Sunday, June 26, 2011

Sailing Through the Hurdles of Writing

 "If you can find a path with no obstacles, it probably doesn't lead anywhere"~Frank A. Clark
Originally, this post was supposed to have been published on Friday, but thanks to an epic fail on Blogger's part as soon as I hit the "publish post" button, the entire entry was deleted.  Thank you, Blogger.  I wanted nothing more than to spend my time rewriting this entry through my foggy memory.

Moving on.  I decided to devote a post to addressing my own personal writing hurdles.  Writing hurdles, much like your standard hurdles, are those annoying little killjoys that come between a person and their goals.  For some, these hurdles are easily conquered; others find they need multiple running starts in order to clear them.  Still, for those remaining few, there are some hurdles that are so inflated their creator may never be able to gain the leverage needed to effectively leap over them.  Yes, we only have ourselves to blame for the hurdles we construct.  Completely within our control, our personal demons have a way of lurking in the backs of our minds, springing forth at our worst moments.  Their presence is a constant reminder to us that we've not quite accomplish all we've set out to do. 

For me, my writing hurdles appear primarily on those days where my faith in myself and my potential is fleeting.  Those days where I become demeaning of every word I write, scrapping most of it while I cower in the corner with a half empty Little Caesars box on my lap and a Lifetime Movie Network cringe-inducing love triangle blaring in the background (if there's one thing that makes you feel better about your writing, it's Lifetime Movies).  Through all of this, I take comfort in the fact that I'm not alone and that other writers face some of the same dilemmas as I.  Everyone has their own personal hurdles. 

Some of the more common ones--as I've noticed--as well as those I face myself are highlighted as follows:

Hurdle No. 1:  Simplicity is key--There are those authors who can construct paragraphs that read like lines of poetry on each page.  Every word, every sentence is so melodic it's almost as though they're projecting themselves from the page in a brilliant symphony.  This kind of writing takes a special and unique kind of talent; a kind of talent whose replication cannot be forced without the end result coming across as trite and artificial.  When I first began writing, I was under the impression that every page I wrote had to contain something exceedingly poignant.  So I wrote, edited,  wrote some more, and threw mini tantrums rivaling those of my toddler's when what I wrote wasn't up to par.

In reality, unless you're Hemingway, Bronte, or Austen reincarnated, your writing should be beautifully simplistic.  For example, I just began reading Switched, the first book in Amanda Hocking's "Trylle Trilogy" and consider myself clued-in as to what all the hype is about now.   The writing in Switched is compelling, phenomenal and...simple. There are no fancy bells and whistles, just wonderful story telling that makes the book flow perfectly (plus, she uses the word "pop" when referencing soda making us Northerners proud).  When writing, if the words don't come naturally, don't force them.  Some of the biggest statements are made with the fewest words.

Hurdle No. 2:  Compare and contrast:  Every time I read something, I find myself dissecting it, tearing it limb from limb, and then smearing it onto a slide for further inspection under a microscope.  As crazy as this may sound, I believe that most writers are guilty of comparing their works to those of other writers/authors both unpublished and published.  Not only is this extremely counterproductive, but it's an incredibly useless undertaking.  Most of the time, the works we find ourselves comparing our manuscripts too have been edited to the point where they're but a glimmer of the first drafts they once were; first drafts that may not be too far off from some of our own. 

Lately, I've been seeing novels with story lines that are nothing more than carbon copies of those works that were successful before them rendering me indecisive as to whether I should roll my eyes or wonder if there is some genius behind this method.  In my opinion, the way to transform from an aspiring author to an inspiring one is to develop a voice and style all your own.  Readers want to read material that's brilliantly varied and not just some mediocre replication of the works of others. After all, what would have become of classics such as To Kill a Mockingbird, The Scarlet Letter, and Nineteen Eighty-Four if  Harper Lee, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and George Orwell had chosen to mimic all the other writers of their era and not stuck with their guns?  Well, for one thing, the list of the 100 greatest novels of all time would be short three solid classics.

Hurdle No. 3: Viewing a setback as more of a deterrence than a stepping stone--For me, one of the most stubborn of hurdles revolves around my allowing setbacks to force me into taking several steps back instead of using them to my advantage to take leaps forward.  Setbacks happen for a reason.  They help us to grow and, in turn, make our work better.  Take each setback in stride.  Work with them. Own them.  Use them as valuable teaching tools and your guide on what not to do or how you can improve upon both yourself and your work as a whole.

