Book Writing Struggles


If you have ever attempted writing a book you will probably know these struggles:

  • Coming up with ONE idea that is simply brilliant. In the middle of the night.
  • Putting up motivational notes over your desk.
  • Telling everyone you are writing a book.
  • Working on the idea for a few weeks and realising that it is not that good after all.
  • Actually all you do is sit in front of a blank page.
  • Because you are scared.
  • Scared of yourself.
  • And your idea.
  • Feeling like you have lost all your motivation.
  • Feeling like you have lost your ability to write sentences.
  • To write words.
  • Realising that the structure of your book doesn’t make sense.
  • Deleting all pages you have written thus far.
  • Starting all over.
  • Having 25 different versions of your book on your computer.
  • Some of them dating back to five years ago.
  • Reading all texts you can get, related to your topic.
  • Never being able to stop doing research.
  • Still feeling like you know nothing.
  • Making a plan to wake up early to write.
  • Waking up at noon.
  • Writing until 4 at night.
  • Spilling a cup of tea in your bed when writing late at night.
  • Calling your friends and whining about not being able to write anymore.
  • In the middle of the night.
  • Doing anything else but writing your book.
  • Dusting your shelves.
  • Cleaning your windows.
  • Twice a day.
  • Falling into an existential crisis.
  • Sending your friends a chapter of your work.
  • Getting back a crying-laughter smiley.
  • Or a question mark.
  • Deciding to stop working on your project.
  • Deleting all evidence from your computer.
  • Letting it rest for a few months.
  • Forgetting about it.
  • Until one night… (Start from the top.)

A few days ago I had to review the entire structure of my book. It had too many cracks and wasn’t well thought through. Let’s hope that my motivation will last for a little while and I will finish a first draft. It’s always a race of me against my self-doubts.

Here’s a great quote from Annie Dillard’s book “The Writing Life” if you find yourself in a similar situation.

When you are stuck in a book; when you are well into writing it, and know what comes next, and yet cannot go on; when every morning for a week or a month you enter its room and turn your back on it; then the trouble is either of two things. Either the structure has forked, so the narrative, or the logic, has developed a hairline fracture that will shortly split it up the middle — or you are approaching a fatal mistake. What you had planned will not do. If you pursue your present course, the book will explode or collapse, and you do not know about it yet, quite.

[…]

What do you do? Acknowledge, first, that you cannot do nothing. Lay out the structure you already have, x-ray it for a hairline fracture, find it, and think about it for a week or a year; solve the insoluble problem. Or subject the next part, the part at which the worker balks, to harsh tests. It harbors an unexamined and wrong premise. Something completely necessary is false or fatal. Once you find it, and if you can accept the finding, of course it will mean starting again. This is why many experienced writers urge young men and women to learn a useful trade.

(https://www.brainpickings.org/2013/08/09/annie-dillard-on-writing/ )

How are your writing projects going? Any tips on overcoming writer’s block?

This Changes Everything Vs. My Life on the Road


For NaNoWriMo last year I wrote a blog post a day and one of them was about comparative reading. I think it is such an amazing concept and I wanted to do it again. It gives you a deeper understanding of what you have read, how certain writers tackle certain aspects, and how you can shift your focus when reading.

“This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate” is a book by Naomi Klein from 2014 which looks into the economic, social, and environmental aspects of climate change while also analysing how capitalism brought us there. It was a fascinating book and will probably be one of the main sources for my own project because it has so much wisdom in it.

Gloria Steinem’s memoir “My Life on the Road” was published in 2015. She describes her life as an activist, the people she has met and who have guided her throughout, and the issues women were and are still facing today. It was inspiring to read about a life lived so fully.

What I loved most about these two books was their inclusiveness, their focus on minorities and their unique struggles. Steinem writes about her experiences with people who have faced discrimination and how they dealt with them. What we can do about them. Naomi Klein is also very aware and she takes it a step further, linking these issues to climate change.

