I’ve admittedly gone kicking and screaming the entire way through drafting and revising my first novel Lost Girl Road. The reasons for this are many, but not giving up has taught me a lot. I’d like to share two brief sources on creativity and learning that have provided me with inspiration along the way.
My story crafting skills have gradually began to catch up with my taste. This admission is not me being a perfectionist. It’s me being practical. I’ve always been a slow and careful learner, and am actually proud that I’ve not gone about anything hastily. It doesn’t matter that I earned multiple writing degrees and have started a freelance editing business. Butt in chair time is the only way to improve as a writer, and real learning is rarely a smooth process.
Have I made things hard on myself? Yes. Would I have done it any other way? No.
Consider this quote from Pamela McCorduck’s Machines Who Think:
We all know that we have all these horrible moments of confusion when we begin a new project, that nothing looks clear and everything looks awful, that we work our way out using all sorts of little rules of thumb, by going down blind alleys and coming back again, and so on, but since everyone else seems to be thinking logically, or at least they claim they do, then we figure we must be the only ones in the world with such murky thought processes.
We disclaim them, and make believe we think in logical, orderly ways, all the time knowing very well that we don’t. And the worse offenders here are teachers, who present crisp, clean batches of knowledge to their students, and look as if they themselves learned that knowledge in a crisp, clean way. It didn’t happen that way, but teachers don’t admit it, and the students groan inwardly, feeling so hopelessly dumb.
Will my first novel be perfect? Most definitely not. Will it even be any good? That much is anyone’s guess at this point. But I will finish Lost Girl Road. I will query agents. And when I ever start my next novel, I will have experience on my side.
What struggles involving creativity and learning have you faced and how did you overcome the desire to quit?
Join me on Finding Our Way Now for my latest Guest Post: Riding Lessons: #Story
Permission must be granted by JeriWB to use the image in this quote.
Good question. I watched my father, who was a freelance journalist when I was a child, writing and rewriting all night against deadlines. He showed me writing is rewriting.
An old friend of mine, Don Benson, who was a pro pulp fiction machine, advised me, “marshal your facts.” As an organizing principle, it forces you to strip your story to the bone and build in details, feelings, surprises, background, etc. I have used alternative formats, such as a research article, as an exercise to help me strengthen my ideas.
Al, that’s what I’ve realized during the course of drafting and revising this first book. Rather than diving in, I would have been much better served getting the bare bones of my story down on paper as a way to keep the plot from going off on all sort of tangents. I don’t mind re-writing, but what I’m looking at now it chopping off entire chapters in order to keep the story flowing because it took me so long to figure out what the story was. Next time, I will have all of the basics in place which will help alleviate all of the bloat I’m cutting right now.
There is a reason editors often limit the length of submissions. I have a file of cuts, by the way, more than 20,000 words — finely-tuned phrases — that I plan to use as my epitaph. Too long, you say? Oh, well
I think for me the most difficult part of writing has been wondering what people will think of it. The most difficult lesson is that not everyone will like what you write and may even be negative about it. Having the confidence to write in spite of everything? That’s the real lesson. If you love it, do it!
Cheryl, I’ve realized that type of confidence building also takes time. I love getting feedback from critique partners and workshop members, but I still need to work on developing that sense of letting the draft go where it needs to go.
Love this post Jeri. Best wishes on your query to publishers. That is going to demand patience, persistence and maybe creativity.
When I first left the corporate grind, I took a certification class for NLP – neurolinguistic programming. Intriguing part of psychology. In it I uncovered what I believed to be something I felt lacking in: creativity! Your post brought up all those yucky, nasty feelings again. Not a problem though.
It’s been quite a few years since I’ve been more confident in my own creativity. At times, it misses the mark, and at other times, it amazes. Maybe that is in part how it is supposed to work?
I love the video you shared here. Inspiring indeed.
