When you have story-related block, you feel sick every time you think about the story you're working on. You find yourself avoiding sitting down. You wonder if you were made to be a writer. You being to make lists of everything you hate about your book. You even hate thinking about it.
It may be hard to see it, but sometimes you can get rid of this kind of writers block by:
A) Going back to the beginning of the story and seeing where it went wrong. You have to be courageous enough in this situation to cut as much of the words that aren't working as you have to. This may well be most of what you have written. But unless you do this, you will never be able to feel any interest in this project again. It may already be too late for that. And so . . .
B) Trying to write something new might be the solution, as well. If you can think of anything else you are interested in writing, maybe something completely different from the failed project that is haunting you, try it out for a day or so. Fiddle with it, play with it. See if you can make writing fun again. If it works, keep going. But be watchful. If you start to feel a niggling sense that you've gone wrong again, stop before you get too far in. You don't want to keep throwing books out.
2 Life-related Block
In my mind, life-related block is completely different, but I think that there may be some writers who confuse life-related block with story-related block. Both come with a lack of interest in writing, and a dread whenever the idea of work comes up. In addition, life-related block can also cause you to question if you were made to be a writer.
However, life-related block is far more pervasive. When I have life-related block, I don't want to watch movies or television. I don't want to read books. I don't want to talk to friends. I don't want to eat my favorite foods. It is a bit like depression in this way, in that it can feel like it takes over your whole life and makes it impossible for you to feel happy.
Unlike depression, however, a life-related block can actually be solved by fixing a specific problem in your life. I don't know what that problem is for everyone, and sometimes depression medication can help by letting us see our lives more clearly. Sometimes a life-related block is over-work or over-stress from a day-job, from family emergencies, or from the long illness of a loved one.
Sometimes a life-related block is the unconscious realization that there is something going terribly wrong in our lives, a relationship that has to be ended (and we don't want to do it), or a change has to be made. It can be related to the physical space you're trying to do your writing in. It can be related to money problems.
Whatever it is, if you have life-related block, starting a new project isn't likely to help you. You probably need to just take some time off your creative endeavors and really figure out what change is needed. Then, when you've got your stuff taken care of, the desire to create will naturally come back to you, slowly but surely.
In case you were wondering, this is not going to morph into a blog composed exclusively of me interviewing other authors. But I sure like doing said interviews, and I am now pleased to present another one!
I was intrigued by N. Griffin’s debut novel, The Whole Stupid Way We Are, from the moment I heard its excellent title. It’s about Dinah, church choir director’s daughter who sings off-key, and Skint, who walks coatless through brutal cold; about their friendship and the things that divide them. For a book whose characters have some very hard-to-deal-with experiences, it’s surprisingly funny, and the prose is always precise, whether evoking an escape from detention, the play of sunlight on a toddler’s feet, or how it feels when your help can’t fix what you want to fix.
So I asked N. Griffin some questions. I’ve tried to avoid spoilers, but if you are extremely concerned about such things you might want to wait to look at this interview until you’ve finished reading the book. Which, in case it wasn’t obvious from the above, I recommend that you do.
SR: I love the names in TWSWWA. How do you choose character names?
NG: Thank you! Naming the characters is one of the most fun parts about writing books, I think. For TWSWWA, Dinah’s name came first. When I was just starting to write the book, I was working with a woman whose name I adored. Let’s call her Mynah Deech. I loved saying “Mynah Deech” so much I worked it into conversation at every opportunity—“What do you think Mynah Deech would think of this?” and “We better check with Mynah Deech!” In fact, I wanted to steal her whole name for my book but I thought that would be too weird so I settled for a name that rhymed with it and came up with Dinah Beach. All of the other names just felt right to me, and some of the names are sort of a broken-up, messed-up version of a word that was central to my heart while I was writing the book. A MYSTERY! :)
SR: I was struck by Skint’s angry passion about social issues far removed from the considerable challenges of his day-to-day life. At what point in the writing process did that aspect of his character become clear to you?