One aspect that made me look at “My Life on the Road” through an environmental lens in the first place was this one by Steinem in her interview with Emma Watson: If we had real equality between women and men, women would be able to decide for themselves if they want to receive children or not. They would have full reproductive freedom and would not have to have children they don’t want or cannot have. It would offer them opportunities to work, to invest in education, to live more sustainably. The effect of climate change also depends on global population size. This is why feminism should be one of the main strategies to conquer climate change. Naomi Klein adds to this as she says that every movement aiming for equality is a step in the right direction of conquering climate change.

Our environmental problems today are the product of hundreds of years of inequality, of exploitation, and expression of power over nature. In a culture where not everyone is able to work together because of prejudices and strong opposing opinions, there will be no unified action against climate change. One which we so desperately need. Gloria Steinem argues that these movements are indeed happening right now, though, and that she has experienced living right among them. Felt their power and the hope they radiate. This is also what I noticed in the end of “This Changes Everything”. There is a way to get through this. We have to transform our values and work for a more just world.

“My Life on the Road” examines how this is done in detail. Going around, talking to people. Listening to their struggles and spreading awareness. Giving talks to activists, forming groups, marching. These are the practical aspects of the great change Naomi Klein wrote about.

Since Klein’s book is researched to a great detail and could be seen more as a piece of journalism, it does not have as many personal stories in it as “My Life on the Road”. However, the part I loved the most, was her telling the story how she struggled to get pregnant and how her son was born. She wrote about the BP oil spill and its effect on the eggs and youngest fish in lakes and oceans. It was beautifully linked and thus all the more powerful. “My Life on the Road” as a memoir has all these stories and anecdotes which are linked to the pressing issues of our time. This taught me a lot: When writing my own book I have to connect my own stories to the issues I’m talking about. Otherwise, they will get too distant. I don’t want to be a preacher. I want to be an observer of the world, a storyteller.

Both books have changed my perception. After finishing “This Changes Everything” today I am a bit more hopeful that we can avert the crisis, but I’m also more painfully aware of the damage that we have done thus far. I feel physical pain in my stomach and heart when I read about oil spills, about devastating pollution, and the exploitation of people all over the world. Gloria Steinem assured me through the women’s movement that this can be changed. I have had the great amount of opportunities only through women like her. Once we recognise our power as a unified people, we can make a difference. Once we tell our stories and share our values, we will succeed.

Both of them showed me a journalism at its finest. Since it is a profession I could really see myself in, it was interesting to read about their lives. I felt a personal connection through the love of writing and the passion with which they dive into their topics.

What is the overall message of both books?
Be hopeful. Work harder. Be more inclusive. Listen and learn.

“I read a book about that…”


As I was just sitting in my Atmospheric Physics lecture (It’s complicated, confusing, and cumbersome), I could think of nothing else than getting back home to continue reading my new-found love: My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem, recommended to me by the lovely Stephanie (https://adventuresofabibliophile.com/). When I told a book-loving friend of mine, she said: “Feminism. The classic. Obviously.” She knows that I spend most of my money on books. About climate change, feminism, and self-improvement. The classics. One year ago I could never have imagined reading about these topics. I would always prefer fiction over reality.

This year I started to cure my little life-crisis with books. Where do I want to go? What do I want to be? How do I get there? Everything was explained to me. In books. All the books my friend and I had read and talked about during our runs in the last months had paid off. We were teaching ourselves how to be good managers more than our study course did.

When I started working on my book on climate change, I also started reading books about it for the first time. Took everything I could get my hands on. You wouldn’t believe how many works there are in our library. Every time I now have a conversation with my dad about the topic I always add: “I read a book about that…” He now is able to interpret the look on my face and finish that sentence for me. Climate change and the media? Climate change and feminism? Climate change and refrigerators? Climate change and bearded trolls in Sweden? You name it.

Through all this reading I got a little overwhelmed by the scope of the project in front of me. I read myself into a writer’s block. Do you know who cured it? Gloria Steinem. I was so excited that even in my lecture I couldn’t stop taking notes. Which was probably not a good idea. Hydrostatic equilibrium? Adiabatic what? Again please?

