Turnabout

I always laugh when anyone tells me how glamourous it must be to be a writer.

The sight of me, unwashed and furious, staring at a glowing screen for hours while the people inside my head refuse to make sense, occasionally taking a break to pace furiously up and down the hall while the dogs trot behind me inquisitively, running into me when I stop and change direction, me throwing myself on the floor in the living room and snarling “BUT THAT DOESN’T MAKE SENSE” and Miss B gamely trying to make it make sense by licking my face…you know, “glamour” is not the word that comes to mind. “Hysterically funny to watch Lili suffer” is what comes to mind.

My dears, I have a confession to make.

I’ve written through every other move and upheaval in my life. And by that, I mean I wrote in the hospital after C-sections (don’t ask), I wrote when the electricity got shut off because someone hadn’t paid the bill (roommates, oh, I could write a book about them sucking), I’ve written through two divorces, the death of a soulmate, and various other Fun and UnFun Events. Write during a move? Sure, no problem. Make my deadlines while buying a house? Pshaw, I’ve eaten better stress than this for breakfast.

I was wrong.

I did not understand (I was warned, though, I really was) about the level of stress involved in the legal albeit temporary possession (because really, the bank owns everything, and what the bank doesn’t own eminent domain can be invoked to make the state own) of a wooden structure on a lot that one pours money into. I did not understand that stress would play merry hob with deadlines, and I did not understand that the move would drain my emotional energy so badly I can barely force myself out of bed in the morning.

Hyperbole? Only a little.

Never before has the discipline of forcing myself to sit and chip words out of the folds of my cerebellum been so critical. Never before have I sat and looked at the screen and at my hands, and thought I know how to do this, I know what happens next, I just cannot find the goddamn words. For someone who has built her life on the power and magic of the written word, it’s a wee bit, oh, what’s the term, hmmm…

…terrifying? Yes, that applies.

As Julia Cameron often pointed out, it takes fuel to burn hard enough to create art. I’m scraping the bottom of my cupboard, and for the first time, the words are not just under the surface. The little bastards are cowering in deep caves, delighting in my agonized screams as I claw them out one by one and throw them onto the page, where I must nail them in and listen to them shriek as they writhe.

*clears throat*

Well. Now that I have that out of my system…

…okay, I have dished out hard advice here before. Now, dear chickadees, dear Readers, dish me some. I know I’m going to keep writing–after all, I have no choice–but turnabout’s fair play. Lay it on me. Zadie Smith’s ten rules can only take me so far. Be cruel to be kind, dear Readers. You’ll likely never get another chance.

And now, excuse me while I go grubbing for more screaming little word-bastards. I will read every piece of advice you give me, dear ones. Tomorrow.

photo by: Alex E. Proimos
  • particle_person

    I use the Freedom program (for Mac or PC) to shut off my internet when I’m trying to get work done. Doesn’t stop me from sneaking to my phone (I may have a problem…) but it helps.

    And because it’s a favorite quote:
    “You didn’t get ideas. You smelled them out, tracked them down, wrestled them into submission, you pursued them with forks and hope, and if you were lucky enough to catch one you impaled it, with the forks, before the sneaky little devil could get away.” – Elizabeth Peters, Naked Once More

  • Wolf Lahti

    Give yourself some time. Just for you. Deadlines be damned.

    You deserve it.

    Then you’ll come back to the process better equipped to deal with the insanity that is the creative process.

  • Lynn

    I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess you know more than me anyway, but go for a walk outside, somewhere you’ve never been. Take a break for a few hours, because staring at a blinking cursor, or blank piece of paper is going to drive you nuts in 2.4 more seconds. Then come back and write anything, anything at all(this was good) before you make the voices in your head play with you again. When you’re ready, just write anything again for the first bit(that’s why we edit later, no?) It will come, it always does, sometimes it’s just a little more stubborn. Also music and beer sometimes help–as Hemingway said, write drunk, edit sober:)