NG: It was always clear to me; one of the first things I knew about Skint was this. I think this aspect of his character came from two places for me—first, I know so many kids who care this much about suffering and the world, and we never seem to pay attention to that aspect of teenagers. We prefer to think they are only and entirely self-centered, and I know that is beyond not true. I also knew that Skint’s passion for this was an outlet for all the anger in his life—he can’t express what is going on at home, but he can get riled up about the world in a public way, and all his personal hurt and upset gets added to his natural compassion and comes out with all the intensity that would suggest.
SR: Dinah genuinely cares about Skint, but also seems to see him as a project or a job. She comes up with strategies to distract & cheer him: “Outings, she thought firmly, and good ideas to think about. Pretending, talismans, things to do with trees.” I think many of us have known and/or been Dinahs. What do you think drives that particular intense need to help people who may or may not benefit from our efforts?
NG: For Dinah, I think it’s the same intense love and compassion as Skint has, only hers is focused on the personal and her own aching for Skint. I also think she truly thinks she’s helping him, and that can be an intoxicating feeling—who doesn’t want to feel like they are needed like that? But the balance is off for sure, and I think that’s something lots of people take years to make sense of. Not that I know anything about that. No sirree. ;)
SR: I hope I can say this without giving too much away: I was impressed that you leave certain things unresolved at the end. Did you always know you wanted to give that shape to the story, or did you have previous drafts that went in other directions?
NG: Nope, that was always how it was. I think I wrote the last scene when I was only a third of the way through the first of my million drafts. For me, the arc of the story is that of their friendship, not of their whole entire lives. And when that arc was complete, so was the book.
SR: And finally: Dinah and Skint regularly embark on “Fantastic or Excruciating?” adventures:
“An FoE is an entertainment where you can’t tell beforehand whether it will be fabulous and surreal or only just a misery-making fiasco that will make you ache for the performers involved because it is all so awful and the performers are unaware. Or maybe they are aware. And then it is even worse.”
Have you ever done this yourself, and if so, can you describe one?
NG: Oh, my lordie, yes, all the time and even still! Every single FoE in the book except for Walter is one that I have actually experienced. There are so many more, too! I would adore to hear about other people’s FoE’s. I live for this kind of thing.
SR: Thanks for answering, NG!
Forms, colors, densities, odors — what is it in me that corresponds with them?
- Walt Whitman
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- Current Mood: hopeful
- Current Music:Without a Trace score music
As the guy who wrote Uglies, there are certain kinds of news stories that are forwarded to me by everyone. Hi-tech tattoos, bizarre plastic surgery, stuff that hovers, and of course anything having to do with beauty. So it was no surprise that a recent story about the Miss Korea contest flooded my inbox.
The basic story went like this: Plastic surgery is so prevalent in South Korea that all the contestants in their national beauty contest look freakishly alike. Look, we haz proof!
And yes, I will admit that this is a somewhat chilling image. With a few exceptions, it looks like twenty photos of the same woman dressed and styled a bit differently. And yes, the South Korean appetite for plastic surgery is large. According to this NY Times article, about 20% of women there have had some sort of cosmetic procedure. These are true facts.
But whenever you run into a story like this one, that depends so heavily on a telling photographic image, please remember one simple rule: photographs aren’t real.
Photographs are artifacts of technology, records of specific combinations of light, lens, and angle. Photographs are easily manipulated. Photographs are two-dimensional representations of a 3-D world. Photographs can be more or less accurate, but they are never the whole story.
Take the worst photo ever taken of you and compare it to the best ever taken. Do they look even remotely like the same person?
For that matter, pick up your phone and take a photo of yourself right now. Then walk to a different part of your room and take another. Same place, same hair, same clothes, but often these two photos will look completely different. Not because you photoshopped them or cheated in some other way, but simply because the living, breathing, moving reality of you got sliced into two different tiny moments of time.
The forces of light, shadow, and expression morphed you into two different versions of yourself. Neither of which was real, because photographs aren’t real! Using a single image to reflect a real human being is like describing a lush, complex novel in a sentence. Sometimes you can tell which which book someone’s talking about, but a whole lot goes missing.
