Writer’s Block

Over this past year I’ve thought a lot about being a writer — more than I’ve written (f you don’t count this blog). I had always mocked people who whined about writers block, but I was stuck in it. I mocked myself, too, because, you know, there’s no one holding a gun at my head saying, “Write or die!” I took my own advice and backed off from the whole thing. I wrote some good short stories in the interval and occasionally worked on The Schneebelis Go to America so I didn’t lose touch with it. I put together My Everest, a labor of love that taught me a lot about myself as a writer (and as a person). Sometimes I’ve been frustrated, but mostly I figured, “If it happens (continuing the novel I was mired in) it happens. No one really cares, anyway.”

There’s liberty there. I wasn’t aware during this whole time that my mind was coming to an understanding of what it means to me to write, self-publish and, in my limited way, promote books.

Sometime last fall I was notified that Martin of Gfenn had been short-listed for the Chanticleer Reviews Chaucer Award — that’s an award for historical novels set in a time period before the 1750’s. That’s thousands of years, BTW. I was happy and confused. Did I have to DO something? Because godnose I didn’t want to DO anything. I didn’t even remember sending the book (or the entry fee). While there had been an honor bestowed up on me, there was also a problem. I am not walking really well. I didn’t want to go through the airplane (and financial!) nightmare of getting out of the San Luis Valley to a small corner of the Pacific Northwest. The conference where the awards were being bestowed was at a place I’d love to visit, but only when I’m able to sightsee, hike, go on boats, etc.

And, I didn’t think I’d win. I mostly forgot about it. Time passed, the conference occured, and I didn’t win the prize. I was mildly disappointed. I think my friends were more disappointed for me. In my time thinking about what it means to me to write, I’d already discovered what the prize is for me as a writer, beyond the work itself, (ah-HA!) It’s readers who love my work. I could sure use $1000 prize money (it would pay to board the dogs while I’m rehabbing from hip surgery) but otherwise? I don’t need a another prize. I have the book, the experience writing the book, the thrill of opening fan letters from Switzerland (where the book is set!), the reviews in Swiss newspapers, the heart-felt reactions of my friends to the novel, the expressions on their faces when they talk to me about it (wow ❤ ). What, in the currency of this ephemeral world could be more? There really isn’t anything.

Meanwhile, the situation with my arthritic hip progressed through a cortisone shot, a brief fling with mobility, physical therapy, the failure of the cortisone shot, scheduling surgery, etc. ad nauseum. And my manuscript began calling to me. I printed it, read it and thought, “Some of this is beautiful.” I used Grammarly to help me with the invisible typos and made that level of revision as well as some changes to make it consistent, then I contacted the woman who’s been my great and helpful editor in the past for help “seeing.”

Through all this (and there’s more but…) I saw that writing, for me, is like flying as it’s described in one the Hitchhiker’s Guide books; you throw yourself at the ground and miss. And now? I’m thinking all the time about the Goliards and Michele, the Italian painter who was Martin of Gfenn’s teacher. My Schneebelis need work, but I don’t know what work, and in a few weeks my editor will get the book and help me out. And I’m getting a new hip. I don’t know, it’s all pretty good from where I’m sitting. ❤



25 thoughts on “Writer’s Block

  1. I am glad you are writing and never stop. I have enjoyed all your books, and that from an atheist who never thought she would spend time in the reform church world of Switzerland. I suppose living in the scenes of the past it all brings it alive to me. It was an achievement just to be short listed for an award, because you were noticed and recognised as a worthy writer. Keep going and I am looking forward to reading all about the Schneebelis when the book appears. By the way I know quite a few people that have had hip replacements and it seems to be a very successful operation.

    • Thank you! I’m looking forward to the surgery. I am now at the point where I say, “Dusty, two weeks from today I’ll be home from surgery.” His reaction is very stoical but I think that’s largely because dogs live in the moment.

      I thought of Mr. Swiss as I was writing The Schneebelis Go to America. They were like the branch of his family who didn’t stay in CH.

  2. Important to remember why the writing matters to you.
    Wow, less than 2 weeks to the new hip. Countdown time indeed! Hope DTD is working on his welcome home parade.

    • Oh DTD was around during my first hip surgery. He went to live at my trainer’s house for 6 weeks. She taught him to help me stand up if I fall. He’s going to be very happy to come home from boarding, I think and see that his person is walking again. ❤

      • No. I think it’s wise for them to be boarded until I know how things are going. Bear likes to lean against me and climb up into my lap. I can see that as a problem, plus I won’t be able to walk them and they have pals at boarding they run around with in the huge yard. I’m thinking a week after I come home I’ll go get them.