Pat, so glad you liked the video. It’s one I’ve come back to quite a few times these past few months as I’ve been revising my book. I like how you say creativity “at times, misses the mark, and at other times, it amazes.” These are all things I know, but have found difficult getting back into practice with after returning to creative writing after so many years of teaching. That being said, I’m great at helping others get the writing done. Just need to turn all that know-how toward myself more often and in a more productive manner 😉
Great video and so true. It is a fight with primarily yourself! I love the title of your book “Lost Girl Road” – excellent. Butt in chair time is hard to justify unless you get lots of positive feedback which you’re not likely to get right away. It takes that old bugaboo – time! Soldier on Jeri – I know you can do it! jan
Jan, probably most of all what gets me down a bit about writing is how solitary it all can be. I’ve been working on alleviating that aspect by finding more social outlets because my home office gets a bit dull after 8-10 hours a day of just me, myself, and I. Yep, I am soldiering on. Just wish my timeline for this first book could have been a bit more orderly, but no. Live and learn indeed.
You’re a gem! Not giving up is key. Like most things in life, the idea of being a writer, the fantasy, is never the real thing. What you said about having experience on your side is right on. Thanks to your feedback (and others) on my first novel, I think my writing muscle has strengthened. Thank you!
Paulette, feedback always feels like such a double-edged sword. I always think what I’ve written is so wonderful, and then I give it to someone else to read, and my notions of writerly greatness get torn to smithereens. Yet, that process of learning and critiquing is never-ending and how we all continue to grow as writers.
I have struggled more with my writing as time goes on. At first though, I had a hard time with show vs. tell, and it took me a while to find somewhat of a balance. And I’ve always had an issue with tenses. As for the desire to quit, I haven’t overcome that yet. Recently, I’ve thought about it. Publishing will rid the world of authors who don’t have the stamina to fight to be read. I might be one of them. We’ll see.
Denise, it definitely is hard to find the right balance when it comes to writing stamina. A good deal of discovering my process has been what genres work best for me. I’m more comfortable with creative nonfiction as a writer, but am also compelled to try to make a go of fiction writing as well. It really is true that a huge part of being a writer is not giving up, even though it can take years for some of us to get to where we want to be 😉
I want to read it! I think I bought your short stories book. I am going to read that! I think that’s great that you are pursuing your passion. John Grisham said he would write at least one page a day before he started his work for the day. He was a lawyer. I am back to square one of writing a page a day. Especially with nursing assistance school and living in a new city. This lifted my spirits. Thanks 🙂
Crystal, a page a day is definitely better than no pages at all. Too often, I’ll find 20 other things to do rather than getting my writing done. It’s silly too, because once I get started it’s all good. I’m proud of you for being able to fit writing time in on top of moving to a new city and taking classes as well.
I loved the video Jeri..and YOUR words of inspiration too! Because we choose this crazy endeavor…fiction…in a time when publishing is upside-down can’t be ignored either. Having to exercise the creative and learn the business too is a big challenge!!! It’s a different environment than it was years ago. I agree with the video…write a huge volume of work! And I have found it very inspiring to find a great writers group with folks I think are better writers than me… I love learning from them. But mostly, I am thrilled that you made a choice to carry on…get through it, get past it, and write some beautiful words all strung together to make a beautiful story:) Carry on:)
Jacquie, those words mean a lot coming from you 🙂 At times, I’ve gotten carried away with the blogging, freelance business building, and learning a thing or two about marketing. I still keep coming back to the novel though. Life is about priorities, and even though it’s taken a while to get my priorities straight, the right writing habits continue to form. I definitely agree with what you said about finding writers who are better than you in order to get the best feedback. Too often writers don’t put themselves out where, and therefore don’t realize just how much more they need to work on their craft.
Yes, learning is really a slow process, more so for a writer! I discovered just by chance that I could write and even after that couldn’t move beyond the opportunities I got while working with my students, encouraging them to write, providing them the tips and was surprised how much I was learning myself!
The desire to write grew within me with every workshop we conducted for the school magazine. I have never felt I should quit. The only struggles I have had are steering out of poetry into writing prose and keeping myself focused on the length. I have been trying to write some short stories too and find greatly motivated whenever I come here. Thanks!
