paramount, and I knew deep down that it would be okay. This time… not so much. So I’ve been pouting, words trickling onto the screen. Not meeting my daily goals, fretting all the time. It’s just not ME.
So I read Alex’s post. Then I watched the U.S. Open.
I don’t know how many of you follow golf, but the Open this past weekend was unreal. Historic. Full of grace and power, hardships and triumphs. It was a battle, mano e mano, between two of my all time favorites – Tiger Woods and the "Walking Smile" Rocco Mediate. I’m a golfer, so I usually plant myself on weekends during the season to watch my guys shoot it out on the links.
Both of them, Tiger and Rocco, gave me inspiration this week.Thursday was the first time Tiger had walked more than nine holes since his most recent knee surgery. He hurt. He was in pain. So much pain that word came out Tuesday that he is done for the season, needing another surgery on his poor knee. You knew it hurt, could tell by the shortened stride, the grimaces and grunts when he took his shots. I am telling you, that took some serious
guts to finish the tournament.
And here comes Rocco, Mr. Smiley, jittery, jumpy guy who can’t settle
in his stance, giving the best golfer in the world a massive run for
his money.The lovely thing is I haven’t heard anyone grumbling about
this. All I’ve heard is pure, unadulterated pleasure at seeing two
athletes, who are good friends in real life, quiet and full of
concentration, battling it out on the links, forcing each other to new
heights of skill. Rocco pushed Tiger, Tiger pushed Rocco, and they gave
us 91 holes of pure joy. I honestly didn’t know who I wanted to win
more. I didn’t want either of them to lose. How often does that happen?
I saw an interview with Tiger Sunday night. They asked about the pain. He said:
"Pain. It’s just pain. It is what it is. You just work through it."
And I thought to myself:
"Block. It’s just writer’s block. It is what it is. You just work through it."
Because that’s what professionals do — they work through it. They Just. Do. It. No excuses. No BS. They work hard, even when it hurts, because that’s their job.
When I finished watching on Monday, I realized my anxiety was gone. I talked with my editor and she likes the premise for the book. I cut away some things that I realized were going to hold the story back. The story got too big, and it needs to be tamed a bit. We also had to do an excerpt for the back of JUDAS KISS, and what I sent wasn’t right for it. It’s the bane of the two books a year — you’re sending draft material that’s not ready for public consumption. I got worried all over again, but just as quickly we realized that I’d buried my lead (AGAIN. This is the third time I’ve had to move my third of fourth chapter to the forefront. I find it amusing, and heartening, to know that it’s just my way of doing it.)
Suddenly, everything clicked. I barreled through the halfway point. I’ve written over fifty pages of actual, usable story this week so far. HUGE sighs of relief. I haven’t forgotten how to do it after all. And I’m reminded again that writer’s block is your story telling you you’re going in the wrong direction.
Now we’ll see if I can actually type THE END on this sucker. My new mantra: JUST DO IT!
So between a historic golf match and a well-timed kick in the pants from Ms. Sokoloff, I’m feeling a little more optimistic at the end of this week than I did in the beginning.
I’d love to hear about your inspirations — those little bits of grace that fall unexpectedly and turn things around for you.
Wine of the Week: To fit with our grace and inspiration theme — a 2002 St. Francis Merlot from Sonoma
Great post, J.T. I’ve been experiencing, not writer’s block, but writer’s exhaustion, which amounts to the same thing. College reunion, family 80th birthdays, surgery for one of my relatives, have all combined to tire me out of my morning writing routine, and I’ve fallen behind. But everywhere I go, I’ve been delighted to find bits of life that I wouldn’t have seen if I’d stayed behind my disciplined home routine in CA. I spoke to an oddball night clerk who was obsessed with his family murders:http://killerhobbies.blogspot.com/2008/06/too-noir-for-comfort_13.htmlAt my reunion, the women shared thoughts about dating and life that will work its way into my stories:http://killerhobbies.blogspot.com/2008/06/mating-cougar-style.htmlSo it’s all been worthwhile, even though it’s back to the routine, now! Best, Kathryn
JT, isn’t it wonderful when things line up to walk us through rough patches?