  3. I don’t think that not feeling “right” about finishing a book is really writer’s block. Sometimes, I don’t want to write. And sometimes, I’m just not sure where I’m supposed to be going and I think that’s where you found yourself. You’ve got these characters. You got them here, doing that … but NOW what? Where are they going? Why should they go there?

    Often, the characters tell you (I have no idea why sometimes characters grab you by the throat and drag in in a particular — often quite specific — direction, but it’s great when it works!) … but when the characters just sit there looking at you … well … either you give up on the story or you call for SWAT.

    Personally, I never know where to go after a certain point. I think it is my own failure to better define my characters and understand them from the inside out. It’s a serious shortcoming for a writer and makes it nearly impossible for me to develop a plot that really works.

    I’ve listened to all kinds of writers from best-sellers to beginners all get to the point you are at. The way they work it out — assuming they do work it out — has been interesting and informative for me — not that it made me finish a book, mind you — only that it made me see how other people did it.

    Kim Harrison worked it out with 3X5 cards. Ideas on cards stuck every which way, following the ideas and somehow finding a way to make them hang together. Gretchen just blows through it.
    Laurie King writes, stops — sometimes writes a completely different book in the middle — then falls back to the original, having unconsciously found something she had missed. Some people never get back, leaving us without that final piece of the story and in mourning, never really knowing what happened.

    Me? If I don’t go back pretty fast, I’ll never go back. Mostly, it has been never. But you are a “real” writer. You have a grasp of “plot.” And story. You have characters who are real to you, inside and out. You know the context of their universe. You’re the real deal, and if your style isn’t currently trendy, it doesn’t make you less of a great writer. The pattern you are following doesn’t sound like a block — more like a fork in the road — not knowing where you need to turn. You’ll find your way, if you want to.

    Do you want to?

    I think I lose interest in my characters. I figure if I’m finding them dull, who else would find them interesting?

    Those cortisone shots NEVER last. They give you weeks, sometimes months of relief and it is so great to feel like YOU again. But they wear off. I stopped getting them because the disappointment when they wore off was worse than the relief in the middle. Also, the more you get them, the shorter the relief they provide. Maybe someday they will find a way to make them last longer. Forever would be GREAT.

    • It's true about "trendy." I checked out the winner's book, and I couldn't write it. It's not bad, but it's not authentic to me. It is set in VERY ancient Rome during the end of the Etruscans. That's cool. It hits on every contemporary trend/interest. Basically, it's a book about people today set in the deep past which excellent research about how those people lived without, I think, a lot of thought into who those people were (but I could be wrong). As I read through the first pages I thought about myself and historical fiction and yeah, I'm a little snotty about it. I think it's my job to get as close as I can to THEIR biases and expectations. That's been one challenge with the current Schneebelis. I thought I couldn't be convincing, but I think it's going to be OK. It won't be the best thing I've written, but it's not bad at all. And I feel that they NEED to arrive in America for me to write about something else. I don't know why, but that's a pretty urgent feeling for me.

      My doc and I were hoping to get 3 months out of the cortisone shot. I'm glad to have been disappointed because it means I can't put off surgery which, of course, I would. BUT this way when the WHOLE wildlife area reopens on July 15, I should be fully ambulatory and able to walk in the green slough with the amazing birds and my beautiful dogs. And, by September, I could be climbing hills again. Plus, the damned thing hurts incredibly at this point. I keep trying to explain that to Bear but she keeps thinking it's a thing of the present moment only, not a continuing problem.

  4. I should apologize for the lengthy reply. I’ve been thinking about writing — and what it means — a lot lately. Trying to figure out why I’m NOT writing a book and why I don’t feel like I should be writing one, whether that’s something wrong with me or just the way I’m built. I don’t have an answer. In the course of not knowing why or how I do what I don’t do, I’ve learned a lot about how other people work it out — none of which has worked for me. I think my failure as a novelist runs deeper than process.

    • No apologies needed. There’s no reason in the world to write a book. I don’t think you should regard yourself as a failure, either. No two writers are the same, and their relationship to writing is not the same — I think writing is like marriage. No two marriages are the same, either. It’s whatever it is for whoever is doing it. One reason I hate writers conferences and so on is because there’s always someone with a system and, for me, that stands in the way of an idea, discovery, discipline all the stuff that everyone needs if they’re going two write. All the talk about “craft” is just BS to me, but not to others.