Balroop, I’m glad to hear you are giving short stories a try. That’s definitely one of my comfort zones and more than once I’ve wished I would have written a few more short stories when I decided to start writing seriously again. Diving into a novel has been brutal, but I’m learning my lessons well.
Jeri – You’ve done a great job of distilling the struggle down to the practical core – sit down and write, you’ll only learn when you do. My struggle over the years has been turning away from creative writing to do “practical” things to earn money for our family. This time around I’m finding balance between working for clients, working part-time jobs and carving out time to create fiction. Having limited time to work on my own projects has accelerated the learning process, because I must remain focused. Don’t know if that’s how it works for everyone, but seems to be working here. Thanks for asking!
Kate, I’ve found I also do better with limited time when it comes to my own writing. The first year, I just wrote the first draft of my book as well as a ton of blog posts (which was great practice to get back into writing on a regular basis). Once I started freelance editing, it helped me realize how to prioritize the tasks for the day. The ideal of having all the time in the world to write really isn’t all that ideal. I didn’t want to return to the classroom, so taking on editing clients has proved a good fit.
Hi Jeri – Great post. I can particularly relate to Pamela McCorduck’s quote regarding the teachers presenting the information in crisp clean batches as if that’s the way they learned it. The real world isn’t like that. It’s not always easy. But like you said next time around you will have experience and next time around it will be a little bit easier. 🙂
Susan, I’m counting on the next book being about a thousand times less stressful.
I guess most of us realized that we didn’t know what storytelling was until we sat down to write one. Even after everything I learned, I certainly continue to have my share of struggles – and maybe because I have learned a lot more. but I also learned to embrace the challenge, and know that with perseverance I will get over the next hill, where the terrain will become much less arduous. That is after all why its called a journey, and its not an easy one at that, and nor does it ever end.
We must always be open to critique, be eager to better our skill, and remain humble. Personally, I am not affected by how people will view my work, its how I view it that matters. Really. Just last month I was on a deadline for two stories, and one of them, because it was particularly hard to write, I decided to take the approach that people would hate it, and looked for every other excuse to just abandon it because it was the easy thing to do, even telling myself it was crap. But as soon as I closed the MS, I opened it again, remembering a Stephen King quote from FB or something:
“Stopping a piece of work just because it’s hard, either emotionally or imaginatively, is a bad idea. Sometimes you have to go on when you don’t feel like it, and sometimes you’re doing good work when it feels like all you’re managing is to shovel shit from a sitting position.”
I finished the story, and submitted, and I love it, but it is a bit out there, and so others will probably hate it, but the fact is, it felt great to push through, and now I have satisfaction, as I know also that I am willing to undertake that lifelong journey.
SP, wow 🙂 Thanks so much for the encouraging words. Here’s to the lifelong journey that is writing.
I keep doing this knowing that there’s probably nothing at the end of it other than satisfaction. That feeling of knowing I’ve created something that is mine, only mine. I have a story to tell and want others to hear it, but creating something trumps it all. I’m looking forward to your novel once it’s completed.
Carl (or should I call you Duke?), that feeling of creating something to share with others is so powerful, isn’t it? To think that all us have so much in common as humans and as fellow writers, yet each of us sees the world in a slightly different way.
Jeri — It’s always a temptation to quit because the road to our goals is long and hard. But I think it requires having faith in yourself and not expecting perfection. That’s the tough part. I had a boss one time who used to say, “Let’s go for the 70% solution.” By that he meant we will never take action if we look for 100% perfection. I agree with that. It’s not that I don’t care about turning out good work. But you can become so paralyzed by the fear of not being good enough that you don’t do anything.
Jeannette, I definitely agree. A good majority of my frustration has come from realizing I dove into the draft too hastily and didn’t do enough plotting in advance. It’s probably safe to say, I’m the queen of shitty first drafts (and second and third drafts too). That was all good when I focused on short stories and personal essays, but a full-length novel is an entirely different beast that has required me to re-think a lot of my habits as well as my perception of writing craft vs. sentence craft.
