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?

On Writing – A Memoir of the Craft


Yesterday I finished reading Stephen King’s On writing. It’s an amazing book, it tells you so much about what being an author means. He included lots of useful tips I would like to share with you.

How to develop a story?

This is what resonated most with me. He describes the writing process as carving out a fossil from the earth. You have to be careful to not destroy it. You look for traces and follow the bones, you sometimes even work only with brushes. Don’t force a storyline on your characters. Throw stones on their way and let them overcome them. See how they react. This way the story stays interesting. You never know what will happen.

You should always write a first draft and edit out at least 10% in the second session. After writing the first one, you should take a break of several weeks. Work on something different. You will have a different view on your story afterwards.

I apply the same process to my paintings. I love working on portraits. I spread out thin layers of colour, start working on the eyes, switch to another part. Go back and forth. Layer by layer. If I don’t like something, I paint over it. Writing, like painting, is a craft.

What to cut?

Adverbs. “The road to hell is paved with adverbs,” he wrote. I know what he means. I always wrote these extremely descriptive tales with beautifully chosen adverbs that were fitting perfectly… Throw them out. Focus on the story. Focus on the characters.

Show, don’t tell. “Clean your room, for heaven’s sake!”, his mother shouted angrily. Do you think your readers are stupid? Of course she is angry! Don’t tell the reader that, he already knows. Leave the unimportant stuff out.

At the moment I’m editing all my texts from NaNoWriMo 2016 which is a lot of fun. I cut half of the words. These texts are much sharper now. Focused. The rhythm improved, the speed increased. I like them a lot better. If you want to see the results, just go back to my texts, I have written down how many words I deleted.

Write every day.

My plan for 2017 is to write every day. So far I have achieved this. It’s early in the year, though. A few nights ago I was restless and couldn’t go to sleep. I noticed: You haven’t written anything today! I sat at my computer for two hours and slept like a baby.

If you are struggling to summon the energy for writing: Listen to Hamilton, the musical. I am obsessed with it at the moment. Lin-Manuel Miranda. Gosh, that man’s a genius. I can’t understand how I haven’t listened to the songs yet!

“Non-Stop” and “My Shot”. These are the songs for all the desperate writers out there. Write day and night like you running out of time. Like you need it to survive. Go write. Then edit it. Throw the adverbs out. Get it out there. Open your door, let people read it. That’s what being a writer is. Do it for your love of words and stories.

NaNoWriMo 2016
Day 1: http://wp.me/p397E8-4WH
Day 2: http://wp.me/p397E8-4Xb
Day 3: http://wp.me/p397E8-4Xg
Day 4: http://wp.me/p397E8-4Xm
Day 5: http://wp.me/p397E8-4Xu
Day 6: http://wp.me/p397E8-4XA

Advent Calendar 2016 #6


Dear December,

why is writing so hard? That’s a question I often ask myself. Then again, it seems to be fairly easy. Put one word after another until you have a text. Simple as that. My problem with writing is my own fear. Over the last days I have been working on an idea I had. That’s why I didn’t write to you, December. Many of my friends have encouraged me. One of them said today that she is touched by what I’m writing (which is incredibly sweet of her and makes me so happy). However, that it is for myself in the end. That’s obviously true. I do not write to other people in the beginning. The first draft is me telling myself the story. As Terry Pratchett suggested.

I read a lot of beautiful, wise quotes by Hemingway to keep myself working. I did. I wrote more than 1000 words every day. My problem now is – my story is bad. At least I think so. That’s my brain telling me that everything I do is bad. What is its motive? Fear. Fear of failing my own expectations, fear of getting something wrong. As I write these words I notice: If I don’t write anything, I cannot fix anything. This is why today I will be fearless and start my story. I will write some lines that will probably not make it into any of my drafts. But I will start something so that I can work on it. It will be messy but that’s ok.

For any of you out there who might be facing that fear: It’s ok to have it, just do something about it. Write anyway. Write through your fear. I will do that, too. Anything is better than an empty document. Anything is better than a story never told.

Here is a lovely quote which helped me a lot:

“People say to write about what you know. I’m here to tell you, no one wants to read that, cos you don’t know anything. So write about something you don’t know. And don’t be scared, ever.” Toni Morrison

December, I will keep you updated.

Lots of Love

 

Verena

 

 

NaNoWriMo Day 27: Your Personal Legend


Today I finished reading two books: Barack Obama’s “Dreams from My Father” and Paulo Coelho’s “The Alchemist”. On November the 15th I wrote about the concept of comparative reading, which is quite interesting. Normally, you take two books about the same topic or person and read them at the same time. Notice what is left out in one, what is stressed in the other. Focus on how the voices are different telling these stories.