  • Holly

    You just spit out this entire post to your journal. Just keep word dumping like this, it will clear your head. I’ve written thousands of words on a piece to discover I must be possessed by a lunatic and deleted it. Only after this did I realize where the story should go. I also ceased listening to the noise in my head–in small increments–and when it got loud- I paused and went out and took some photos (I am a photographer). Looking through the lens gives me focus. I must look and concentrate on one thing.
    Bottom line—SIT YOUR ARSE DOWN AND WRITE.
    All of your main characters have issues about living life in some way, it is what I love about them, although Dante Valentine did get on my nerves. I still love her. Because she was true to her emotions. We can’t just chuck them aside and things will be peachy keen, that’s not who we or they are. Same with Kismet.
    It takes a lot of inner grit to write like you do,summon it up and “see above”

    Love your work,
    Peace Out.
    Holly

  • Elizabeth L

    “Everything we do, we do as Amazons.” Galenthias to Diana.

  • Join us for our next sip-n-bitch. The sheer OMGWTF insanity is enough to shake loose all but the most dogged word-mine dispair and send you giggling back to work…..

    (four words: Stewart/Colbert/werekitten menage-a-troi)

    And then go hug a dog or two, and a kid or two, and get back to work. Because when it all clicks in again, you will feel like a godamned goddess.

  • A word of warning: The following advice comes from a man who owns his own Writer’s Block. I’m playing Battlefield 3 on it right now. On the other hand, I just purchased my own first home in April and I know plenty about the stress that comes after you move in. $1,500+ of unexpected plumbing work in your closet will do that.

    Pick a room in your house and declare it your Writey Room. You may already have one and that’s fine; you may not want one, and that’s fine too, but pick a room anyway. Ideally the room should not be a room that other people will be spending a lot of time in. Nor should it have a television.

    Once you’ve picked out your Writey Room, take a day and clean the bastard. Sweep, dust, mop. Get all the furniture arranged the way you want it. If you have any boxes that are unopened, either open them and put away the contents, or leave them closed and put them in another room. If you feel you need to do something to make yourself comfortable, do it. Put up blinds or curtains, put a lock on the door, open the windows, take the door off its hinges, repaint the room, sacrifice a goat, whatever.

    The point is to make yourself a space that you feel comfortable in. A cluttered room fills us with subconscious stress, a little imp on the shoulder that’s poking you with a pitchfork. And that imp is going to be a lot bigger after a move, when you’ve got all your stuff sitting around in a disorganized mess waiting for you to get to it, but you don’t because you’ve got a change of address to fill out for the umpteenth time and you just got a threatening letter about property taxes that you thought the mortgage company was going to handle for you.

    Flick the imp off your shoulder. Clean a room. If all else fails, the endorphins from all that work will cheer you up for an hour. And giving yourself a stress-free (or at least stress-reduced) room to dream in can’t hurt.

    Love the blog. Best regards,

    David

  • Mel

    Well. This is where, back in the bad old days, I’d throw up that Malfoy icon and say WRITE MOAR FIC, MUGGLE BITCH!

    These days, I just quote my writing partner who keeps saying “Get the corpse on the table, the WHOLE corpse, then you can cut it up.” *pokes*

    It’ll come. Just keep typing.

  • Step back. Give yourself an afternoon or at least a couple of hours to do something that feeds your creative well. Visit an art gallery or museum. Spend it in the library, browsing and reading for sheer pleasure. Sketch or paint in the park. Knit, crochet, spin, weave, sew quilt, whatever craft feeds your inner self. Walk in a botanical garden or other physically beautiful, natural place. Go to the beauty parlor. (Now we’re getting to stuff I’d never do, but I know people for whom that works.) Whatever fills your creative well, do for yourself.

    If you try to run the car on empty, you wind up stuck in the middle of nowhere. Sometimes you’ve got to put some fuel in it.

  • Summer

    Words, words and more words. They are required of us all day long and some times you just get sick of them all. Then other days its a struggle to remember to spell of with an O and a F instead of ov…..and then wonder what the hell happened between your brain and your fingers. From your post it sounds more like your characters are not cooperating with where you want the story to go. At least that’s how it sounds from your post And to quote a wise woman who’s blog I’m posting to…”The character always wins”

    I have much faith in your ability as a writer and look forward to what ever finally tumbles out of your brain on to the page.

