For the first time, I’d experienced a debilitating writer’s block. Part of the problem was that I had too many things going at once. Spread in different directions, digging into numerous genres and projects, I was suddenly staring at the computer, numb, with no flow, zero movement. It’s as if I’d lost focus and motivation.
Meanwhile, several acquaintances asked what my current work in progress was, so I shared about my writing block dilemma. A good friend put a question to me bluntly, said, "In terms of writing, Tessa, if you died today, what would you want to be remembered for?" And just like that I gave him my answer. He said, "Then stop wasting time and get to work."
That verbal smack in the face was exactly what I needed (thank you very much). A reminder, a single push sharpened my focus, renewed clarity of purpose and aim when time is valuable.
This honing perspective proves a good application if you’re struggling with any vocational motivation, really. Use it as a kick-start. If you died today, what would you want to be remembered for?
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters…”—Colossians 3:23
While working on my current novel today, the plot took an unexpected turn. Here, I thought I was in control. Yet when my fingers typed and the change suddenly occurred, I shouted, “Why did I do that?” Now I have to reconfigure the outcome. More details to sort through and write. I had presumed I was home free and nearing the finish line. Stories sometimes have minds of their own.
Ahead of me in a store’s checkout line, a conversational clerk asked two young women, sisters perhaps, “What do you do?”
One bubbly answered, “I’m an interior decorator.” While the other in contrast sardonically responded, “I’m a writer, it’s complicated.”
I chuckled under my breath. Because I am a writer, I know “it’s complicated” could mean a variety of things maybe even all of the following. 1) It’s difficult to make a living as a writer though it’s your number one passion, 2) carving out a niche sometimes seems impossible, 3) the world doesn’t take you seriously until you have enough titles or experience for proof (especially true if you work from home), 4) you relate to people better with written words rather than spoken and so keep outward responses uninviting and compact, and 5) you don’t just “do” writing you eat, sleep, and breathe it.
“What do you do?” is a loaded question for a writer, especially a novelist. The answer is equally loaded. Everything you experience in life is fodder to process for potential stories. There is no vacation from writing; it is not a 9 to 5 job. Even on vacation, you are thinking about the next stage of your plot. Not to mention, the oddity of the profession can creep in, threatening to expose the fact that you’re not always aware of speaking aloud dialogue in public places by make-believe characters from whom you never want to part. That’s messed up. And perfectly acceptable. The rest of the world may never understand.
Writers don’t just do. They are. So be.
There was an interesting experiment put forth by the novelists of ChiLibris about ten years ago. The trial was launched from the common dreaded question: WHAT IF SOMEONE STEALS MY IDEA? The result grew into a collection of 21 short stories, one by each of the 21 participating writers, entitled, What the Wind Picked Up: Proof That a Single Idea Can Launch a Thousand Stories.
The novelists of this experiment used the same basic scheme, having to include five elements in their works of fiction.
Fascinated by this literary test, I’ve picked up the volume to reread recently. As someone submerged by the arts, I see all of those around me as creative beings made, gifted, and propelled by a creative maker. I recognize truth from Ecclesiastes 1:9, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” But what varies is how we execute our thoughts and what can revolve around a single idea. What transpired in this unified literary collection went far beyond expectation! Not one of these 21 stories resembles another, even though they each had developed around five exact, basic elements –and some of the writers came from similar backgrounds and/or education.
Even if someone had stolen an idea, the effect would materialize into something greatly different from who was considered the originator. We, as individuals, are diverse. A single story idea, yet 21 outcomes and styles prove poles apart. It makes one want to relax and focus on being productive, active, ongoing and positive, rather than wasting negative energy on the fear that someone might be stealing your labor of love. The world is big enough for everybody to do their very own thing in exactly how they want to do it – even in a shared corner. Although not unique, it’s a lovely, colorful, enriching, and freeing concept.
"They say all art— whether books, music, or visual— is a reaction to other art, and I believe that to be true." ~ Blake Crouch, Author
I had once imagined that writing as a day job meant having the leisure to sit around eating bonbons while big bucks overwhelm my bank accounts. However, bonbons and sitting almost never equate to cash flow. And I’m way beyond unreasonable expectations. Granted, I will pull story ideas from the clouds, sometimes, while savoring a square of dark chocolate, now and again. But I've learned that writing is hard work requiring willpower, particularly when the earnings sway more often conservatively. Writing demands so much time that on occasion I do wish I could sit the day away eating bonbons, one by one, as clouds drift by, one after the other. Nevertheless, if one is not disciplined, driven to completing tasks, projects of any kind would never get accomplished. A writer’s mode of operation is dedication – and dedication can be summarized into another smaller word with greater meaning: love. Writing is a labor of love.