A very interesting post. I liked the card quote here and I also enjoyed the video…
Disappointment is a tough word… Not sure I will use it to describe the last phase of a creative process…
I think that the very best way to be creative is by letting it go, this assuming that even when they might be weak points, the ending result might be even better than we have never expected…
Go ahead!… You rule Lady JeriWB ★
Best of Luck, Aquileana 🙂
Aquileana, oh my is it ever safe to say I am gradually learning how to let go. Most of what trips me up when it comes to getting my writing done has nothing to do with the words on the page or the writing process. It’s all the other little blips and bleeps that life brings along that get in the way. Alas, that would be another post in and of itself.
Since I was a kid, I’ve been told that I have natural writing abilities. Until earlier this year, I had never tried writing a fictional story. Fear is what was stopped me. Mainly it was the dread of not finishing what I start. I finally decided to be the bull in the china shop and bulldoze my way through this fear. I’m still writing the story. It has a long way to go yet. But I’m doing it — every day.
Glynis, I like how you put that. Here’s to bulldozing our way through the fear. I look back at all the good things I’ve ever accomplished in my life and I managed to conquer them all. I keep telling that to myself when it comes to this book and how I will not let it get the best of me. I hate the idea of quitting. I just need to get better at speeding up the process the next time around!
Great post. I think my struggles have been in learning to trust my own creativity and find my own process. I could relate to the video about wanting to quit when you don’t like the quality of your own work. What has kept me going (besides plain own stubbornness) has been recognizing the occasional good words, the way writing makes me feel, and feedback from my writing group.
Donna, there really are a lot of great things about writing as you’ve just mentioned. It’s safe to say I’m stubborn just like you 😉
I appreciate your honesty here, Jeri. I think the first time at anything, particularly a project as daunting as writing a novel, can seem overwhelming and be a struggle. I am proud of you for continuing with it! I found with my book that I overcame the desire to quit by keeping in mind that once finished the book had the opportunity to help female readers. And I’m proud to have reached a personal goal by seeing it through to the publishing stage!
Christy, that’s fantastic that your poetry collection has the capacity help female readers. I still need to read it one of these days. It’s been a challenge for me to find that sweet spot of where my fiction belongs since I don’t tend to write likable characters, etc.
Love the video. You focus even through the rough and tough times are inspiring.
Niekka, focus helps as well as learning to listen to one’s self. I think I’m the classic case of those who can’t do teach… but I finally am pushing through and actually doing the task of writing a book.
One of the things I focus on to sustain myself, so I can keep fighting my through, is the small improvements in my work. When I can see that I’m getting better, then I have hope for how far I can go, so that my work meets my tastes. I kind of crossed that boundary of “I’ll never catch up,” to “I can do it if I keep working at it.” And that’s a big relief, I must say!
I’m glad we’re on this path together, Jeri. It’s all good.
Laura, it really is all good. I’m just glad everyone continues to read my little rants about the never-ending novel…
That must be very satisfying, having your skills catching up to your taste. A tough chore but fortunately you’re not waiting for perfection! I love the Jared Leto quote.
Beth, it’s been interesting to see how some of my writing skills readily transferred into novel-writing, while others have provided a hindrance. I’m prone to too much narration, but that’s often okay in essay writing.
Jeri – Thanks for sharing the video. I found it inspirational. I admire you and other writers who keep writing and editing their work over and over again to get it perfect. I wish I had your patience. Good luck with your writing.
Mina, I’m glad you liked the video. It’s been my rock these past few months.
Pamela McCorduck’s Quote from Machines Who Think applies to me. Over the past couple of months I have been collecting information, some of it agrees but a lot of it conflicts and I’m trying to fight my way through what is good and what isn’t. I often feel like I’m going down blind alleys – but I will get there because that’s what I do – I succeed.
Lenie, McCorduck’s quote continually reminds me that the paths to knowledge and creation are never as easy as it seems. There’s the saying, “Fake it until you make it,” but I’m not so sure. There’s so much we can learn from each other by sharing the ups and downs of any learning process we go through.
