10.31.2006

(New) Battery Park City

Dear Miss Snark,

Your blog keeps me connected and energized and writing - and I'm hoping you can help now.

I've finished a novel, edited it extensively, gotten lots of great feed back from other writers and a couple of agents I deeply respect. I've started a rewrite. I'm plugging away...

Now, suddenly, I feel overwhelmed by the whole damn thing. For the last few weeks, the thoughts of approaching the work in any way or form just seems to be the last thing I want to do. I've lost my momentum. I've lost confidence. I can't seem to decide how to tell the story...where it REALLY should begin...whether or not it even matters...or why it matters that I try again.

I've had moments of thinking the work is brilliant - and I know for a fact that its my best writing ever. Even now, LOGICALLY, I believe it to be a pretty good bit of fiction, with an interesting hook and decent, well-edited line tension on many of its pages.

But I just can't do it...

Its a horrible feeling.

Have you any advice for a writer who feels defeated by her own imagination?


Stop writing for a while.
Recharge your imagination coils.
Go look at art.
Seriously.
Go stand in front of great paintings for more than three seconds.

Then go look at some really bad art. You can find that in museums too.
Sometimes right next to the really good stuff.

Really really look.
Keep doing it for a while.

You don't need to "know" anything about art.
Just experience it.
What makes art great is that you can feel it, as well as appreciate the skill of the artist.

You cannot do this with mass produced things, so no "retail therapy".
You can't do it with novels.
You can do it with poems but you have to read them aloud, outside, really really loudly.

Every single great artist I know (and I know more than one and fewer than ten) spends time recharging.

40 comments:

Anonymous said...

I could have written this.
thanks poster and thanks ms. snark.

Sherri said...

I'm there with my novel. It is overwhelming to think of how many WORDS there are, and how I have to move them AROUND, and do they even make SENSE. I've heard the advice to write something else, but that seems impossible with this novel looming. Art, I can do. Thanks.

Ken Boy said...

When I hit such a point, I expose myself (as it were) to something different from my own work. I absorb some history, or fantasy (pixies and goats, anyone?), or read an old favorite to remind myself why I like to write. I grab a new perspective for a while, then come back to my own work with something floating around in my cavernous cranium besides my own pale creations.

Maria said...

And then sit down and tell yourself: "One page. I will edit ONE page today."

Before you know it, you'll be editing a chapter. Then two. It all starts with one word, one sentence, one paragraph, one page.

Kimber An said...

Abolutely take a break! Throw yourself into something else entirely, like rockclimbing. Your brain's a muscle and it's all tuckered out.

Betsy Dornbusch said...

Yes. Go look at art. Read some great books or a story from every ezine you can find. Hike in the mountains or go out to nightclubs for a week. Shake up your life somehow.

I tend to get guilty and crabby when I don't write though, so sometimes I have to take a break from writing with more writing-- only with something radically different.

And make a date with yourself to sit back down and work on it. Good luck!

S. W. Vaughn said...

I have a friend going through this now (hey, friend, did you write this letter?).

This is great advice. Something I never would have considered. Miss Snark, I think you're an artist!

pj said...

Recharging is useful. Also, you can do "big picture" work related to the novel: go through the pages and mark off complete scenes, then list each scene on a separate notecard (don't worry yet what you're going to do with them); or research place names or historical elements related to your novel; or read "how to write" manuals; or research agents; or work on the query letter; or search the web for advice on plotting. All of these keep you in the stream while allowing your creative juices to recharge.

Anonymous said...

I'm in the same position, and I've gotten loads of well-meaning advice from all kinds of people, all of it crap. This is the first advice that really makes sense.

Thank you.

mamalujo1 said...

Sometimes it seems harsh,
This tough love, this snarkiness.
It's only an act.

Miss Snark claims to be such a meanie
Stabbing her heel in your weenie
Berating the nitwits
Dismissing the shit lits
Then showing the love like a Genie

The questions are often so looney
You wonder how come she's not gooney
It's all in the gin pail
And the lascivious email
She's always receiving from Clooney

Mtanz said...