    (Huggs) from a loyal fan
    Sum

  • Shiv5468

    Two suggestions. ONE, do something else creative – knitting, baking a cake, playing with paint, seeing an eexhibition. It can kickstart the process.

    TWO, make a list of horrid jobs, start doing them. EVentually you’ll procrastinate by writing.

  • martianmooncrab

    You could take a break and transcribe the SquirrelWars.. future Neos, or Past Napoleons (why do squirrels like names begining in N?)

    We know that Trolls work in Accounting, so that would make Demons in Charge of Escrow? … hmmm S. Crow… hmmm…

    Been reading a bit of Icelandic tales, I do like the Troll Wife.

    Or, you can tell the story of a hack writer trying to do a DIY book for a schlocky pagan publisher and ends up with a whole different set of problems other than dead=lines.

    Sit back, take a deep breath, and ask yourself… “what would.. or what if.. ” You already do it so well, you settle into the new Nest and relax..

  • amystar

    Do what you can, when you can. Even the act of putting in [something blows up here – chaos] and moving on to other things until you can find the words can free you up to move ahead, and maybe the mojo will come back.
    Maybe the scene you are stuck on is because it doesn’t actually belong to this story and your subconscious is trying to tell you that and you have to jump around to see what exactly you need as a bridge from a to c – and maybe it’s q, not b.
    If you have to write linearly (is that a word?) – and to be honest, generally speaking I have to – then maybe you need a different fuel. Go for a walk or drive around; fall is beginning to happen and there is beauty everywhere. Go rock climbing. Make something you love to eat, or something that challenges you to make so you can prove to yourself that you can overcome it. I know when I get stressed out and feel tons of pressure I loved to bake, and I am overcome now that I have a restrictive diet and I can’t do it anymore. Turn all your clocks around if they are stressing you out – I have insomnia and when it gets bad I literally unplug the clocks in the bedroom because I feel the pressure of time slipping away and set a cellphone as an alarm just outside the bedroom door where I can’t see it.
    Work on a trunk novel for a bit until you feel re-energized.
    Above all else, forget about the deadline. Putting the extra pressure on yourself, when your emotional tank is on empty, only hurts you.
    Remember, you are doing what you love to do, and what you need to do. If you have to step back a little to get perspective, that is okay. Don’t let things get you to a place where you no longer love your job, because if you write because you need to and it isn’t just a job you can’t afford to lose the love you have for it.

  • Ariella

    Hi Lilith,

    I normally don’t provide responses to blog posts (usually when I’m reading them, it’s at the end of the day when my brain is fried and I’m just enjoying the posts). However, I thought I’d offer some thoughts in response to this post that I hope you find useful. I’ll admit that I’m hardly qualified to give advice as I’m not a published writer, but maybe some of this will resonate with you.

    First ask yourself: What was the first spark that drew you into this story? Was it the character’s voice that haunted you for weeks and you could not get out of your head unless you put it down on paper? Was it a powerful scene that you could not tear your eyes away from and had to immediately capture it with words? Was it the fascinating mechanics of the world you were creating and anxiously wanting to explore? I find when I am in the middle of writing a lengthy story that I begin to lose sight of that first spark that flamed my passion for pursuing this tale. It’s important to remind yourself why you became excited about this story in the first place. If you can’t quite define it at this point, lost in a haze of exhaustion or blurry vision, it’s time to step away from the computer and take a break. I know I’ve reached a point where I have to just step away when I’m at my computer, staring at the screen, and thought I had typed five glorious pages when in fact my hands had not moved for the past two hours. When there is a disconnect between your brain and hands, it’s definitely a signal to step away. πŸ™‚ Go read a favorite book or poem, something that will make you smile. One of my favorite poems to read that always makes smile is Billy Collins “Another Reason Why I Don’t Keep a Gun in the House.” Go to one of your favorite haunts and relax. You might even need to take a couples day, even a week or two, to relax and refill the creative well, so to speak. Because writing does take energy and if you’ve used up that energy, you’ll get nowhere except despair and frustration. Granted, despair and frustration come with the writing territory, but you have to have the energy to fend them off. Don’t let the vultures eat you.

