Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Fact Facing, Overcoming Doubt, and the Truth about Writer's Block

Writers are a sensitive bunch and some days I feel like I'm the most sensitive one. Not that I'm always doubting myself. It comes in bursts of moroseness. The confidence and pride also comes and those are the best times. Those are the times when I tie up my manuscript in a pretty word document and send it off to family and friends. There's still fear that they won't like it, but I know none of my nearest and dearest would be mean even if they thought it was dreadful.

That's how I felt when I sent my YA Fantasy to a few friends and two of my sisters (also considered friends). I was prepared for lukewarm reactions though I hoped they'd enjoy it. What I wasn't prepared for was for some of them to not read it at all. I sent it to nine people and four of them didn't read it. The worst part was, two of the ones who didn't read it were my sisters. Years ago, someone had told me not to send my sisters copies because they wouldn't read it. I had more faith in my sisters than that, of course they'd read it! They're my sisters. It's been almost two years since I sent them that manuscript and neither one of them has read it.

I've asked them why. They both say they want to. They intend to read it soon. They're going to start it tonight. They want to read it with their kids. There's no end to the promises but there's been no clue as to why they won't read it. 

At first, I didn't think much about it. Four of my friends enjoyed it and some even provided comments. I was busy working on another story. After a year though, it got to me. The doubt crept in and planted itself firmly in the part of myself I call on to write. Every time I sat down to work, I questioned my actions. "Why should I write books even my own sisters won't read?" Even my own sisters won't read. Even my own sisters won't read. The words formed an anti-mantra that would not stop until I closed my laptop and lost myself in a cup full of tea and a book full of another writer's words. A writer who's siblings undoubtedly read what they wrote.

I still wrote but less and less. The words came haltingly and I had no confidence or faith in them. I pitied my story that it fell into my hands rather than into the hands of someone who could tell it. People asked about my writing (though my sisters never did) and I just shook my head and said, "It's slow going." Slow was generous. All my time "working" was spent tweaking sentences I'd already written or refreshing my Facebook news feed. My book was progressing at the speed of sloth.

I felt ashamed, stupid, and a little angry. During the summer I tried to force a timeline to finish a first draft of my stagnant book, but I couldn't do it. I didn't want to do it. Far from bringing me joy, I was miserable at the thought of typing nonsense for no reason.

Everything is relative
In February, I visited my family in Florida. One night when just the two of us were driving back from Universal, my mother asked how my writing was going. I was honest. "It's not. I don't see the point of it," I said and explained how my confidence had been worn away. She was not pleased. I should mention that my mother has become an irritatingly agreeable person, so this was unexpected. "I thought you were stronger than that," she told me and she didn't stop there. My mom laid the truth out flat. If I wanted to write, I had to be tougher. Lots of people won't read my books and some people that do might passionately loathe them and post about it on the Internet. Yes, it hurts knowing that important people seem not to care about my writing, but that doesn't mean I shouldn't care about my writing anymore. As much as it sucked to hear it, I had to admit she had a point. 

A few days after, my friend Ashley, who did read my book, asked about the first book I ever wrote which had been shelved before anyone read it all the way through. A while ago, I had told her about the premise and now she wanted to read it. It was perfect timing. I gave that dusty, old manuscript a quick edit and sent it to her and my mom. The following day, I picked up the project I'd been ignoring and have been working on it every day. I stay up writing until I have no words left and my dog is grumbling for a walk. My thoughts drift to what the characters say if they were cramped into a crowded subway car with me on my way to work. I've received concerned looks from other passengers when I laugh out loud at their responses in my head. Maybe that makes me crazy, but don't feel crazy. I feel like I'm back.

With my mom enjoying a Butterbeer at the Three Broomsticks

I believe now that it was a form of writer's block. I thought writer's block was not knowing what to write about, which sounds terrible enough, but not being able to write even with ideas pounding away inside of me was a different kind of horror. Block seems innocent compared to what I experienced. I had the Hoover Dam of writer's block. I wasn't depressed or miserable except for when I tried to write. I distracted myself with other hobbies and my friends, but I wasn't completely me during that time and I'm 100% me now. Only now I don't care if no one reads my book. I'm just happy to be writing and relieving the pressure that's been building up internally for so long.


  1. So happy you are writing. I look forward to every word. And thank you for sharing them with me.

  2. Great to see that you found happiness in writing. I found your post to be very relatable. I've experienced something similar to this, 'feeling miserable when I tried to write.' For me instead of a release, writing became such a source of anxiety. For awhile I just stopped. Then four-five months passed and I started to miss it, and slowly I got back into it.

    Again, loved your post.

    Wishing you all the best in writing!

  3. Thanks, Michelle. I'm glad you got back to writing too. Life just isn't the same without it!