Hurdle No. 4:   Wanting today what it will take tomorrow to accomplish--As writers, when a shiny, new idea pops into our heads, the excitement factor immediately kicks in.  Feverishly, we rough out outlines, develop characters, compile chapters, and connect the dots until our first draft is complete.  Eager to share ourselves with the world, we begin editing like lunatics, hacking, slashing and lambasting our words until it seems our very beings have been shredded.  Finally, the soul-sucking process of querying agents begins.  In our heads, we know that this time our manuscript will be picked up that, within a matter of hours, we will have an agent and, just mere days later, a publishing deal generous enough to allow us to quit our day jobs will present itself. 

Then, we wake up and smell the ink on the rejection letters.

Just as the old adage goes, Rome wasn't built in a day; and neither will your writing career. Writing takes time.  Lots and lots of stress-inducing-who-the-hell-am-I-kidding kinds of time.  Time to hone in on the craft; to recognize strengths and strengthen weaknesses.  Novels shouldn't be hurried along, they should be nursed until they're strong enough to leave the nest as, if they aren't, both they and your dreams will come crashing from the sky.

Hurdle No. 5:  The perils of being a social networking Chatty Cathy--This is probably utter blasphemy on my part, but social networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and Blogger--if used just purely for the social aspects of them--are one of the biggest time-suckers for writers there is.  Of course, I'm excluding the wonderful Twitter hashtags #pubwrite, #writingatgunpoint and #wordmongering in this category as, through encouragement, threats of bodily harm and weaponry brandishing, these wonderful communities are valuable social networking resources for any writer.                       . 

Remember when you were in school and your teacher admonished you for visiting with your neighbor?  The same principle applies to social networking sites.  When you're chatting it up with others about subjects completely unrelated to what you're working on, Farmvilling those all-important fake crops until the wee hours of the morning, or just stalking random people, your productivity level plummets and you accomplish nothing.  For me, this is a problem as I'm one of those people who feels compelled to answer every e-mail, #FF or opportunity to throw my two cents in, leaving my writing neglected and in limbo.

If, like me, you have very little will power and ADD like a mother when you write, the only real way to leap over this hurdle is to go unplugged. Yes, I said it, forget about the little icon on your screen promising to magically transport you anywhere you want to go and work.  Work until you're completely satisfied with what you've accomplished for the day and THEN peruse the Internet to your heart's content.

Now it's your turn.  As writers, what hurdles have you encountered in your own paths?  How did you work past them?

My next post--which I'll try to hammer out while I'm on vacation--will focus on writers and guilt.


Shakespeare said...

I tend to shut off my internet when I'm supposed to be writing. Not only does it save battery time for me, but it also means I have to consciously CHOOSE to turn it back on if I'm going to play around instead of writing...

And lately I've been choosing to keep the thing off. I give myself time to surf a bit through blogs in the morning, and then my computer is to be used for writing. End of story.

Good blog post, even if it had to be written a second time.

Everett Powers said...

Lifetime Movies are bad for society in general. If I watch one with my wife I always felt I've wasted two hours. Always.

Hopefully you can exercise enough discipline to carry through on what you've figured out. I know I need to schedule my writing and promoting time as if I worked for someone and they were telling me what to do, but I've yet to do it.

Sara Furlong-Burr said...

Shakespeare--I agree with you 100% on the computer being used only for writing. Hopefully, I can acquire the will power you have, lol. Perhaps, I'd actually have something published by now.

Everett--Lifetime Movies need to be banned! I swear, if I were forced to write for that channel, I'd wear a paper bag on my head.

Susan Oloier said...

You sound like me. I am a huge edit-as-I-go person. Also, I think I am overly critical of my work (to my detriment).

As for Blogger, here's what I do. I type my post out in Word, then copy it into Blogger. I hate retyping things, plus I can catch some of my errors before they get published, too. Just a thought.

Melanie_McCullough said...

I always take time to unplug, especially if I've spent a few days procrastinating, um I mean researching, on the internet.

I also have a daily word count that my #writingatgunpoint friends help me stick to

I struggle with the guilt when I don't make it, but I think the worst part is the depression I start to feel when I haven't written in a while.

Not because I feel like I should have been doing it, but because it's what I really want to do.

Writing is tied to my happiness, so without it, it's easy to fall victim to dark moods. Which inevitably leads to self-doubt.

A writing buddy calls it IHWS (I haven't written syndrome). Which I think is brilliant.

Sara Furlong-Burr said...

Susan--I'm usually one of those play-it-safe kind of girls, so the fact that I hadn't been typing them in word all along us perplexing to me. Ah, I'm my worst critic. Yes, I edit as I go even when I don't want to. It kills all your productivity.

Melanie--LOL! Hey, researching is 100% legit. If I were to give myself a quota, I know I'd fall short as my brain is a total rebel like that. Usually, if I can get anywhere from 500 to 1k words in a session, I consider that good. Exactly! If I don't write anything, I feel like I've failed at life somehow.