    As a side note, if there’s a character that’s giving you trouble, you should write a script with you interviewing that character. You can even write a situation where you’re strangling that character, if it makes you feel better. πŸ™‚ It’s basically giving yourself permission to talk to yourself, but on paper.

    Ex:

    WRITER: “Frank, why are you being such a shithead and not listening to me?”
    FRANK (whiny bitch character): “You’re always sending me on missions that fail. And why can’t you give me a situation where I don’t end up in a hospital, huh? I don’t want to end up like my dad who failed at everything.”
    WRITER: “Oh, for the love of– Wait, what about your dad? – OMG that explains SO MUCH…”

    Just my two cents. Hope it helps.

    Keep writing, Lilith. You’re an excellent writer and I always look forward to reading your works.

    Best,
    Ariella

  • Dawn

    Take a deep breath in. Hold it. Let it out. *Lather. Rinse. Repeat*. Do those small things that refill you cupboard, whatever they are (shower, run, watch a movie.). Be gentle with yourself for just a little bit and coax the words with kindness. Get a voice recorder and talk the story for a while.

  • I can truly, truly sympathize, having lost most of this summer to the same thing you’ve just been through — the house hunting, the agonizing loan-approval process, the moving — all of it sending me into tears on a near-daily basis. I did a week-long writing retreat in July and came back excited and hopeful and ready to work on my novel again… and then inside of three days I was back to obsessing over whether I’d have a place to live before my lease was up.

    Anyway… I do have a couple of suggestions that might help. One is to write something purely for FUN. Write about yourself star-running with Han Solo, or digging through temples with Indiana Jones, or whatever floats your boat. There’s a lot of be said for simply writing in a joyful way, for no other reason than to please yourself. I think it helps you remember all the good things about writing, and makes writing the real stuff easier when you’re ready to go there.

    The other thing I can recommend is getting some albums that will force your brain to chill a bit, or spark the creative side of your brain. For the former, I’d recommend Chakra Suite by Stephen Halpern, Theta Meditation by Dr. Jeffrey Thompson, or Music for Brainwave Massage by Dr. Jeffrey Thompson. (Both men have studied the effect of music on the brain for decades, and they know what they’re doing.) For creativity, I recommend Wind & Mountain by Deuter or Creative Mind System by Dr. Jeffrey Thompson. All are available as MP3 downloads that you can play right at the computer. (I’ve got links to these albums and others on this page, where I talk about my experiences using music for stress relief and anxiety relief: http://www.squidoo.com/music-to-ease-anxiety)

    One other thought — you might also try a change of scenery. Is there somewhere outside your home that’s been a good writing spot for you — a library, coffee shop, bookstore? The place I did the writing retreat is a creative place for me; I go there and my brain just responds and knows it’s time to write. Maybe going to a place you associate with writing will get you back into the groove, so to speak.

    Good luck!!! I hope you get back on track soon.

  • Colleen

    I got nuttin’! Everyone here already gave you the *insert motivational text here* stuff that I would have said and honestly, I am awed and amazed by authors who can string letters together and make such magic as you do. I do know it will work itself out. It always does one way or the other.

  • josh howe

    i understand your pain my friend. I am a writer too though not a publsihed one and it is harder than hell to get my brain to cooperate and push words onto the paper. But dont give up, i have to say that out of the many books i’ve read (and belive me i have read a LOT) your books are very good and has a very capturing characters and story line, keep up the good work

  • I find that switching modes can really help. When the fingers don’t wanna type, I can often crack things loose by going for a walk with my voice recorder. Bonus points for scaring passing walkers by mumbling into my hand and gesticulating wildly with the other.

  • K Bone

    My wonderfully talented, brilliant, and (hopefully) forgiving mentor once told me one should sit in the chair and write β€œI don’t know what to write” until you find something better. She even wrote about here:

    http://www.lilithsaintcrow.com/2012/06/writers-block/

    Did I mention she was both wonderful and (really hopefully) forgiving???