“A love letter to the books…
That make you jump up hyped to change the world.
That make you write your heart out.
That make you take notes in class with all the crazy ideas you have.
That take you back to your passions.
That make you daydream about reading on.
In which you want to underline every line because they are so true, so honest, so pure, so beautiful. “

My Life on the Road is such a book. I’m just into the first chapters and I’m already inspired. Her writing style is amazing and her sentences resonated with me even in the darkest minutes of my lecture when all I did is scribble down equations I didn’t understand, next to words I had never heard, and a professor who smiled briefly but coldly and said that it all was so logical. Of course. Welcome to uni.

In the midst of all that I remembered her words. They revived in me the wish to also be a journalist, a traveller, a seeker of stories:

“It’s as if attentive people create a magnetic force field for stories the tellers themselves didn’t know they had within them. (…) The simplest paths to deep change is for the less powerful to speak as much as they listen, and for the more powerful to listen as much as they speak.” Gloria Steinem, My Life on the Road

Weeks after weeks had I tried to word in my book the need for people to listen to each other, to consider each other’s fates, and to be inclusive in all their talking. Who would have known that it could be said that easily…

As you may have noticed I am in love with this book. I will write a review once I have finished it. Until then I have some questions for you:

Do you know any good books about journalism?
Any other non-fiction you can recommend?
What was one book that made you jump in excitement, that inspired you?

Deadlines and Goals


There is never enough time to do everything. We think that these organised people around us somehow make new time to do all things they love. They don’t. They just have their priorities straight. For effective time management – every book on that subject will tell you so – you need to set your goals. You need to see where you want to go, how you will get there, and when you will do so. That would be all fine if there wasn’t that nagging voice in the back of your head: Does it really matter RIGHT NOW? Couldn’t you just do it in two weeks time? Nobody will care anyway. Watch one more episode. Meet with your friends for dinner.

We put our tasks off until we can’t anymore because we have reached the ultimate deadline. Resulting in stress and bad outcomes. Why not invest more time in realistic planning before hand and then getting the job done? (Hint: we are lazy)

For all this wonderful planning (that I by the way adore) you need to know your goals in life. And then hustle. I just read Lilly Singh’s “How to be a Bawse” and it is awesome. So much practical advice on how to a) be a decent human being b) get shit done c) set your goals and d) grow and climb the ladders of life. You should really check it out. This book is a kick in your booty that was located lazily on the sofa. My booty has been in a very comfortable position lately. I told myself to write daily for this whole year. I made it until the middle of April. Then I stopped. Too much to do, I told myself. My dream – becoming a writer – seemed too far away. I had writer’s block on my latest book project and I just couldn’t get myself to add any more words. The mere thought was ridiculous. How could I write anything every anyway?

Instead I told myself that there was too much to do for uni and then ate my body weight in peanuts and watched youtube videos. Congratulations.

Goal setting for my blog hasn’t worked out that well in the past (look at the hundred’s of posts where I told you I was going to upload regularly. That went so well…) But it doesn’t help to complain about that. Let’s try again. Only talking doesn’t bring me anywhere. I need to do what I preach.

To kick myself in the booty, get away from all this “I am so stressed” nonsense, striving towards my goal of being a writer, I will post once a week. Please hold me accountable for that. Write me angry emails or comments if I do not provide a post every Friday.

Do you have a project you need to get done? Set yourself a deadline and tell your friends to check if you achieved it. Write me in the comments! Tell people about your goals and you are more likely to succeed. Let’s beat the monster of procrastination together!

How to Manage Self-Doubt When Writing


There are ideas. There are good ideas, great ideas. And then there are those ideas that come to you like a lightning strike, hit you in the face and leave you sitting on the floor in the middle of the night breathing heavily, questioning life. Those ideas that let you mumble to yourself: “I’m a genius.” This might possibly the best idea I’ve ever had, this is what I have been waiting on for weeks now. This is the solution to all my problems, my salvation, this is my break-through. Those ideas that send you of running through the house, singing, laughing, crying. Those ideas you don’t want to let go and that you congratulate yourself shamelessly for.