These two books I read are not in any way about the same topic, and yet… They both had a great impact on my thinking. Books always resonate with me for a few days, sometimes months. In rare cases years. They have to be either very good or very bad. However, I have only read two books in the last three years that I really didn’t like. That’s fortunate.

Let’s dive into these two tales and extract some of the things that left me in awe.

I started to read Obama’s biography of his earlier life in an attempt to understand what his story was, what is behind this man who became the president. Where did he summon all this energy from, where did he found his beliefs and values? He is a fantastic writer and the most touching part for me was the one when he described his social work. The challenges he had to face. All the people working against him on his path to try and give people better lives. All the doubts he had, that I suppose everyone after school is facing. I often said aloud to my book: Look, it’s going to be fine. You don’t know it yet but you will be the president. Just keep on working.

Just keep on working. He has such an endurance and strength that I can only admire. Which is essentially the message of “The Alchemist” in the end. Everyone has a personal legend that one has to follow. If one has this desire, this mission, the universe will help with all its power to ensure it comes true.

There is an underlying language in this world which everyone understands. In “The Alchemist” it is love, so says Santiago to the wind and the sun. It’s a reoccurring theme. The Englishman in the book has learned the “world language” Esperanto and yet, he isn’t able to understand the voice of the world. Because it is not in words that these messages are spoken in. The alchemist always tells the boy to look deeper and listen to his heart. “Wherever your heart is, there you will find you treasure.” Isn’t that beautiful? Through listening to his heart, the boy begins a journey that goes along the way of his personal legend. He overcomes many obstacles and in the end… he arrives home again. Maybe that’s the place where we belong after all our journeys.

You can see that in “Dreams from My Father”, too. He always searched for the place he belonged, for the stories of his family. Who his father really was. He thought about traveling to his family all the time when he was working in Chicago. His entire life, really. Just before Harvard, he went to Kenya to meet his family, to finally get to know the stories that he always wanted to know. With this knowledge, he could return home. A more complete man than before, because he had found a different part of himself.

I’m moved by these two books as they tell the stories of dreams and passions, of roads to success and personal happiness. They are positive books, showing that change is possible. That one can find a purpose in life and follow it. Despite the odds which are never too difficult to overcome. It’s sometimes nice to believe that a path has been set out. That we just have to follow it. On the other hand, that can also be limiting. Led by our own curiosity we will, sooner or later, find our personal legend. If we are brave. Coelho pays a lot of attention to his descriptions of courage in the book. They appear in the little things: Santiago leaves his sheep behind to search for a treasure. He has the courage to stand up for his own words, what he has seen in the desert. This leads the alchemist on his path. His courage is valued, only through its power, he is able to go on. Complete his journey.

“To be creative you must have courage. Do not ask for opinions. Just do it.”

That’s a quote from Coelho that I as an artist enjoy particularly. He is so right. How often have I discarded projects simply due to fear? How often have I wondered what others might think? How often ripped sketches in pieces, how often deleted words and pages already written…

If we let ourselves be overcome by fear, we don’t see our paths in front of us anymore. We have all experienced that. Fear turns you blind, it makes you run with your eyes closed. In the completely wrong direction. Fear is not a good leader in life. It drives you forward of course. The fear of failing, of embarrassing yourself, the fear of dying. The fear of being alone. There are many fears we have to face in our lives. But they are not there to lead us but to be overcome on a greater path. We should be driven by our love, by our passions, our curiosity, our courage. Those are the companions you would like to have on your journey. Those are the friends to search for. Fear always comes back to us, we don’t have to search for it. It’s humane to live with fear. It shouldn’t consume us, though. If there is too much fear, we will stand still. Anxious of taking another step. Start moving backwards, retreating. Do you want your life to be a hide-and-seek game with your own brain?

Showing the world love always guides love back to you. Believing in yourself, in your luck will always help you achieve wonderful things. There was a line in “The Alchemist” that struck me: There was a monk who the alchemist gave some gold for his hospitality. The monk said that it is far too much for his services. The alchemist answered: Don’t say it was too much because life might listen. And the next time you will get less.

This is not a demand to be selfish. He is telling us the importance of acknowledging our own value. A friend told me that you let yourself be hurt by others just to that extend in which you harm yourself. If you are very insecure, you don’t stand up to the ones that hurt you. Because you see your own value too low to be able to fight. That realisation hits deep. I’m guilty of lowering myself, having huge insecurities. It’s fear in its most tragic appearance.

What do we take from all this? Find your dream, find you personal legend. Do whatever it takes to identify it and then follow it. With every last bit of courage you can summon. You would not want your life to be dominated by fear. I know it seems unbelievable but there is always a way out. However difficult all the challenges seem you face, there are always people there for you. Who will lead you through the desert to your own treasure. Who will wait for you to come back home. Who will cheer for you on your paths and who will walk together with you for a while.