Miss Snark's right -- you need a battery recharge. The museum is a great place to go. I also love to take my dog for a walk around the lake. With the leaf colors so vibrant, it has much the same impact as art. Sometimes giving yourself permission to put your work down and go enjoy yourself is all it will take to start your batteries humming again. Good luck!

stephanie said...

Thank God. I feel the same way. I've been on a self-loathing binge for about three weeks, and it's just about the worst thing I've ever felt.

Maxwell said...

I find that listening to music is very helpful in breaking a creative funk. Try to dredge up some old favorites you haven't listened to for years, or stuff that was insanely popular at some time, but you never "got it." Try ABBA. Try Elvis. Try Hank Williams. Really listen. Is there some parallel between song construction and fiction construction. I think so.

WitLiz Today said...

Well, I think I can help you out here friend. I reached my waterloo a couple of weeks ago, and I'm nowhere near the level you're at on your novel, so what does this say about me?

Anyway, pay no mind about that though. The point is, I took up Kung Fu Fighting. Now, viewing great Art is no doubt inspiring, but for a quick fix there's nothing like Kung Fu Fighting.

Since,I don't have an art museum at my back door living in the boonies like I do, and the Internet just isn't the same, I harkened back to my old days of yore, and pulled out an old tape of Kung Fu Fighting. Yeah, David Carradine sitting motionless ready to wreak havoc.

I sat my manuscript in front of me and gazed at it for like 5 minutes, never taking my eyes off of it. I had my samurai sword, that I bought off of EBAY from my "Kill Bill" days,(cos I'm not stupid enough to try using my hand)at the ready because I honestly didn't know what I was going to do.

Ten minutes passed and I was still staring at the manuscript. It looked so nice and neat printed out in all it's glory. I asked myself, how could something so beautiful contain so much crap? Was it fixable?

Tick, tock, tick, tock, the minutes turned into more minutes. I finally moved my eyes down to my Samurai Sword; it's sleek, sharp, shiny sheen, shrieking with shimmering bloody slime from saturdays sweat! What to do, what to do?

My breathing slowed down almost to nothingness, and I nearly choked to death on my bile of self-disgust as it rose in protest to my indecision.

Finally,I stood up, laid my sword down on top of the manuscript and said outloud in measured meter:

"Enough. It is finished."

Anyway,I haven't had a problem since. I make changes instantly, words come easily, and the best part is my hardnosed editor finally said, after 6 heavy duty war-like sessions slinging shit around.

WitLiz, this is very good! Of course, I wanted to hear more, but it was enough to keep me going.

Stay the course friend.

Anonymous said...

I've just come through a bout of exactly the same thing. Miss Snark's advice is fantastic (as ever), but I'd add something else. Tell yourself that you're taking a day, a week or a month off, go and do your recharging, but then find some way to force yourself to return to your novel. How you do that's up to you - I paid for some extra sessions for my kids at nursery, so that if I didn't get on with my novel I'd have wasted the money. I guess booking time off work would have the same effect. After you've recharged, I promise that you'll come back to your novel and see how great it is (or, at least, you'll see what to do to make it great), but getting back to it is REALLY hard and REALLY scary - you need some outside factor that will compel you to do it.

cudd said...

There's also listening to music or watching dance, which each get me going more than art, especially music.

Nothing like listening to Brahms and Tchaikovsky to break you from everyday stress and send you into a whole new world of ideas.

The Unpretentious Writer said...

Thanks for this, MS!

Good thing I have tomorrow off...the Philly Art Museum awaits!

Anonymous said...

Sounds a bit like what Julia Cameron calls "artist dates," if I have the term right. You have to "feed your artist," she says.

I'm not in agreement with all her theories, but I really believe that she's onto something with that one.

Zany Mom said...

I've taken a 2 year break (life's craziness, ya know?) Came back and read the 3/4 finished novel. Not bad. Now to finish. Hmm. Couldn't get there, so did a rewrite of the first novel. Almost there, not quite, a bit too much sniveling. Need to smack a whiny character. ;) Leave that. Go back to second novel.

