Years ago, I shattered a stubborn case of block by deciding not to heed writing advice anymore.
The trick to ignoring the “authorities” was to pretend I was ten — a time before I had learned to stutter out dry, self-conscious prose for teachers. I had never blocked as a child when I was penning exuberant stories featuring my dog as the hero. For a while I had fun flouting every rule I knew. I could now be silly, trite, or sentimental if I felt like it.
My new attitude quieted the voice of criticism inside me, and playfulness nudged its way back into my art.
Recently I told my brother I had been drawing a lot during the pandemic.
He said, “I envy you. I wish I could draw. I remember how much I enjoyed it as a kid. I’m too old now to really get good at it.”
I knew how he felt. I’ve spent much of my life talking myself out of fun activities by asking myself, “What’s the point in learning a new skill at this stage? To achieve the Ninja-like mastery I require, I would have needed to start as a three-year-old.’ Therefore, it’s not worth it to even begin.”
I was soaring. It was April 2019 and I’d just finished the draft of my new novel Prowl, which I’d painstakingly written three times, each time starting from scratch. I was eager to release something new, but I needed feedback before publishing it.
But before I could get any Beta readers, I suddenly found out I had to move. Two weeks after finishing my book in Florida, I found myself trundling across three state lines with a yowling cat.
That move was only the beginning. I moved several times in a one-year period, bouncing from Florida to North Carolina and finally on to South Carolina.
Over the summer my depression made an unwelcome
reappearance on my emotional doorstep. For therapy I tried this exercise I had
read about somewhere, which was to write an imaginary dialogue with my
depression. This roll-and-tumble dust-up of a conversation was the result.
I just arrived. Why are you not smiling? After all this time, do I not get a
hug? Have you forgotten about me? After
all the great times we have had together, the least you could do is invite me in.
Me: You are not
welcome in these parts, buddy. Go. Away.
you treat me like a total stranger. How could
you? We share so many fond memories together.
The panelist seemed super-human. She had drawn awed murmurs after
telling us at the indie writing conference in Orlando that she had written and
published over fifty romance novels. She was barely over twenty.
I was eager to hear what the prolific author was going to
say, especially when the moderator asked her a question I loved, “How do you
define a hero?”
As a novelist myself, I had read many definitions of a hero in
how-to-write books. Many were dry and technical: “A hero is the main character
of a story who struggles against overwhelming obstacles, usually for some
principle, ideal, person, or goal beyond the narrow scope of his or her own ego.
Heroes may be flawed but, in the end, they will always act according to their
conscience, even when it means risking everything, including, sometimes, their
The silent inner voice that criticizes me as I write means well. It wants to shield my ego, to prevent me from saying anything embarrassing or offensive that might get me banished from the human race and possibly sent into the wilderness to survive on dirt and berries.
My ego does not understand that the only kind of writing that matters is honest writing. Mastering the art requires me to look at the world, including myself, in all its messy, multifaceted complexity.
Weeks ago I found myself so outraged by an online news
article, I had to remind myself to breathe.
Enough, I told myself. It is time to be proactive. So I sat back in my
sofa, massaged my temple — and did a rabid search for more articles I knew would
rocket my outrage to a whole new level.
As I read, adrenalin surged. I became madder by the minute.
When I had burned through my most incendiary news articles, I turned to
Facebook for the solace of its snarky fury.
Before I knew it, hours had passed with my eyes glued to my smart phone.
Now, blinking up, I looked around the living
room and wondered what I had actually accomplished, except for miffing
Some time ago she had dropped on the couch beside me a
brightly colored fuzzy ball. She is the only cat I have ever met who liked to
play fetch. Now she mewled piteously as
she nosed her violet toy toward me and looked up to gaze into my eyes, begging
me to throw it.
Money looks the same regardless of how it is earned. Money
made waitressing or cutting lawns looks no different from the money you would
make for publishing a bestselling masterpiece destined to survive for
millennia. Maybe in the moment, when the bills are due, money seems paramount,
but in the end it is the writing that compels interest, surprises, enchants,
persuades, and inspires.
That being said, I must admit that when I was a child
penning stories about talking animals and dreaming of being an author when I
grew up, I also hoped that I would make a living at writing.
It was not because I considered writing to be an onerous
chore that would only be worthwhile if someone greased my peanut- butter-and-jelly-stained
palms. Writing enchanted me; Otherwise I would have chosen a different career
to idealize. I imagined I would be paid because whenever someone asked me what
I wanted to be when I grew up, I knew they were not asking about my future
hobbies. They were asking how I was planning to earn a salary. Salaries, I
thought, made writers official.
When I first began blogging, I began all my posts without being totally certain what they would be about. I would ask myself questions without clear resolutions. I would probe hazy memories for meaning. Then I would set off like an itinerant mountain hiker, without a map, to explore them. I liked to get lost in my prose, to confuse myself, then forge a path to clarity as I went along.
I later learned I could speed the process if I wrote about something I knew for sure, an essay I could fully envision in its finished state, like how to plot a story or what a movie was about. I could just begin with a thesis statement like I had done for essays in college, then write an outline. Those blogs would usually turn out fine, but they were not fulfilling in the same way my inefficient, confusing meandering blogs were.
That was partly because with my pre-structured posts, I never “crossed.”