In his book, Obama described his rebel teenage years. Where he didn’t want to go to school, was discouraged and hopeless. Lost. He found his way again. He found his family. He made their stories his own. He followed his path to help people. He worked hard despite fear and people not valuing his work. Then he became the freaking president of the US. That’s a life path!

Be courageous, admire the wonders around. This earth is so beautiful! We only have that single one. Stop for a minute in whatever you doing and say in your head, what you are grateful for in this world. Who has guided you, who has encouraged you to go on. Write them down and look at them every now and then. You are a wonderful human being and you deserve all the love you are given.

If you feel discouraged, listen to Florence and the Machine and let her tell you:

“Hey, look up. You don’t have to be a ghost here amongst the living. You are flesh and blood. And you deserve to be loved and you deserve what you are given. And oh, how much!”

Oh, how much…

Current Word Count: 45257

NaNoWriMo Day 5: I’m a Fisherman Just Catching Leaves


It is only day five. My head is just a few centimetres above the water. I’m drowning in my own procrastination and self-doubts. I wrote heartfelt, passionate texts in the last two days. I wanted to create something equally as good. Some days, though, you just have to let it go. Let the rain wash all the words out of your head down onto the white page.

After a conversation with a friend, I was losing hope. I had done research on climate change in the previous days and was inspired. Eager to change something. But my voice is not loud enough, my actions not important enough. “We can’t stop the fate of this world so why should we try?” That’s a thing I hear so often. People feel helpless and lose their power, their energy.

“That’s exactly why we should do something! All of us! Now!” This voice inside me got fainter and fainter. Today I am numb. Looking out of the window, sipping on my cup of tea. Watching milky clouds go by. Trees shake in frosty air. Even my cat doesn’t want to be outside anymore. No passion is igniting me, no fire burning. I search for the little glowing pieces in the ashes of yesterday’s excitement.

I didn’t know that the writing despair could kick in that early. That it would be that hard this time. I fail at my own expectations. You cannot write a passionate essay every day. You cannot be the best version of yourself every day. You have to give yourself the permission to step back sometimes. Notice nature around. Write bad poems in the notes app of your mobile phone. My inspiration for this poem was a lonely fisherman with a single orange leaf on his fishing rod.

I’m sitting in a glass box
Watching times go by
I am a fisherman
Just catching leaves
Reflections on the river
Just pictures glued together
Chasing memories like winds

There is that line in the song “The Dangling Conversation” written by Paul Simon, that resonates with me: “Like a poem poorly written, we are verses out of rhythm.” We are out of shape but we are works of art anyway. We are made to keep going. To find solutions. To improve. You can only be a good writer if you read. You can also only be a decent author if you write. When you edit until you feel that every word is in place. That’s what I feel like with this song. It might seem random. It’s beauty is undeniable. The lines of this song are masterpieces.

“It’s a still-life watercolor
Of a now late afternoon
As the sun shines through the curtain lace
And shadows wash the room
And we sit and drink our coffee
Couched in our indifference
Like shells upon the shore
You can hear the ocean roar
In the dangling conversation
And the superficial sighs
The borders of our lives

And you read your Emily Dickinson
And I my Robert Frost
And we note our places with bookmarkers
That measure what we’ve lost
Like a poem poorly written
We are verses out of rhythm
Couplets out of rhyme
In syncopated time
And the dangling conversation
And the superficial sighs
Are the borders of our lives

Yes, we speak of things that matter
With words that must be said
“Can analysis be worthwhile?”
“Is the theatre really dead?”
And how the room is softly faded
And I only kiss your shadow
I cannot feel your hand
You’re a stranger now unto me
Lost in the dangling conversation
And the superficial sighs
In the borders of our lives”

It is one of my favourite songs at the moment. Maybe some Emily Dickinson could help with my writers block. Or another cup of tea.

I give myself the permission to write in thoughtlessness. To piece sentences together without a deeper meaning. To write truths without magic. To leave the sparks behind and follow my inner voice.

Art can be difficult sometimes. Especially if you fall into spirals of doubt. Many artists suffer from it. Every crack in your creation appears on your own skin. You find that the verses you wrote don’t hold truth anymore. You go on and discard the sentences that once described your life. Our words change with us. Sometimes we have to leave them behind. They get too small for our ideas. They cannot hold our ideals anymore, our dreams.

If you don’t have an aim anymore you will stop walking. I stop walking when a thought hits that I can’t cope with. The edges of my consciousness start to crumble. I step out of my skin just like a snake does. Walk around in breathlessness, in silence.

Autumn is my favourite season. The cups of tea and whispered words that layer themselves soft like leaves on frozen soil. People in woollen scarves and knitted hats. Wringing their hands to ban the cold. Dreaming of warm fires and songs muttered to licking flames. The gleaming lights of warm orange street lamps. The soft shades of roses late in the year. Smoking chimneys and the sweet taste of pumpkin soup. The warmth of the sun barely showing her face anymore. Yellow skies and racing clouds. Raindrops on the window. Autumn tastes like apples and plums and tea. Like cinnamon and oats and sweets. Autumn smells like earth and water, like fire and wind.