Character won't cooperate. So I make her go to the hospital. She's needed to go for two years now. There she sits in the ER. For two weeks. I'm like, do something, dammit! So I make her get out of bed. She stands there for a week. Pull back the curtain! Do something! Anything.

So she does...and runs smack into a doctor...

If only my characters would just do something, my job would be a heck of a lot easier. ;)

-c- said...

There is another possibility, poster. You may be "stuck," not burnt out. You may be headed in the wrong direction with your book. Some writing guru described writer's block as that "guy" who does all the work looking up at the building you send him to every day and seeing that the thing was about to come crashing down and just saying, uh uh, I ain't going on the site today. I'm staying home watching Springer.

If you think this might be it, if you don't want to take a break, you might try hiijacking a very patient friend on a long drive and telling him your story and your worries and your plans. This helps me. And it gets me excited. Taking a break and reading a novel by a writer I adore also gets me excited as well, and opens doors.

Good luck! It do sucketh, I know.

Mig said...

Looking at art is a great idea to recharge your creative batteries. My town doesn't have much in the way of art museaums, but going to art galleries with real art (not mass produced prints) also does the trick. Plus you get more bad stuff to compare to the good stuff (helps you appreciate the good stuff more and how hard it is to do well). Only down side is that I usually want to buy the good stuff I can't afford.

Anonymous said...

Miss Snark, thank you. I'm just starting to learn how incredibly important recharging is, and it's lovely to hear it from you.

On Book 1, I had forced recharging sessions - the day job would eat three or four weeks at a time. Now, on Book 2, I'm writing full-time, and it took a while before the light-bulb went on over my head and I realised that those forced times off were actually a GOOD thing. They gave my head a chance to come up with more stuff. Without them, I end up staring at the screen in a blank daze and wondering why this ever seemed like a good idea.

One thing that's worked for me, when all of a sudden the book sucks and there's nothing in my brain, is forcing myself to take a few days off - completely off: telling myself 'I will NOT look at the book or even think about the book until Sunday (or whenever)'. Come Sunday, it doesn't suck any more, and there's new stuff in my head.

The other things that work for me are long walks, good music, dancing around my living room singing badly into the remote control, and water. Honestly. Any form of water. Your mileage may vary, but for me, swimming is good, the beach is good, even a long shower is good.

Word verification: jmblol. Who is JMB and why is he laughing at me?

Odette said...

Art, exercise, music, don't forget photography exhibits! Do something different: bake bread, rake leaves, and keep repeating, "this too, shall pass."

Get out into the world. Ride the bus or the subway, read Homer or Joyce.

At 70,000 words it always hits me that this is way too much to keep in my head. It's not. If you use 'WORD', learn how to use bookmarks, after you've done your gallery hopping, and all that stuff.

Go to a really snazzy bar and hoist a glass to Miss Snark!

SherryD said...

Believe it or not, I get recharged by occasionally thinking about and making notes for my NEXT book. I set the almost-finished book aside and go for a walk to brainstorm ideas, or work out in the garden on my hands and knees; for some reason digging in dirt is theraputic. When I go back inside, I keep making notes for the next book. Within a day or too I'm back with enthusiasm for the almost finished book. You just need to find a system that works for you. Good luck.

michaelgav said...

I don't know how universal this is, but I found that I got back into it when I seriously fucked with one of my main characters. Killed one off altogether; got another into a paternity suit. The characters needed to respond immediately to this new crisis messing with their lives, and once they were doing so, and slamming into each other in new ways, the writing (and editing) was full-bore again. (Not all of these late curveballs stayed in the story, but one did, and helped shape the ending.)

Carleen Brice said...

I was in this same boat. What I believe now is that it's just part of the process. Take some time off. Rest up. Watch some movies. Take walks. But also find someone or something that can remind you that you love this book, that it is important to you, that there's a reason why your writer's group and those agents have seen something good there. Hang in there! This too shall pass. Make this your mantra: It's just part of the process. (BTW: I finished mine, got an agent and got a publisher--you can too!)

