When your tire is stuck in the mud, the solution isn’t just pressing on the gas — your wheels just spin faster and faster and spew mud around. The solution is a lighter and easier touch and some skillful maneuvering. Or a tow truck if you’re firmly entrenched.
For most problems in life, though, where we find ourselves feeling mentally stuck, we don’t need a metaphorical tow truck, just a different approach to the problem. That’s easier said then done, of course. When you’re stuck, sometimes it’s difficult to even see alternate approaches.
One place I’ve always felt stuck in is in the area of writing fiction. I often say to myself that I “never have writer’s block,” but that isn’t true. I could think of what seems like an unending number of subjects to write blog posts on,1 but when it comes to writing fiction most of the time I end up hating what I write and destroying it, if I’m writing it at all.
I’m firmly in middle age and have been doing this, off and on since I was a six-year-old sitting at my mom’s typewriter, banging out “A tree grows in the park,” crumpling up the sheet and throwing it away. But because I wrote often, I achieved some level of skill with words and punctuation, which got me through college and got me kudos from writing instructors — until I promptly switched to a “sensible” major that had nothing to do with writing.
From time to time, I’d start writing again, publish an essay, take a writing class. A hush came over the room in one class when I declared that I “couldn’t write fiction.” People who knew the teacher knew that this statement was a point of aggravation for her. “If you can write nonfiction,” she told me, “–and you can — you can write fiction.” It should have given me a sort of schadenfreude-y satisfaction — making me feel better about my writing — that one of her students was writing a novel about a giant snake. Whenever it would swallow someone, the person would go, “Nooooooooo.” She suggested mixing it up a bit — perhaps, “OhhhhMyyyyGoood,” for instance. But I’ll bet he completed that giant snake novel. I didn’t finish any of mine.
But I wasn’t convinced, despite my instructor’s remarks, that I could write fiction, probably because much of my fiction didn’t elicit the type of praise I got from instructors in college when I wrote nonfiction. And when I wrote, ridiculous elements sometimes came walking into my stories. Not silly good — I love many humorous, satirical authors who write things that are seemingly silly but yet true — but things like talking dogs in a story where enchanted talking dogs just didn’t belong. Stuff like this creeping in would usually bring a halt to my fiction writing endeavors.
And then there’s the other thing. When I start writing fiction, if I tell anyone, they either want to see it before it’s ready for anyone else to see it. Or, worse, they say something like, “Hurry up and finish that novel and make us millions.” No pressure. Somehow, that puts a halt to my fiction writing.
Why? I’ve had to admit that what it comes down to is fear. How much time do I want to spend writing something that will likely remain in a desk drawer, or so I start asking myself?
But, at the same time, the risk of not trying is also a great one. There’s the chance that if you plant a seed, even if you cultivate it, nothing will grow. But if you don’t plant it, nothing will undoubtedly grow. If you do, something may bloom. Maybe even something beautiful. Even if I write a novel that never gets published, it may be satisfying for me just to have written it and have that manuscript sitting in my desk drawer.
My fear has sometimes been that, in all my blogging, trying various things online, that I won’t leave time and energy for something else that would be, ultimately, satisfying. Blogging, at least if you’re trying to promote stuff and like to mess around with design, can take much time. But I also love it.
Still, I’ve decided to take a different approach with myself to writing fiction: to have fun. I’ve long had several different loose plots in mind, most of them just the bare bones of a plot. One is real-world and could be a meaningful story in the right hands, maybe. One could either be humorous or dark. But the one that I keep coming back to is the stupid and immature urban fantasy story.
I’ve decided to write the stupid and immature urban fantasy. I’ve decided to let a talking dog be there (for now) if one happens to walk into the story. I’ve decided to stop the outlining I often do when I’m writing nonfiction. While I’m not totally “waiting for inspiration to hit” (as it may never), I am allowing myself to write the story out of sequence, of jotting down things as they hit me, which often isn’t when I’m sitting at my computer trying to write. I’m letting this story get told to me when: I’m making breakfast, in the shower, taking a walk. Sometimes, then, I’ll realize just who this character truly is or why someone does a particular thing. I’ve decided to stop telling people that I’m “writing a novel,” because who knows when I’ll finish it. I’ve decided to start writing this novel for me, even if it’s self-referential, in parts, perhaps some of it will be therapeutic.
I realized, at some point — I think it was when I got an article published for the first time, that seeing my name in print didn’t give me the satisfaction I thought it would. If I’m writing for personal pleasure, I get just as much of that from pressing the “publish” button2 as I do from seeing my name in print. Would I be happy if I published a novel? Of course!
So, I’m going to continue my blogging hobby and continue hammering away at my novel, regardless of how insipid it seems to me at times. I can say that, right now, I am feeling less stuck. What’s the worst that could happen? I could have an unpublished novel sitting in a desk drawer that I had fun writing.
But don’t ask me where the novel is, if you can read it, or add a potential dollar value to it!
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- Attention neuroscience researchers: does pressing “publish” in WordPress release a small dose of serotonin into the brain?