Back to our Korean beauty queens. Here are two of them before and after hair, make-up, and photoshopping got involved:
I say again: photographs aren’t real.
Korea doesn’t have some mass convergence of facial phenotypes caused by cosmetic surgery. Maybe they will one day, and maybe in certain social circles there one can spot noticeable similarities. But all we have proof of here is a particular aesthetic of hair, make-up, and photoshoppery associated with a particular beauty contest.
There is no emergency. Return to your homes, Crims.
So whenever you read about a scientific study on beauty that relied on people rating photographs (as I did while writing Uglies), or see a story about how bloated or haggard some poor celebrity has become, or come across at photos that make you feel bad about yourself, just remember . . .
Photographs aren’t real. But you are.
On a COMPLETELY UNRELATED NOTE, here is my new author photo! I haven’t done one in ten years, and given that I just turned fifty, I figured it was time.
In the interest of full disclosure, I offer you the image before and after it was slightly retouched by my sister-in-law, noted visual effects artist Niki Bern, and include my notes to her.
Please do not actually USE that one as my author’s photo.
Instead, go with this version:
Everyone has permission to use this in all media forever. A bigger one can be found here.
I was so enchanted that I begged him to make a post, and here is the beginning.
There are people keeping you from writing in your life. Some of them may be small, squirming, cute little creatures who think they need you constantly and weep piteously every time you try to move away from them. I had five of these and I understand the temptation to give up writing time for them. But there are other people who are stealing your writing time and I urge you to identify and stop them.
1. You are keeping yourself from writing. You have a million excuses. Sometimes you are keeping yourself from your best writing by working on projects you think are “more commercial,” but which you don’t actually love. Sometimes you are keeping yourself from your writing because you are afraid or because you don’t believe you are good enough. Sometimes you are keeping yourself from writing because you are refusing to admit that you need some medication or assistance with other work or because you need to say no more often to other things.
2. Old voices from your past. It could be an old teacher who told you you could never become a writer because you don’t know your grammar well enough. It could be a parent who told you that writing isn’t a “real job.” It could be an old “friend” who read one of your first works and then ridiculed you mercilessly about it the rest of the time that you were “friends.”
3. A spouse is actively sabotaging your writing. I have seen this happen on occasion. Most of the time, writers struggle with spouses who simply don’t understand what it means to be a creative type. They often mean to be supportive, but sometimes are doing it in the wrong way (by offering suggestions that are completely useless). But there are spouses who are competitive and simply mean. If you married one before you knew you were a writer, you may have to choose between the marriage and your dreams.
4. Your writing group acts like crabs in a barrel. They have stopped really trying to get published and they have certainly stopped trying to help you become a better writer. Instead, every group meeting devolves into a rehashing of all the old problems your earliest manuscripts showed and a list of everything wrong with the current book, with no kind words about how you’ve improved and no useful suggestions.
5. Children or parents who are afraid that your writing may in some way embarrass them. They are constantly asking to see manuscripts so they can “vet” them by giving you approval that your version of them is “correct.” This can happen whether or not you are writing anything remotely non-fictional. Sometimes people see themselves in characters where they are not. But even if you intended the comparison, it doesn’t help to have them give you “feedback.”
6. An agent who never sends anything out. If you have an agent who acts more as a block to you finding the right editor for your book than as a guide to the publishing world, it may be time to part ways. I often tell writers that the problem isn’t their agent, it’s themselves, but there are times when it’s the agent. If your agent doesn’t like anything you write or can’t see potential in it, then you have the wrong agent for you.
7. An editor who has damaged you so badly by rewriting things for you that you stare at the blank page with horror. I have heard stories of this, though it has never happened to me. Editors should NEVER EVER rewrite for an author. On rare occasions, I have had editors suggest “something like this?” But an editor who is writing lines for you is an editor who is trying to usurp your position as a writer.