MichaelPH said...

Personally, when I read the my favorite writer of all time, Gabriel Garcia-Marquez I recharge. I also like cross-word puzzles if writer's block has hit, it rewires my brain; but art is a great place to start as well.

Brady Westwater said...

A month of mindless sex can't hurt either.

Steve Prosapio said...

Music works for me as well. Live music or a U2 concert video. Watch the way they feed off the energy of the audience and vice versa. Imagine that same energy exchange when your readers are enjoying your novel. And remember...


YOUR AUDIENCE IS WAITING!

lizzie26 said...

Wow, Miss Snark's answer is spot on. It's exactly what writers should do to recharge.

B. Dagger Lee said...

What everybody else said.

Plus what Andy Warhol said, which is, "Just get it done, worry about whether it's art or not later."

Also, what I have written above my desk is, "Have faith that what you write and what you learn while you write it is valuable." I've been astounded by how important faith is. (And for me, this is in a completely atheistic way, but it's faith nonetheless.)

yrs,
B. Dagger Lee

jessica said...

Great advice and so glad to see it! Also, stuck-person, go make some art in another form other than writing, preferably something tangible. Run scales on a piano. Make a collage. Bang on a can. Sing. Buy some kids' clay and make a stupid-looking animal. Body over brain for a while.

Alley Splat said...

Wow too. Fantastic advice. You're a wonder, Miss Snark.

kis said...

I clean out my pantry.

I reorganize my sock drawer.

I start dusting around the three computers in my house.

If that doesn't get me reinspired, I grab a handful of books from the second-hand store across the street. The good ones remind me why I want to write. The bad ones--the many, many bad ones--remind me that I just might be good enough.

You see? Poorly written fiction does serve a greater purpose.

Word ver. is okgod. Hey, I'm ok, you're ok.

Carlotta said...

When I had a piano, I found that nothing was a better study break than playing. It uses a different part of your brain and seems to free up your imagination.

Now, I find that when I am procrastinating about writing by doing housework, I suddenly get random story ideas for either of my WIP novels. Scrubbing the toilet - fantastic plot twist. Doing the vacuuming - interesting new character. When you let your brain off the hook and tell it your body will just be doing work for a while, it seems to loosen the creative juices.

M@ said...

This is indeed a great post -- and I wanted to follow up on Ms Snark's suggestion about looking at bad art as well as good. I visited the Museum of Bad Art (www.museumofbadart.org) outside Boston.

Seeing truly awful art is cathartic and inspiring. I highly recommend it. Admission is free, too.

Greta LaGarbeaux said...

Years ago, I read some advice from Tom Robbins on how to keep your writerly mind in shape to keep working. His formula -- admittedly impractical for some people, but less so than most imagine -- is to spend 30 minutes a day doing these four things:

-- Something physical, like walking, working out, chopping wood. Whatever gets you sweating.
-- Thinking about sex. He suggested reading porn, but obviously there are plenty of other ways to get yourself into that particular zone.
-- Reading poetry.
-- Looking at the stars

Okay, this is not going to be a universal remedy, but you can see where he's going. Get out of your intellect and into your body, your soul, your primitive senses. Feel, be, do. Then when it's time, the words come much more easilly.

Southern Writer said...

S.W. Vaughn said:

I have a friend going through this now (hey, friend, did you write this letter?).


No, but I could have, huh?

Ski said...

Please don't be so hard on yourself. I can't imagine anyone who has tried do something creative not going through this. I'd bet that if you cut yourself some slack, put this project away for a period of time, and then went back to it when you actually wanted to go back to it - all would be fine. Creating under pressure isn't how creating should go. Give "it" and yourself a rest, and then come back here some time in the future and let us know how it went. I wish you good luck.

Rgds.........Ski

kathie said...

Hang in there. The same enthusiasm that got you through the first draft will return as soon as your brain realizes you're letting it quit...recharge like MS suggested. You'll be better than ever after a break.