Thursday, December 4, 2008

Shadows of Doubt

I never have a clue what I'm going to blog about until I sit down. I often have a completely different idea in my head and then, when I start writing, something else comes out instead. It's an interesting process. Then again, that's usually what happens when I sit down to write a novel; I start with a basic idea and then it goes in a whole other direction. I wrote a novel called Skater Boy. It was supposed to be a chick-lit romance with comedic tones. It turned into a dark little novel complete with child abuse, rape and the coming of age. I tried to make it light and fun but apparently that didn't work out so well.

I like just writing to see what comes though at times, it's frustrating. There are times when I just don't know what to write and nothing's coming and the flow just isn't there. I don't consider this writer's block at all- just a case of Writer Needs to Do Something Else Right Now. Often that involves watching TV, reading a book or even, when I'm really frustrated, playing on my Playstation 2. I've found that I can't force the writing; if I do, I always end up scrapping it and starting again. It feels forced to me when I read it and I hate that.

Then there's the other extreme: Too many ideas. This does happen. And you'd think it'd be easy to write some of them down and just pick one. This does work. Sometimes. But the worst is when you pick an idea but can't get started so you pick another one. Then you go back to the first idea because the other one isn't working. Sometimes this can happen with as many as three or four ideas. It ends up feeling like a disorganized mess and the only way to get through it is to stick with one of the ideas and push through until it feels natural. That's happening to me at the moment. I haven't written fiction in a while. Moving cross country tends to interrupt your life for a while; there's the packing, the organizing, the cleaning, cramming in as much time with friends as humanly possible and then the actual moving. After the physical move happens comes the unpacking, the myriad of Walmart trips because you realize you gave a lot of really useful stuff to Salvation Army because you just couldn't be bothered to pack any more boxes. This continues for a long time. For example, when you spill wine on your carpet and you no longer have any carpet cleaning supplies. Then you have to make a frantic dash to Kroger to grab some before the carpet is forever ruined.

So, now, finally, it's time for me to start writing. The thing is, lately, it's hard because there's a lot of self-doubt getting in the way of the flow. I mentioned I was sending out query letters to agents. I sent out 15 of them. I've already had 7 rejections. None of them have read my novels, they're rejecting my letter. I suppose that's not quite so personal but it still is extremely frustrating. I've sent out batches of queries for three wildly different novels. I know my letters are well written, they summarize the plot well, follow all the guidelines but they still get rejected. I only send them to agents who represent the type of novel I've written but I inevitably get variations on the one line rejection email "Not for me, I'm afraid."

I don't know anyone in publishing. This is a huge problem. Many of the success stories these days are from writers who either did a writing program and networked that way or they had a friend who had been published and they introduced them. I've thought about writing programs but I'm a new-ish writer. I only figured out I wanted to write professionally after I had been out of college for a couple of years. For a while, I thought I wanted to go to law school. So I worked as a legal secretary. That is an excellent way to realize that being a lawyer is not like you see on TV. Being a lawyer is very boring. Being a legal secretary is also very boring. I decided not to do that. After a lot of jobs, I finally wrote a screenplay and decided I loved it. Then, as I think I've mentioned, I couldn't come up with an ending for one of my scripts so I wrote a novel and that was my Epiphany moment, the moment where I realized that I had to keep writing because it fit.

The problem with MFA writing programs is that they need a lot of stuff. They need letters of recommendation from professionals in the field. I don't know any of those. They also want you to take the GRE which is the graduate version of the SATs. This means I'd have to relearn all of that horrible maths stuff I didn't like in high school. The logical question becomes: WHY do I need to prove I can do math to be a writer? I applied to one writing program and, naturally, got rejected. It took months to round everything up. My letters of recommendation weren't terribly good though I tried hard to find appropriate people to write them. And the truth is, I don't really want to enter a writing program, anyway. I like writing on my own; I hate workshopping my stuff because it makes me think too hard. My 'process' is to just write the novel and then figure out what does or doesn't work. Workshopping means taking scenes out of context, of letting others critique them. How can they critique something that isn't finished yet? It's like trying to judge a painting when it's just a pencil sketch. I know it works for some people but not for me. I need to be left alone with my work, to see where it goes. I never feel like I'm writing a novel, honestly- I'm just 'finding' it and writing it down. It's happened eight times now so I'm pretty sure that method works for me.

Writing workshops also help with writer's block. For me, the only thing that works for writer's blog is to sit down with a character. It sounds nutty but I've gone so far as to 'have lunch' with them, talking to them in my mind, writing down a backstory or anecdotes that don't have anything to do with the novel but tells me who they are. I've done that countless times and it has never failed me.

So, I don't think I really would enjoy a writing program other than the fact I would get to focus on my writing full-time. I just want the contacts I might make from them. I also can't afford it. The same goes for writing conferences or writers retreats; I don't really like the idea of them anyway. I was naive enough when I started to think that my writing was good enough, that I had enough ideas and talent that I'd be ok on my own.

But now I feel like I'm banging my head against a wall. I've entered contests, I've written short stories, I've queried publishers and agents....nothing. And so I am filled with doubt. What if I can't write? What if I secretly suck and people are too nice to tell me?

And no matter how much I love writing, how much passion I have when I do so, the doubt creeps in. It taints my ability to get lost in a story, to hear a characters voice because I wonder if I'm doing the right thing. There's this voice in my head constantly saying "what's the point?" The point is that I love doing it and so being successful shouldn't matter but it does. Now that I've written eight novels, it does matter, no matter how much I love it. Each new idea is tinted with that shadow of doubt, the idea that I should concentrate on what I've already written rather than hiding in another work.

I invited agents to look at my blog in my last query letter. That's probably a faux pas but, frankly, I don't really care. I've followed the rules and that got me nowhere. So, I tried something new. Seven down, eight more to go. If only one of them would ask to see part of my novel, that would be something.

In the meantime, I'm making myself write again. It may end up sucking canal water but I'm pushing on and last night, I felt the doubt disappear for a while when I let my character in; I let him tell me what to type instead of forcing it and it felt right. In the end, it's just a question of persevering, of dreaming, of hoping that someone will, in the immortal words of Abba, "Take a Chance on Me."

And, if not, I can always blog some more about snow.

Happy Thursday.

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