I’ve had a couple of them.

Then I threw them in the bin again.

Let me explain.

Option 1:

Those late-night epiphanies and wonderful story ideas that always come to me are – when revisited in proper daylight, frankly said – utter bullshit. They would never work, they are just a product of my sleep-deprived brain, of my overworked self trying to live in a different world. Straight up: This might just be escapism. I might have spend all night fantasising about that genius idea. About that fantasy story, that gigantic thriller I want to write. When looking at those in the morning I laugh at myself how stupid I have been. A shame to even call them ideas…

Option 2:

I forget them.

Up to this point I have forgotten so many ideas that I had when just going to sleep, too tired to write anything down anymore. The next morning they have left me. The genius has traded in a good night’s sleep with that idea. Well done. Maybe it wasn’t that good anyway.

Option 3:

I awake, remember that great idea I had and instantly start doubting myself. This is a part of the actual talk I had with myself recently about a novel idea:

“Alright, you just came up with the genius idea that connects everything you ever wanted to write about.”

“Well, but what if this is just a bad idea I had because I needed to at least write something?”

“No, you had that idea because you were ready for it and because you deserve to have that idea. It’s yours! And it’s not written yet, so go sit at your laptop.”

“The exam phase is soon, how am I going to find the time to write this? It’s a shitty concept. I just don’t buy it. Who am I to think I could write? Nobody has ever said that I’m good at what I’m doing.”

“You know as well as me that this is not true. Your friends, your dad… all the lovely people on your blog…”

“Maybe they just wanted to be nice! It’s so pretentious that I’m trying to write! I don’t have any experiences, what am I going to write about? I don’t know anything!”

“Then do research.”

“On what? You need to have lived for a while to write a novel, to be able to include your own story…”

“Think of that twelve year old who wrote several novels and made that Ted Talk. She hasn’t got that much to write about either, but she did! You are just lazy and anxious and boring. Those self-doubts do not lead you anywhere.”

“But my whole family will hate me if they read what I wrote! My friends, too! Everyone is going to hate me! I’m a shame to my family.”

“Listen, it’s not even written yet. You are the first person to put that story on the paper and to read it. You can edit it before you give it to others. Don’t be so hard on yourself.”

“That doesn’t change that this all was a horrible idea.”

“Oh come on, get over yourself! So many people have written books already. You can do that, too! You have done Nanowrimo! Twice!”

“That’s something different.”

“No it isn’t! You have written every freaking day, made a habit out of that. That’s exactly what you are going to do now. You are going to write every single day until you get better at what you are doing. Those self-doubts will never go away but at least you will not be bad at writing anymore if you do it often enough. Now give yourself some rest and read a book.”

This is also a strategy to get some writing done, I just noticed. Type out the dialogues you have with yourself. If there is no one else to talk to. What a sad existence I’m leading here. Writers are lonely people. No wonder they are always dealing with self-doubt. What distinguishes published authors from those who just have their first novels in their desk drawers? They beat through their own self-doubt. They wrote every single day until they got better. They still experience the crippling anxiety of creation but they trust their senses, they trust their instinct, they trust themselves. That’s the difference. Now go and write down your freaking idea.

Here are some methods I have used to beat this anxiety:

Allow yourself to write shit. Shit is great! Include swearwords in your writing. It frees your creative energy that is often centred against yourself. Shout at the paper you are writing on, get those negative feelings out.

Write anyway. Not feeling well? Start a collection of weird words and write about why you think they are weird. Write down a conversation you had today – doesn’t matter if it was with yourself or another person. Analyse the speech. Write different versions of that dialogue. Try to convey as much emotions as possible. Use different words and see how they sound.