I love your statement that writer’s block is there to tell us we’re going in the wrong direction. A wonderful way to look at it.
On Tuesday’s walk down to the equine labyrinth I’m building, I encountered volunteer sunflowers, a box turtle in my path, a fallen branch in the path in the shape of an appropriately timed rune, a doe who did not run away, and a crow who walked the labyrinth and left behind a single feather.
Wed. I drove in from errands only to see a charm of goldfinches ark up beside the car, and zigzag up to the big oak tree in our front field.
Things like this are what keep me going.
Just do it? That sounds like a great mantra JT. Just hope that a certain athletic wear company aren’t firing up their lawyers right now 😉
Anyway, this happens to be a great and timely post. I am currently trying to work my way through writer’s block. So far, the words are coming slowly, but I find relaxing music to help. If not, I can resort to a glass of some of your wines of the week.
I’m going through a tough patch with the hostile attempt to take over the comapny I work for. It’s been in the news, nationwide, selling America. I’m trying to work through a period where my future is uncertain. It sucks the creativity right out of you.
I watched the tournament last weekend. I had to work Monday so I missed the playoff. But to watch how both guys pushed through was amazing. Tiger with the pain and Rocco with the pressure of the best player in golf nipping at your heels and not folding.
Good stuff JT.
Hi all!Please, please, please forgive me editing apres-posting . . . my internet was down last night and I had to catch a dawn breaker flight out this morning. Thankfully my hotel has wireless, so here I sit, doing some work before I go off to play.
Kathryn, I’m always struck by how derailing outside influences can be. Worry about home, health, family, friends, all can be ultra time consuming, and sap the creative flow. I’m glad you found your way back!
Billie, merci. I’ve been roaming around the past couple of years using that “version” of what writer’s block means. I really believe that sometimes, your subconscious is telling you to stop and reflect. I love your graces. I think I need to visit you for some more.
I had one this morning. 30 minute cab ride into the city, dead silence. Cabbie wasn’t in the mood, I wasn’t in the mood. No phones, no internet, no talking, just pretty scenery (lots of boats!) and blissful quiet. I came into the hotel room rejuvenated.
RJ, yeah, let’s hope I’m not being tracked down. That would be BAD.
I use music too, and car drives. Getting out on the open road, stereo blasting, always shakes something loose.
Will, I totally get it. I can’t imagine being a full-timer in the corporate world and trying to write. My hat is off to you, my friend, and to all the writers who can manage.
I tivo’d Monday so I could work a bit — and man, was it worth it. I know there are people who say UGH, you watch golf? But when it’s good, it’s sooo good…
My version of the writer’s block rules:
Start now.Write every day.Finish.
And Billie, thank you for that “charm of goldfinches.”
JT,A wonderful post.
It’s funny . . . you wrote about pain. I was talking with some people at Tae Kwon Do about that last night. I’m in constant pain with my feet and yet, 2-4 times a week, I jump and kick and do all of these things that I could so easily stop because of the hurt.
But I don’t because my life would be impoverished without them.
Same with writing.
If I didn’t do what I do, if I didn’t push when times were tough, my life would be just a series of grays rather than the rainbow that it is.
Must be a fanciful day – I just went out to get the mail and the charm of goldfinches were on the grass right by my front walk. They flew up into the sweet gum tree in a flurry of color and then burst into twitter song. As if that weren’t more than enough, they actually followed me down the driveway to the mailbox, from tree to tree. I felt like I had entered a tropical rainforest. Their color is so striking.