You can do it!! I think everyone has their learning curve with any project, writing or not. Study and practice are good ways to improve, and I think you’re doing well with both aspects. And I think your background with editing probably puts you a step ahead of those who with only practice. Your novel will turn out how you want it, because I don’t think you’ll stop until you consider it done. 🙂
Loni, yes I can do it!!! Thanks for that. In many ways, I’m the case of knowing a lot of theoretical stuff that can get in the way of the creative process when all is said and done. My first couple of years of teaching were the same way so at least I have that experience to draw from when it comes to the angst my first book has wrought.
It is something special and terrible to have your novel completed and released. My publisher gave me a book cover I was not excited with, and then the edits were not added to it when it was released. But when you see someone get your book, you feel pretty good.
William, that’s actually pretty shocking that your publisher would release your novel without the final edits being added. Was it the pressure to meet the deadline and the omission was made on purpose or did a mix-up occur with the files?
Hi Jeri; I agree learning is messy so why do we expect teaching it to someone else to be so clean and neat. You know me as someone who is always positive and finding the good in things. this is because I have practiced this approach for many years too many if I think about it. 🙂 I think one thing that has helped me is being the oldest brother. Another help is being so open about being blind. Both of these put me in a position of setting an example that makes it easier to keep going and to find the good in people situations experiences etc. I know you will be a success with your book because you don’t quit either. I’ll be looking forward to reading it. Hope it comes out in audio so i don’t have to spend a lot of time scanning it. take care, max
Max, nope I’m not a quitter but I am definitely taking the long route. Then again, not really. Lots of writers take a long time to craft their first novel, but it seems we always hear about all of the self-publishing wonders who put out two or more books a year… I too agree on being open on most things, especially the true nature of revision and writing because it’s not all just about the madly writing author who must write or die. Getting words on the page is one thing, shaping them to achieve a certain purpose is another matter entirely. I’d rather take my time now then just dive in and release things I can’t stand behind 100%.
Though not for the public, I have been writing for years and years. Now, when I do write for the public, I put my all into the book or blog or whatever. I cycle through, “This is really good” then “this is total crap.” I can drive myself crazy with self-generated discouragement. Is it even possible to be objective with one’s own work?
Something I do to help get unstuck is to leave loving, encouraging messages to myself from “God”/Higher Self. One affixed to my monitor, for example, says, “Proceed with faith, my dear. I didn’t give you this desire and dream for nothing. Keep going. I AM WITH YOU.” For me, enormously calming and encouraging.
Thank you for such a personal blog post. 🙂
Romona, objectivity towards one work is difficult but can be achieved in various degrees with practice. It can be quite the daunting cycle though, isn’t it? One day the writing seems great, and the next we just hate it. I’m glad you can appreciate the personal nature of this blog post. I sometimes think the world is much too short on people willing to share the less than flattering parts of getting any big project done.
An interesting approach Jeri. Makes me think that your novel is likely to be meticulously crafted. I have to admit I put a lot less thought into what I write once I have written it. All of my thinking occurs before I actually write something. Once it is written I tend to have this falling off and I think what I’ve written is complete garbage.
Ken, I’m definitely on the meticulous side which has made finding my way back into creative writing arduous to say the least. I write plenty of material on the fly and that works for me so long as it’s of a shorter nature. I’m just too much in my own head and over-analyze my approach to longer pieces, which is why I’ll do more advance plotting next time.
Yes! Real learning is never that smooth. Everything I’m doing at the moment is new and has a steep learning curve. I, too, also take my time. It’s often about the journey we took in order to create the end product.
Christina, it’s good to hear you also take your time with learning things. If there’s one thing I took with me from my teaching days is that we all go about learning in a thousand different ways. What works for one, will not work for the next.
Pertinent questions you ask Jeri. The desire to quit seems to be quick to want to come in every time there is a bit of resistance in anything. Like you, I am a slow learner and I have had to tell myself that eventually I will get it right and so I keep pushing. Your not giving up is an inspiration to me to know that others are pushing on with their struggles.
Welli, here’s to not giving up, ever 🙂 I’ve always been a big picture thinker so it takes me awhile to work on the day to day stuff.
Indeed we have to fight our way out , from every situation and every phase of life. Taking first step is always very hard in life. One have to be very courageous to go for something keeping in mind both sides of picture. I hope that your Lost Girl Road will be excellent.