Stream of consciousness. I love that technique. It’s brilliant. You set a timer and then write everything down that comes to your mind in that amount of time. Try to not stop while typing. Try to get everything out. It’s like a cleaning mechanism. Scrub your brain, my friend! Get all the bad stuff out and then you can properly start writing. Create a document for these kinds of texts. Write in it every day before your writing session. I called mine: “Some Weird Stuff”.

Let other people read what you write. Even if it is just small essays. Put it out there. Get some feedback. In the end, the critical comments will be the most helpful to you. For example, I learned through a friend of mine that I use far to many adjectives and too much descriptive language. I have to shorten my sentences. Make them more precise. Create music. Give my writing a rhythm. Oh, and I have to work on my dialogues. I noticed that myself: They are horrible.

Get your friends to read your texts and ask them for honest, constructive criticism. If they are true and great friends, they will give it to you. They will help you to become a better writer.
Step back from the idea. Ideas are great when you initially have them. Then life happens. They only get worse with time. Try to only think about them when you are writing. The shiny new effect wears off even more quickly if you constantly daydream about the idea. Give it some time and some thought. Don’t beat yourself up.

Identify the source of your doubts. Is it yourself? Society? Your friends? Where does this anxiety come from? Once you have found the source you have to options: a) work through it anyway and ignore the doubts b) give in and let go. It’s an active choice you have to make. Write your decision down, right after the idea you had.

I choose to pursue this idea no matter what because it is important to me.

I choose to let this idea go and look for something else instead.

Now comes the most essential part:

Let it go. If you have beat yourself up over an idea too much. If you have suffered too much. If you can’t sleep because of your anxiety: Stop. If it turns you into a self-hating, crying existence, it wasn’t that good of an idea. Now forget about it. Don’t try to mend it, adapt it, glue it together. That won’t work. Write the idea down on a piece of paper and then burn the paper.

Or bury it in the garden.

Or climb the highest hill in your neighbourhood, cry out in agony, stick the paper on a branch and run down with it shaking it against the sky and then collapse on the ground sobbing. Smell the earth beneath your face and rip the paper into small pieces you then let fly with the wind.

Or just throw it in the bin if you are not as dramatic as I am.

Let go. And then be happy again. Meditate or just let your mind wander. There will be other ideas. Humans are made to have ideas, to always find solutions. Maybe your next idea is just around the corner but you were too absorbed in your self-doubt that you didn’t notice it. You ignored its polite knocks on the door.

Now let it in, you are ready.

Never forget to write.

Never forget to love yourself.

Advent Calendar 2016 #19


At the moment I’m reading “A Little Life” by Hanya Yanagihara. It has destroyed me, this book. It has ripped my heart out and cut it into small pieces and put it back the other way around. I cannot describe how much I love this book, however crushing the individual stories might seem. I will definitely write something about it soon. Today, though, here’s a little arctic fox called “Willem” for you, somehow inspired by the book.

 

NaNoWriMo Day 30: Crossing the Finish Line


I did it!!!! Again!!! I can’t believe it!!! Although, NaNoWriMo, I miss you already. What started out as a crazy idea because I didn’t get to do the module I wanted to do… And found I had too much “free time”… has actually become a quite life changing event. I did this the second time in a row now. I promised myself that I wouldn’t do Nano again for some years. Yet, I couldn’t stop myself from it. Why? Probably because I love writing so much.

On day 24 I watched a video in life’s purpose. There were five questions asked. What was my personal outcome? I want to be a writer to encourage people to take care of their environment, to inspire them and to make science understandable, interesting, exciting. I never put that much effort in my writing projects. I saw it as just another hobby, like the art I was creating. Now I found out that this stuff makes me really happy. I love to write! I love to sit down every evening before bed and type some words into my computer. I love to think about what I could write about. Talk to people. Do research. It was so amazing!

It was hard, of course. I had three days when I really didn’t know what to write at all. So I wrote bad poems and copied good ones. That’s how you move along. Now, I feel some sort of relief but also sadness. It’s over again. November is over.