Some authors know right away in what genre they’ll write and the audience for whom they’ll work hard to prepare manuscripts. I admire those authors who stick with one heading, for I've always had trouble classifying my writing…a little this, a little that. When a particular interview gave me fodder for a little on-the-spot transformation (talk about impromptu), what I had planned to say was never said, yet the things I hadn't planned to say seemed to have already been spoken.
“What do you write?” the inquirer asked.
Something more categorically concrete should have come out of my mouth, such as romance, or political intrigue, or fantasy, but before I could formulate those thoughts the answer readily answered for me. It was already there. “I write forgiveness.”
“What does that mean? Who do you write for?”
Forgiveness literature is something that spans across all of humanity, regardless of where we tread in life. In that sense, I suppose I write for everyone. At the same time, I don’t think I write for everyone. My books wouldn't appeal to someone, say, who only wants fiction like their eggs, light and fluffy—not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Whatever the genre, the common thread for my writing is forgiveness. Forgiveness brings healing. That’s my focal point. There is much in this world that is broken. I don’t know why but I see it so much of the time, awareness that things, situations, people are hurting or distressed. Things need fixed. Forgiveness is like a fragrant balm that lingers, constantly reminding me that without it there would be no classification. Without it I’m not sure I’d write romance, or political intrigue, or fantasy, or anything at all. I write forgiveness fiction. The rest works itself out.
“People forgiven much are called to forgive much.”
“When we forgive…we free ourselves.”
—Pastor Brad Brinson
I’m in love with things that are different and unconventional, drawn to mysteries, secrets, and intrigue. While anything open and superficial has little sway.
Yet, as a writer, sitting in the wake of mainstream choices and actions, I hear, “Do this!—everybody else is doing it.” A good sport, I’ll often respond, “Okay, sure.” Many things I will give a virgin try. But I often find, in my attempts, I only circle, end up back at square one, and wonder why I had embarked on an overly crowded journey in the first place. Especially when I’m in love with things different and unconventional. Toss in a bit of philosophical, well then, I’m at home. Where does that leave this kind of writer in an open, loud, and acceptance-seeking world?
“Just tell me how to be different in a way that makes sense.”—Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Literary Agent, Rachelle Gardner, said this: "Readers' opinions of your work will vary but in the end, the way anyone responds to your work will only matter if you've written the truth as you know it, or are discovering it . . . This is what you have to offer the world Yourself. Put it on the page, even if it's scary."
So there it is. Writers are scary. If we write the truth. Our thoughts, views, and perspectives transcribed into scenes, plots, and characters - how far do we take it? How much do we risk? If we actually offer the world ourselves, then we risk it all. If we hold back, then we cheat the world of our truths.
U.S. First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, said: “Do one thing every day that scares you.”
Everyday I strive to do something scary. As long as I write what is authentic for me, essentially offering myself, I need not worry. Not everybody will understand, but those who do will understand completely.
“We must walk consciously only part way toward our goal, and then leap in the dark to our success.” ~ Henry David Thoreau
Sometimes the book industry seems nothing but an immense sea of writers all doggy paddling toward the same hard-to-reach beach. Going adrift to assess my position I found that I work diligently at certain marketing strategies and avoid others.
Particular self-promoting canvassing efforts make me very uncomfortable. It feels so much like a rat race that I’m left yearning for a glimpse back into humanity. I’m also not convinced they’re that effective in reader/fan authenticity. But that’s just me (apparently).
The differences in us (writers) might explain why certain marketing methods work well for some and not others. It’s said authors can’t afford to be choosy, but I doubt I’d rise to the NYT Bestsellers List by, for instance, like-fests, i.e., I’ll like your author page/tag if you like mine. I’d rather leave my future to providence, work hard at what’s right for me, and enjoy what I do and how I do it. It may be dark, but at least I’ve taken the leap. Besides, I’ve recently discovered the ocean of publicists who are dedicated to providing lifeboats, equipped with sonar, for those like me.
I recently read a quote by Marguerite Duras.
“A writer is a foreign country.”
How true! We’re as diverse as the cultures of the world, as different (and complex) as France is to China.
Some days I feel as though a member of the allied forces – unified and well supported, networked in a broader form of patriotism. The sense of power in terms of accomplishment is almost tangible and I can do anything—nothing can stop me. Other days I feel as remote as a tiny island-nation wherein the only one believing in me is myself.
There are so many ways in which to interpret Duras’ insightful quote. I suppose that’s why it’s now one of my favorites.