      I’ve thought about a little book about China during my short time living there, a little book like My Everest and that might happen. It would be fun — you might have fun writing a “slide show” about Jerusalem during the years you lived there. The places where we lived don’t exist any more, but they were beautiful and dynamic and personal to us. ❤

      • And if I had pictures … But I don’t. Why I don’t has to do with one sleazy ex husband. I think I’m probably going to keep doing what I do because I seem to do it well — better than anything else I’ve done that wasn’t actually “paid for” work. I write short stuff best and blogging IS short stuff. So maybe this is what I was REALLY born to do.

  5. Congratulations on the Chaucer’s Award nomination and the bloggers’ award nomination, Martha. Fabulous result just to have your writing recognised. I am a fairly non-active member of a small arts organisation. When I joined, I entered the member’s exhibition, which was a people’s choice award. It was won by a kindergarden teacher. The family of all her students voted for her. And why not? There are benefits to being a teacher. 🙂

    It seems to me you made good use of your time when you had writer’s block. I take an age to get started on a new art project. For me, it is necessary to just let the idea swirl around for a while, and it is often in those times that the best ideas occur.

  6. Best of luck—both in writing and the new hip. I had my surgery three years ago and I’m glad I got one done. Now just putting off the left one until it is needed! If you need care packages, let me know! I have access to Amazon and I’m not afraid to use it!

    • ❤ Thank you! I'm looking forward to the surgery. I had my right hip repaired 11 years ago, and I don't remember much about it except that it stopped hurting and I started walking!!! 🙂

      • Did you have the posterior replacement? If you are getting the newer method—going through the front muscles—there are fewer restrictions. From what I understand. I was pretty wiped out for six weeks afterward, but then, I’m lazy to begin with! I wrote a piece about my experience, if you are interested, it’s called: Captain’s Log: To Boldly Go. I might have been slightly drugged while writing it. This might be the link: https://kirisalazar.wordpress.com/2015/04/27/captains-log-to-boldly-go/

      • My other surgery was hip resurfacing which left me with a scar about 15 inches long on the back/side of my right leg. I dont’ remember rehab being terrible but maybe we block things out and I was with the Evil X at the time so…and it took them 4 years to diagnose it correctly and by that time I was in a kind of hell anyway and just not hurting was huge. This surgery is going to be the anterior approach and I’m happy about that. I’ll read your post! 🙂 Thanks for the link.

      • My scar is only 4 inches, if that. The only thing I’d recommend is either a high waist band underwear or string bikini. I hate elastic touching it while it healed. Or go commando. Good luck!

      • I didn’t think about the underwear thing. Thank you!

        I hate this whole thing. People don’t understand why I wouldn’t want to do this, but having done it, there was a little voice in me saying, “NO NO NO NO NO! I’d rather die!” Thank goodness for my doc who listened to me when I said, “I don’t know why, but somewhere inside is some PTSD left over from the first time”

        He said, “This isn’t that. Here, show me your scar.” I showed him. He said, “Nice work, but listen, I’m going to give you a scar like this,” and he put his fingers on the front of my left hip and said, “Four inches, max. OK? I’m going to take good care of you.” Then we talked some more and he said, “You’ll be happy and, next year, if you want to, you’ll be able to run.” I cried. He also uses obscenities so yeah. 🙂

      • Hmm, I was told no more calisthenic or aerobic activities. Particularly running or jumping, but I had a total hip replacement, and maybe my weight has something to do with it. I will say this, there was little pain from the procedure itself. I was just exceptionally tired! Oh, and ask your doctor if you have to take antibiotics before any future dental procedure. That was something they told me!

      • I’m having a THR. We’ll see — I don’t have to run (I haven’t in a long time) but I do get to X-country ski. And walk. Yeah, the antibiotic thing I remember that from the first time. Right now the way I see it is I have to do it and what comes will come. 🙂

      • I had a thought. I’ve done some research on what I can and cannot do a year out from this surgery. A lot of the activity is predicated on how long the implant is expected to last. You’re a lot younger than I. Maybe that’s the difference. I’m 66. Realistically, while I could live another 30 years (please god no) I probably have like 15 or so years left. That could be one reason my doc OK’d running. I’ll ask him.

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