“When we sit down each day and do our work, power concentrates around us. The Muse takes note of our dedication. She approves. We have earned favor in her sight. When we sit down and work, we become like a magnetized rod that attracts iron filings. Ideas come. Insights accrete.” ~ Steven Pressfield, The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles.
I love great quotations and epigraph. In fact, my original draft of Transcender: First Timer, featured an epigraph at the beginning of each chapter, but due to space and copyright considerations, I dropped them before publishing the book. Since, as you may have noticed, I’ve had a bit of difficulty keeping up with my blog recently *blushes*, which I attribute to lack of a consistent theme, I’ve decided to select a favorite quotation or epigraph each week and write about it here.
I chose to begin this blog series with one of my favorite quotations on writing from Steven Pressfield’s the War of Art, a book I highly recommend to any writer or aspiring writer. For me, the above quotation beautifully sums up a strange phenomenon that sometimes occurs when I’m writing. During those mystical magical times, when I’m in the zone and the elusive Muse drops by for tea, the story takes on a life of it’s own, almost as if it’s writing itself. It can be an eerie experience. I’ve had characters say and do things I never planned or even dreamed of including in the storyline. But in that otherworldly place where my own existence is subservient to the narrative, it’s the characters’ story not mine, and I’ve found it best to let them run with it.
For example [spoiler alert if you haven’t read the entire Transcender Trilogy]: In a scene in Book Two of the Trilogy, one character tells another that someone with whom she is close is not human at all, but an automaton. Of course she was stunned to learn this—but so was I! It definitely was NOT a planned plot element. I soon realized, however, I should have known it all along, and if he could fool me, he could certainly fool her. In fact it worked so well with the rest of the story that I couldn’t imagine why I hadn’t thought of it in the first place.
These are the mind-blowing moments that make all the drudgery, anxiety, and crippling self-doubt of being a writer worthwhile. Of course, it takes some sustained writing for this marvel to occur, but anyone who has slogged away crafting an entire book has most likely entertained the Muse on more than one occasion. Here’s hoping she visits you (and me) often!
Wishing you happy reading and writing and Happy Father’s Day to all you dads or surrogate dad’s out there!
Okay, you’re cooking along on your manuscript. You love what you’ve written so far, the story’s gelling, and it looks like you might even meet your deadline. Then one day you plop down in front of the computer and what the?… it’s just not there anymore. Your mastery of words has evaporated, your ideas have turned to dust, and your brain is completely sucked dry of all creative juju. It’s even looking like the stuff you thought was so brilliant yesterday is actually a pitiful pile of banal blather that needs to be thrown into the trash compactor with wet coffee grounds poured on top. You begin wondering why you didn’t just become an auto mechanic like your aptitude tests all said you should.
Don’t despair, you just have a case of writer’s self-doubt. It happens to us all of us. At one time or another we all face the fear that our writing just isn’t good enough. So, what’s the cure? Some writers suggest that you simply write your way out of it. Well, hello? Writing’s the problem in the first place. Sometimes a different solution is required to remove the grotesque mass of creativity clogging goo from your stream of consciousness and to get your fingers tapping those keys again in that magical, enigmatic rhythm that causes delicious prose to literally pour onto the page like hot caramel.
Researching this subject, I was stunned at the number of articles on writers’ self-doubt. It’s an epidemic! So how do you wrestle the culprit to the ground and kill it? The short answer is: You don’t! That’s giving self-doubt way too much power over you.
The key is to relax and cut yourself some slack. Self-doubt is like the common cold—you can’t cure it, but you can soothe it and shorten it. Eventually it will go away by itself. Trust me.
Here are a few techniques to soothe and inspire you while waiting for your creative juju to return.
- Embrace your self-doubt. Robert Hughes said “The greater the artist, the greater the doubt. Perfect confidence is granted to the less talented as a consolation prize.” All talented writers have experienced self-doubt at one time or another. So, if you want to be considered up there with the greats, self-doubt is something you learn to deal with.
- Focus on your accomplishments, and resist the urge to compare yourself to others. Re-read your good reviews and fan posts. Ignore the people who just don’t get your work. It doesn’t matter how amazing your writing is, someone is going to trash it. It goes with the territory. Keep reminding yourself of how much you’ve already accomplished and how much more you still want to do. Call your mom, she’ll tell you how great you are.
- Find a good book on editing and polish up what you’ve already written. I love the rewriting process, because I always find a sentence or paragraph or scene that can be made better with a little shrewd editing. It builds confidence to improve on what you’ve already got, and it’ll give you something constructive to do until this passes. I recommend Stein on Writing by Sol Stein.
- Re-read a great piece of writing. Dust off your favorite book of all time and be reminded of what inspired you to write in the first place.
- Make a list of your favorite phrases, descriptions, and scenes of all time. Read through your list when you feel stuck. Find one emotion-packed word you can use or a phrase you can tailor to fit your own plot. Plug it into your story and start writing.
- Watch Elizabeth Gilbert’s superb TEDTalk “Your Elusive Creative Genius,” http://www.ted.com/talks/elizabeth_gilbert_on_genius.html. She’ll convince you that the divine attendant spirit who really writes your books is just taking a little break … she’ll be back!
Most of all, be patient!
I’m the author of the Transcender Trilogy, TRANSCENDER: First-Timer, STREAMING STARS, and the upcoming ILLLUMINOSITY, which blends science-fiction, fantasy, and romance in an exciting cross-dimensional adventure.