And this is what Ted Andrews says about goldfinches in his book Animal-Speak:
Black and yellow are the colors of the archangel Auriel… oversees the activity of nature spirits — the fairies, elves, and devas… the presence of goldfinches usually indicates an awakening to the activities of those beings that are normally relegated to the realm of fiction… awakening to that which is normally hidden from view.
Goldfinches like border areas.. the ‘Tween Places. Goldfinches are rarely silent, a reminder that Nature is speaking to us constantly.
The goldfinch has an undulating flight pattern… can be used in visualization to help loosen the subtle energies of the aura and facilitate leaving the body… also reflects the ability of the goldfinch to lead us to the inner and outer realms, from human to Faerie, from physical to spiritual.
I mean – whoa! How much more relevant to a writer can this be?
Louise — see, that’s the kick in the butt I needed two weeks ago. Next time, I’m just emailing you so you can tell me to get off my ass. : )
Pari, I wonder the same thing sometimes. I have back and shoulder problems, but I can’t give up my golf. It hurts. I take stuff. It is what it is. As long as I can walk, I’ll find a way. Writing is definitely the same process.
Oh, Billie. Wow. Just… WOW. I love it. I want the finches now! Thanks for giving us more insight. Messengers of Devas, indeed.
I think we all need to find the paths back and forth between the two worlds. I know that’s the line I’m treading in this story, in a very literal sense, and that’s why it’s so difficult.
I’m another one in the “drained of creativity by life circumstances” bucket right now — too much work for the business I hate, not enough for the one I’m trying to replace it with, and coming off the tail end of an ugly eight-month legal fight with an agency of our county’s government (about which I can presently say nothing).
What’s helped me is recognizing that all of those things can, if looked at the right way, serve as creative fuel rather than a burden. I’ve been making notes about how the court battle could be fictionalized in some interesting ways, sketching out a possible non-fiction project, and writing at least a little every day. I remind myself that even a paragraph or two each day is still progress, and that the guy walking behind the pack of runners will eventually finish the marathon too.
Would I like to be able to crank out ten pages a day like I’ve done in the past? Sure…but some progress beats no progress any day.
One more thought…I find that focusing on my daughter helps keep me grounded in the real world. Even though she’s at an age (12-1/2) where the world is starting to rub off some of the lustrous sheen of her childhood innocence, she still sees so many things in the world through fresh eyes. And, in turn, so do I, and what a blessing that is.
“Writer’s block is your story’s way of telling you you’re going in the wrong direction.”
Thanks, JT. I just scrawled that on the white board above my desk, right next to my crazy plot chart.
Tammy, I like your attitude. Looking for the good in everything is definitely the way to be.
Joanie, glad to be of service! : )
Thanks, JT, for a great lesson. It’s so easy, when writing, to abandon ship and start something new. Especially when there is no editor waiting on the manuscript. You hit that point, and the story just feels murky, and all the crap you’re going to have to dig through to make it clear to the reader seems daunting.
Hmmmm. I had that idea for a story a few weeks back. Here it is. Damn, that’s good. It’d be so easy to pull off too. Screw it. Save. Close. File–New.
Done it. Several times.
Each time, the sexy story, somewhere around 35k, also becomes murky as hell.
Thanks for the lesson.
And I am in awe of Tiger. When I break 100, I actually am happy to go buy a bottle that costs more than ten bucks. 😉
Can you send a little of that inspiration my way?
So thrilled to hear you pushed through, baby. (JUST. DO. IT. has been my mantra for everything ever since I first saw the Nike ad.).
I don’t know how I would have finished this last one without writer friends around me saying – “God, I thought I would NEVER get through this one.”
You all are LIFESAVING, and that’s no joke.
Chuck — sorry, just saw this. You absolutely need to keep pushing through. 35K is when it gets murky for all of us. Just step back for a week, then reread what you have. You’ll be surprised at how god it is, and your joie de vivre will return.
At least, that’s how it’s supposed to happen!
Tasha — on it’s way.
Alex, I really do give credit where credit is due. You saved me, sister.