I love to spend rainy days inside with a book. Having a tea with friends. Looking out the window, talking about life. Sentences that will flow away with the current of time. Unfinished sentences. Laughter and thoughtful stirring. Chins rested on hands. Red lipstick and pattern dresses. Watching films and knitting jumpers. Watching leaves fall down, watching autumn go by.

I love the golden days when you absorb all the sunshine you can get. You breathe in the air that is so clear and yet so old. Saturated with colours and leaves. I love the little puddles rain creates. I love the light shining through mystic fog and the birds travelling to distant places.

I am in constant feat that I will miss out. That I will not live it to its full potential. I love to occupy myself. We often associate stress with unhappiness. However, when I recall the last years – the happiest have been when I did something productive. That’s the reason I invent new projects every day. There is a great video about it I watched today: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3tjMfTwZFY0

That’s also why I love NaNoWriMo. The creative little devils inside your mind are challenged. They are forced to come up with new ideas. Fingers put one word after another and glue them together in a never ending stream of questions: “Is this any good? Do I care? Who will read that? Anyone at all? Does it matter what I write or is it just some silly invention of my bored head?” It’s a project to write every day. To meet an arbitrary number. Accomplishing something. Growing. Changing. Getting better. And sometimes worse. That’s ok.

Self-doubt is a big part of living a creative life. We wouldn’t like to read books that haven’t been edited at all because their author was loving his own work too much. Writing is hard work. It’s endurance that distinguishes a published author from the occasional writer. Despite circumstances, despite rejections the writer keeps going. Word after word. For months, sometimes decades. I’m not a big believer in talent. I believe in practise. You can make a dreadful text into something of beauty if you work on it every day.

We often fail in creative work because we get no instant success. If I built a house, I will see how the bricks add on top of each other. I will see how the roof is built. I will paint the walls one at a time. In creative living, however, years can go by without any outcome whatsoever. You can fail and fail and fail. You can lose your hope. In the end, you will only succeed if you keep going. Adding bad days after good ones.

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed”. Ernest Hemingway.

I have bled today. I have written at the absolute bottom of what I can do. I’m exhausted and out of words. But they are on the page now. 1700 of them. I will keep going.

Current word count: 8830 Edited: 6552 (259)

NaNoWriMo. Some words on ends.


Ends. We don’t like them. We don’t like people to leave us. We don’t like when days end we loved, activities we enjoyed doing so much. There will always be ends.

Now, it’s the end of a project. Nanowrimo 2015. This was weird. My friends said I’m crazy doing that. Maybe I was. Crazy is good, it’s different and you are not following the convention.

I feel like I’m going to fall into a deep hole afterwards. Not writing everyday anymore. Pushing the words onto a white sheet of paper. The fear of the blank sheet, it will dissappear. I will write essays for uni. On white sheets. But it won’t be the same. The magic will be gone.

What was important for me was the experience to finish something. It’s not that I don’t bring anything to an end. It’s difficult though. I’m much more excited in beginning things.

What did I learn during this crazy month?

  • TEA. Massive loads of tea are important. (And maybe chocolate and cookies… Not a good alternative though!!!)
  • First drafts are messy. And that’s perfect. Knocking ideas out of my head was relieving. After some time, I didn’t worry anymore.
  • It’s a autobiography. I put so much me in my main character. That’s weird. Maybe I want her to be a better me? So many questions.
  • I learned to analyse my thoughts. Where they come from, where they go, why I have them. I learned to think about my actions and how they affect others much more.
  • Finding time for writing was not a problem. I did that at night.
  • -> Never underestimate sleep. Sleep is the best.
  • Getting yourself to sit down in front of the computer and type it away- that’s the hard part. But it you don’t do that, you’ll never write anything at all.
  • Train rides are the absolute best. Scenes that I really really love – I wrote them on the train ride to uni. Or home. Everyone has such a location to get inspiration from.
  • Classical music. My neighbours will wonder if I’m a Mendelssohn or Debussy fan. Only when writing. 🙂
  • Talking to people is helpful when stuck. Writing with friends, having deep conversations, sharing experiences or stories. Valuable inspiration.

And finally the best thing I noticed:

  • Writing is amazing. I really do love that. Even if it’s hard. Because it is hard.

This post got long. I don’t know why I like to write so much? haha

I hope you find that a bit useful to get writing done too. I’m not a professional, I’m just a girl who decided to write 50000 words in a month and did that. (And who should probably get those essays for uni done finally!! Now!!! Panicking!!!)

Congratulations to all the ‘winners’ out there! It’s been a wonderful time and I really enjoyed it.

xxx

verena