Tag Archives: writer’s block

Note to self: Live

It's Ryan, not Bryan.

“Note to self: Don’t die.” – Ryan Adams

I deserted my novel for a month; abandoned it like a half-baked casserole in the sun. Okay, maybe it wasn’t that dramatic, but it sure felt that way after days of beating myself in the brain trying to keep pushing forward. I left my WIP in the middle of a half-rewrite apocalypse, with pieces gutted and strung out like entrails after a hastily departed operation. Essentially, I had taken a big look at all the work that needed to be done, and the enormity of it swallowed up all the energy I had left.  Honestly, I lost track of how many days I left it, because I was afraid the more days it gathered dust, the harder it was going to be to return to it.

In the time I put my book away and hit the road, I did a lot of living. Sometimes, writers forget that some of our best material is actually gleaned from–who would’ve thought!–real life. I went to three and a half concerts in two different states and had a lot of adventures along the way, and then I took an extended vacation to California and saw a little bit of the West. It was a whirlwind of sleeplessness, hastily-scrawled journals, frequent interactions with new people, not to mention an adrenaline rush of different and fresh experiences. I got to see rare Mexican wolves with intense proximity, for instance, and fell in love with surfing. (Not that I learned the actual act of surfing. God, no. I can’t even stand up straight on dry land. I’m a born observer of more athletic individuals.) I finally finished the book I’d been reading, U2: At the End of the World, learned how to play pinball, and chowed down on some amazing fish tacos. And I saw Eddie Vedder live for the first time, in what was one of the best concerts I’d ever attended. All in all, the best month (or so) I’ve had all year.

During my concert-blitzed week, I kept a separate journal of all my experiences, something I will treasure later. I nearly finished writing about the shows before I left for California, but ultimately failed and will have to fill in the gaps later. This will be the material I will use for an idea I’ve been kicking around for my next book. It seems insane to become excited about a new project when I haven’t even finished the one I’m working on now, but it’s such an interesting idea to me, I can’t really tuck it away. For the time being, I will continue researching like a mofo, as I have been over the past few months, sucking up every detail I can about my topic that could give me layers of insight later when I may actually sit down and begin writing it.

I don't remember where in the heck this was.

When I came home, I was apprehensive about cracking open that now-cold and half-baked novel, afraid that I might’ve forgotten the important threads I meant to reconnect; afraid that same old fear I’d magically forgotten how to write at all during my month-long hiatus. But the opposite happened.

I’d been clueless on how to finish the second chapter of my book and had left it as one of the glaring holes to fill in later. It was a foundational chapter integral to the rest of the story, but I just couldn’t come up with a clever way to tie it up. But the first time I picked up my novel after my trip and sat down to begin writing, I finished that chapter. It was as if the blockage in my head had been released, and my ideas were flowing cleanly once again. I looked at the rest of those scattered entrails, and their rightful place no longer seemed so intimidating; some of them, I now knew, could be cut without sacrificing what I loved about my story, and others could be moved around to preserve my plot arc. It was all coming together anew, and just because I’d given myself the time to look away from it and see what was really important in life…

Bonnie and Clyde's last ride.

Living.

2 Comments

Filed under Work in Progress

The Journal of a Novel

I’ve been a very bad blogger the past two months, and for those two of you out there who actually read my blog, I do sincerely apologize. I don’t have great excuses for not blogging more regularly, except I had to put my life on hold for most of the month in April through the beginning of May when I was out of state, at a film festival, and saying good-bye to my grandfather. Also, I just didn’t have much I wanted to share with the public at that time.

Mine is neon yellow and green. Also, I write in it with purple ink.

But I won’t dwell on that. One of the the best things that’s come out of this blogging absence was my paper journal.

Frustrated with the snail-like progress of my novel, and constantly being paralyzed by my recurring case of writer’s block, I tried a new tool to wrench me out of my writer’s stupor. I invested in a paper notebook to record what I was going through while writing my current novel, and declared it a private journal to record my day-to-day headway. I’m happy to report I’ve begun writing nearly every day in this notebook as a result. I’ve given myself notebook rules to help me stay in a regiment (although I’ve already broken some of them). But even though I’ve strayed a little, generally, I’ve been very good with it, and that’s saying a lot for someone who has been trying to cope with a debilitating case of S.A.D. this past winter. What has developed is a record of my back-story during the writing of this novel, noting the bursts of inspiration and the day-to-day struggles I encounter along the way. My journal has also served as an outlet to express frustrations, while I literally figure out my quandaries in the pages; when they come, the victories burst forth with that much more exaltation. And the more I’ve stayed on with my journal, the more I’ve discovered about my story, and the more I’ve just plain written.

Obviously, I didn’t invent the idea of journaling while concurrently writing a novel. One of my very favorite authors, John Steinbeck, would keep a journal while writing his greatest epics, The Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden. As a student at Columbia, we were encouraged to keep a daily writing journal, but I didn’t grasp how to really go about it in college. I didn’t see the full benefits, because I was just discovering myself as a fiction writer. Also, I was writing so much for assignments, I felt like I had no time to write journal entries outside of the mandatory assignments. What also kept me from being interested in journaling then was the pressure to write about specific topics, which is actually more like how people conduct their blogs to stay interesting or relevant. This is not what a “journal of a novel” is all about. All I care about is getting out my story.

My journal has helped jump-start the work on my novel all over again, and I would encourage anyone who is having a rough road while writing to keep one, as well. For those who may be interested, here are the rules I set up for my own (I’ve copied them exactly as stated in my journal, so please pardon the profanity, which often runs rampant and free in these pages):

Journal Manifesto!

1. Write something every day in this journal. It doesn’t have to be more than ONE SENTENCE. As long as it’s dated and it is relevant, it is still driving my thoughts forward in writing this story.

2. Lists count as “something.” (In fact, are great.)

3. From now on, all notes to self about this NIP will be entered here, so it’s easier to find and catalogue.

4. Anything is pretty much relevant, I guess. I’m not going to be a stickler. That just causes more writer’s block, after all. Basically, anything going on in my life is somehow influencing and affecting my writing process, even the music playing on my iPod (Andrew Bird and the Mysterious Production of Eggs), where I’m currently camped out to write (Cafe Kopi), and whether or not I actually wrote any fiction so far (not yet). Also, environmental details could be recorded, like, the fact some group of yuppy douchebags left an entire trash heap on the table across from me. (I counted 4 plates, 4 glasses, 3 cans of SODA, and several wads of napkin and empty chip bags. Fucking pigs. Didn’t their mothers teach them to clean up after themselves? No wonder the human race is so fucked.)

5. Anything interesting dug up in research should also be noted here. Because it’s cool to get excited about new discoveries, and I may one day want to know when I first heard the bootleg of the 10-23-1993 Nirvana show at the Aragon Ballroom. (Sometime last year I first found it as an mp3 placed to a photo montage on YouTube.)

That’s about it. Now go write for real!

4 Comments

Filed under Work in Progress