In my previous post, I mentioned that I have a tendency to start writing something, get halfway through it, take a break, and then never get back to finishing it. Today, I went to my blog folder and discovered a piece titled “Writer’s Terror.” I looked at it’s date — September 22, 2009. As per my modus operandi, I’d gotten halfway through it and then lost my way.
Just an hour or two before I made that discovery, Karl Duvall, the kind gentleman who owns the gym I go to, posted on Facebook that today he struggled to run his nine miles. It was 33 degrees and for the first four miles he ran against a hard mental wall. Then he started thinking about a question I’d asked him: “How does one push oneself when training alone?”
For the next two plus miles, he said, he thought about how to answer me. And answer me, he did, comparing his runner’s wall to writer’s block. Karl said to think about how I’d gotten through other struggles in my life because “somewhere deep inside we all have something that keeps us fighting through our struggles” — the huge ones like death and divorce, as well as what Karl called “the little huge ones like finishing a book, finishing a workout/run, losing weight and so many more things.”
“We have to step back,” he said, “reevaluate our goals, why we’re doing something and how to accomplish it. Remember your Why? and it helps to reach it. Also most importantly, remember those that can help you do it. Think of the cheers and the pat on the back. The size smaller jeans you want to fit in or the paycheck you’ll get. When it’s gym related then ask for the kick in the butt* that we can/will give you.”
So, four months after I started it, I try to finish my “Writer’s Terror” blog post. I hope it — along with Karl’s words — encourages you.
Some people suffer writer’s block. I suffer writer’s terror. That’s when I’m so terrified of being judged or so terrified of repeating past mistakes, so terrified that I can’t live up to that talent that I know I have but fear I’ve lost, that I squander the day checking email and Facebook and researching other possible book and story ideas. In other words, I never get around to writing. Then I waste the night praying for God’s help and mercy in finding my talent again and praying for the discipline to sit down at the keyboard and actually type and write and expose my soul … because if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past year is that I find my writing voice when I expose my soul.
That’s probably the dilemma right there – I don’t want to expose my soul. I want to write about other people, not me, seemingly forgetting that when I write about others that I’m really writing about myself.
For example, though I joke that my book Wasted is crap, and though I always add that like a Jackie Collins novel it’s riveting crap, I know there’s at least one paragraph I’m proud of. It closes Chapter 13:
Folks just didn’t understand what it was like to feel you had another person’s blood flowing through your veins, making your heart beat, you skin tingle, your mind want to work, your arms want to reach out and touch and hug and love and breathe and feel loved and fulfilled for the very first time in your life, like you’re not alone in the world, like there’s a mother to care for you, a family who won’t abandon you, someone who accepts you even when you feel all ugly inside. But Regina understood. And it was worth life.
Regina was the murder victim in Wasted. On the surface, we were nothing alike. She was a young, wild, directionless lesbian. Well, perhaps she did have a direction that she wasn’t even aware of – self-destruction. Still, I could relate to Regina in at least one area of our lives and that area was a desperate need to be loved and accepted. So when I wrote that paragraph, I tapped into my own (and, man, I don’t want to admit this) desperate need to be loved and accepted. For those three sentences, I felt like I was channeling Regina and she was channeling me.
As many times as I’ve read those words aloud at book signings, I have never admitted that they’re really my thoughts and feelings, not Regina’s. I didn’t want to expose myself. After all, I want my writing to be about others, not about me. But — and I know I’m repeating myself here — I know I find my writing voice when I expose my soul. And when I find my writing voice, my writer’s terror … well, it is no more.
*In 2008, through the Writers’ League of Texas, I taught a class called “The True Kick in the Pants: Starting and Completing the First Three Chapters of Your Narrative Non-fiction Book.” I’m tentatively scheduled to teach a similar class — for nonfiction and fiction — this coming May, again through the WLT. This class won’t be limited to just the first three chapters. Instead, it’s intended to help struggling authors prepare their manuscripts for the Writers’ League annual agents conference, a conference where writers can pitch their books to editors and literary agents and learn about the inside workings of the publishing industry. I highly recommend this conference.