My body is telling me how happy it is. Sleep! Something I haven’t had properly in thirty days! My brain shouts: Yes, you finally got to do all the uni work you wanted to do! One weird thing is, that I invested more time than ever into uni, this past month. I read more books in November than in any other month in 2016. Clearly, if I have less time, I do more. Seems counterintuitive? welcome to my brain.

Here are all the things I learned during this challenge, this project, this sign of my wonderful weirdness:

  • To properly write an English text a day. Last year, I wrote in German. This year I noticed how much better my expression got and how much I have improved since. That’s nice to know. Practising really helps.

  • To trust in my instincts and thoughts. If the slightest trace of an idea pops up in my head, I know. I have to write about this. Then I sit down and write. Until it is finished.

  • I’m extremely well organised. Otherwise I couldn’t have done this project with all the other things going on in my life. It was challenging to balance but it was possible. I’m alive and better than ever. I can get stuff done.

  • Lots about the environment. I watched so many documentaries and read so many articles for this projects. I learned about climate change, water scarcity, food waste, plastics in the oceans. The list goes on and on. I used my lecture notes to write these articles and therefore I have to study less in the exam phase!

  • To read more carefully. To read more books from all over the world, to compare them with each other. To look for stylistic choices I can implement in my own writing. To be more open.

NaNoWriMo Statistics:

screen-shot-2016-11-30-at-09-20-10screen-shot-2016-11-30-at-09-19-58

Total Words Written: 50625
Cups of tea: 3 x 30 = 90 three a day when writing? Seems about right.
Characters killed: still none. We are writing non-fiction here, people.
Ted Talks watched as inspiration: Let me count… 10 mentioned in my texts, maybe a good ten more. = 20.

What now?

Sleeeeeep! Drawing. Reading. Yoga, every day. My back is terribly tight. Studying Swedish. Doing stuff for uni. A little bit of relaxation.

What about writing? Last year I fell into a pit of apathy after NaNoWriMo. I had written something that will never reach the daylight. It will always rest on my computer. Locked from the world. Someone said that you have to get the bad writing out of you and then you can properly start to write. Those first 50000 words, they were very bad. Now I am a little better. In a year, I will re-read these text and cringe all over. Why? Because we develop our skills. Gradually working on them day by day. That’s good!

I love Isabel Allende. She said that she could never write a book as “House of the Spirits” because it was so innocent. It was not planned at all. She got so many things wrong. That’s no problem, though, because it is a brilliant book. She has written other beautiful novels, one of which I am listening to right now: Island Beneath the Sea. It’s wonderful! Don’t stop, keep going.

I have to go on. I shouldn’t stop now that I know how to write 1666 words a day. Now that I’m in the flow. This is why I’m going to set myself a daily goal to write. All that is on my mind. Probably one day, I’ll get a story out of it. Let’s say at least 300 words. That’s really not that much. I need a goal, though. Without one, procrastination hits. After a project like this, it has the capability of hitting hard. I have to keep going, chasing my dreams.

I am deeply grateful for all your support. I would like to thank my mum who always threw a spontaneous party when I sent her my new word count. My dad who said how much better I have got in my writing and that he sees that writing is clearly my passion. My friends who I watched so many environmental documentaries with: Hannah and Lilli who are such a lovely, caring friends I am so happy to have. My friend Izzy who I always went on runs with while talking about the Ted Talks we watched. Inspiring us endlessly and giving me something to write about. My friends back home who thought it a little weird that I started writing again- you gave me an extra challenge. You are amazing and I’m a very lucky girl to have you all as friends.

And would love to thank you who commented on my articles and kept me going. Thank you so much for your support!

https://lingeringvisions.wordpress.com/
https://sanseilife.wordpress.com/
https://dailymusing57.com/
https://kyleoverstreet.wordpress.com/

Now, I have a little surprise for you. I will do the Advent Calendar again this year! You get a little drawing a day!

Lots of love and happy last day of November

Verena

Current Word Count: 50 625 Partyyyyy!!!!