I really admire your spirit to stick to your goal and gradually achieve the success. I believe one who gets success just by chance without any effort takes no time to come back from heights but a gradual learner is one that will never leave the field and will attain success and stay there for ever.
I wish you all the best. It was lovely reading and video was very nice.
Andleeb, it’s great to see you hear again after your break. Thanks for your kind words, and I’m glad you liked the video. There’s actually an entire series on the topic by Ira Glass, but I have yet to listen to it in its entirety.
Nobody’s perfect. The day I stop learning I’m dead, I hope. Imagine how boring life would be if we were perfect and didn’t have to learn:-)
Catarina, yes that would be very boring indeed to stop learning.
That’s a very honest video. I know that I have an internal struggle sometimes with my creativity. I may take some time away from the computer to get my mind right. Most of the time that works.
Jason, it’s amazing how a little time away can help rejuvenate the creative process. I tend to use photography and music as an outlet to breathe life back into my writing when I need it.
When I want to quit, I just look at the printed copy of the manuscript. The amount of paper used lets me know that it wasn’t for nothing and that my effort matters. I’ve also learned that I just need a break sometimes, so I work on something else for a bit.
Deidre, I’ve worked on a couple of shorter projects in between getting stuck at various stages of my novel. I agree that it helps, but the next time I draft a novel, I will have a much better picture of pitfalls to avoid so the drafting process won’t drag on as long. I guess if it was all going along swimmingly, I would be very suspicious 😉
I love the video. It’s one I refer back to time and again.
Butt in chair time, you can’t get away from it. Writing is a craft and the only way to improve a craft is by doing it and being bad at it till you become good at it.
Jon, glad you like the video. For me, it’s been hard to get back into butt in chair time after getting to a pretty good spot with craft issues during college workshops. I never thought it would feel like starting all over again, but that’s the route I’ve gone down, building my writerly abilities back from the ground up…
That Jeri, this is my favorite post. Honest and inspiring at the same time which I guess is the only way for inspiring to be true. I can completely relate to that murky thought process which seems only to belong to me. Thanks for helping me realize that I am but one of many banging around in the dark looking to find their way.
Tim, yay! That’s a good comment to end my Friday with 🙂
Jeri I’m currently engaged in a large creative project at work. There have been points through the process when one or another of my colleagues has mentioned their dismay at the lack of enthusiasm or engagement others are expressing about the project. Whenever the issue comes up, I remind them that it’s hard for people to miss what they have never had. It’s difficult to be enthusiastic about what you don’t understand. Experience has taught me that when it comes to delivering innovation, the enthusiasm has to come from me. I have to have faith in my vision ands take comfort in the thought that when I make the idea real, others will join me in the celebration. It can be challenging because as you note, things are never crisp and perfect on initial delivery, but I wouldn’t give up on the experience of exploration for anything. It’s what fuels other ideas and other creations.
BTW, loved the video. I’ll keep it in mind for those dark moments when things are not as I would like.
Debra, I’m making every effort to heed words like yours well. What I remind myself of a lot is that I didn’t become good at teaching straight out of the gate either. These things take time, but I guess I’m not as patient as I thought I was. My enthusiasm can get hampered by my tendency to want to understand every step of a process. Little by little, I am figuring out what will work for me as a writer. The path to creativity has definitely taken me down many unanticipated roads.
I liked the video. As he says, this isn’t just for writers – I do various creative work, and I often say, it could be better. Some days I force myself to work on certain projects, just to move forward a little.
Good luck with your own moving forward, Jeri! Guess what? You are already a great teacher.
Leora, haha thanks and glad you liked the video. You know the saying, “Those who can’t do, teach…” I’m trying not to be the editor who can’t get their own writing done, but really I just need to stop comparing myself to others and go with what’s going to work for me to get the writing done.
Butt in chair..haha,.. if only English writers could use the word butt..we can’t. Arse, and u advised me that ass is better. There are cultural differences between English and American, more than we realise.
Gerry, haha. Arse kept making me conjure images from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.