8.A friend who keeps talking about the books you used to write. It may be that this is intended kindly, I don’t know. But in my experience, looking backward is not a good thing. If you have abandoned a project from the past, there is probably a good reason for it. Hitting your head against the same wall again and again is not productive creatively.
9. Co-workers at your day job/neighborhood friends who are constantly giving you advice on what book you should write next to “make it big.” What sells big and what you want to write are completely different things. What sells big and what you are uniquely able to write well are completely different things. You need to write from your heart more than you need to write what someone thinks is “easy.”
10.Critics of your last book that sold badly. I know this one intimately well, believe me. One of the problems here is reading reviews of your own books. Reviews are not meant for the author. Really, they aren’t. They aren’t kind attempts to help you become better. If they were, the reviewers would send them to you and to no one else (although sometimes on twitter, it can feel that’s what they are doing). Reviews are for readers. They are to help readers find books like other ones they liked. They have nothing to do with writing. NOTHING.
Look what’s happening this Sunday, 26 May at 10AM1
Sydney Writers Festival
Pier 2/3 Club Stage
Walsh Bay, Sydney, NSW
This event is free and no bookings required.
FUN AND GAMES WITH LIBBA BRAY AND JUSTINE LARBALESTIER
Moderated by fancy NYC literary agent Barry Goldblatt (also known as Mr Libba Bray).
I imagine this will involve juggling and poker. Even though I always lose to Libba. She’s a total card shark. I bet me and Barry can get Libba to pop out her fake eye. I love it when she does that. We’ll also tell the very weird story of mine and Libba’s second meeting. And talk about that wild, wild weekend in Austin.
SO MANY THINGS FOR US TO TALK ABOUT.
I hope you can join us. Be sure to ask Libba embarrassing questions. She loves that.
- 10 am? Excuse me? How can I be expected to be witty at TEN ON A SUNDAY MORNING? I should still be asleep! Or possibly contemplating a decadent brunch. It’s inhuman having a panel this early.
I've got my schedule for BEA--can't believe it's next week!!! In addition to signing at BEA, I'll be doing some other stuff--and I really hope to see YOU!!!
Here's my schedule:
Wed. the 29th--DAY: SLJ Day of Dialog! I'll be on the Real World Horror panel, which is right after Holly Black's lunch speech. The panel starts at 1:45 PM. I'll also be signing ARCs of Heartbeat.
Wed. the 29th NIGHT: Teen Author Carnival There's going to be so much fun stuff going on--let's face it, this is one event that sells itself. I'll have ARCs and some other things :-) The fun starts at 6:30 PM at the Jefferson Market branch of the NYPL!!
Thursday the 30th: At BEA--I'll be attending the Harlequin Teen Breakfast--can't wait! And then I'll be on the floor, so if you see me, be sure to say hi :-)
Friday the 31st: At BEA--I'll be signing ARCs of Heartbeat in the Harlequin booth (1238) from 11:30-12:30
Saturday the 1st: At BEA--I'll be signing ARCs of Heartbeat in the Harlequin booth (1238) from 10:30-11:30
Bonus: The BEA ARCs will be bound *and* have a new pub details and cover--though not the final one--that is still to come....
2. Turn one of your pages upside down to see it is read that far.
3. Send it in with a bribe of some kind, like chocolate.
4. Declare that your kids love your book.
5. Threaten, in a joking way, what you will do if it isn't published.
6. Describe the publishing industry as a waste of time.
7. Diss books published by agent or editor you are querying.
8. Talk about your book in vague terms, with no specifics.
9. Compliment yourself on how great your book is and how many copies it will sell.
10. End your letter with the words "You don't want to miss out on this once-in-a-lifetime chance" that sounds like what a car dealer would say.
2. Show you read in the genre by naming a book that hasn't been made into a movie.
3. Use good punctuation.
4. Proofread your manuscript.
5. Don't ask the agent to read the new version a week after you've sent the first one.
6. Pitch one book at a time.
7. Have a killer setting.
8. Have good dialog.
9. Show, don't tell.
10. Do something uniquely well.