  • SueAnne Merrill

    Artists Dates should be on the agenda, for sure. Gotta refill the well. You haven’t lost the words you need to make us roll on the floor, just the ones you need for the book. I’m sure they’re around somewhere. Maybe Miss B has herded them into a corner somewhere and won’t let them out.

  • James

    So I can give no advice on writing. Your writing on your blogs is still good so you haven’t stopped completely. My only bit of advice is please don’t try and sell the house I for one find selling a lot more stressful than buying. At least when you buy a house you are in control. Good luck πŸ™‚

  • Dylan C.

    When you can’t write, draw. Doesn’t matter what. Take up a pencil and cover an A4 page. Keeps you from winding yourself up about the words.

  • Tracy

    I work things out in writing–it’s really the only fool proof method I have of figuring things out. Talk it out, walk it out, think it out, it doesn’t work for me. I HAVE to write it down.

    There’s something I do when I don’t want to write or I don’t know where the story is going. I grab a timer, set it for 20 min., open a word program, CLOSE MY EYES! and write. I write stupid sh$t like, “alright, I’ve got twenty minutes to figure out what I”m going to do with Shelley in the stupid gallery. I was thinking about such and such except that blah blah blah and the only thing I can think is that that won’t flipping work because of xyz. So what do I do? One off the cuff solution (that probably won’t work) would be…”

    And–and here’s the other important part (aside from closing my eyes)–I’m not allowed to stop typing AT ALL during that 20 min on the timer. More times than not, at the end of the timed session I know exactly what I need to do and where I need to go. Besides that, I’m warmed up and ready to write.

    Oh, the closed eye thing. Don’t go back and correct spelling. Don’t even look at it. Keep your eyes shut the entire time. NO CHEATING! This isn’t about perfection, it’s about figuring the story out.

    And if you know what you want to write about but just don’t want to write that day…this works well too. Except, instead of writing, “Shelley’s supposed to be in…” you’d write something along the lines of, “Shelley hopped off the over sized bar stool and stood there, haughty, taller than everyone else in the room despite the fact she was 5’4″ (weird, maybe more like looked down her nose, except cliche. Uh, anyway….), and said, ” Blah blah blah.” And didn’t that get their panties in a twist. Ha! I love that Shelly. someone in the back screamed.” All the mistakes in there stay until you come back. It’ll turn off your editor like no one’s business.

    I think I initially got this advice from a book called Bird by Bird? Or something? I don’t know, I’m going to have to go into my collection. I’ve been doing it for a while though. It’s always worked for me. Good luck. The nice thing about humps is the other side.

  • Myra S.

    I take some advice from Ray Bradbury. When the words won’t come I sit and writer whatever will come: lists of words I’d like to use, names for future characters, creative ideas, grocery lists. You name it, I write it and after awhile it gets easier since it proves to me that the words really are there even if the little B-tards are hiding. Failing that I go grab Ray Bradbury’s book “The Zen of Writing” or Stephen King’s “On Writing.” It soothes me to read the words of other authors on the craft that’s giving me so much trouble. Anyways that’s what helps me and it might help you too.

    Also for me, weirdly cleaning house helps as well. Not sure why, but it’s easier to write if I’m not staring down dust bunnies the size of Texas by my desk.

  • Kim

    Zumba, or some kind of exercise you’d not normally do . You need more oxygen to access those characters and their stories and nothing does it better than getting your body moving and the mind gets moving too. So exited to read your next work especially if it is SA#6 πŸ™‚

    Kim

  • I hear you, Lilith. My energy eaters tend to be trials, especially jury trials (I still have my day job as a trial lawyer). Trying to put one of those together and write a book at the same time is like trying to write two books at once, one fiction and one carefully documented and sourced non-fiction (be nice, y’all). If I was trying to buy a house, too, I think I’d go completely around the bend.

    I’ll second the suggestions of “take a walk, write somewhere else, and [especially] listen to some good chillout music.”

    And I wish you luck.

    D