Sunday, April 25, 2010

Defeating the Writing Ogres

During the months of March and April I struggled to find time and the words to write. On my writing days I’d sit and stare at my screen, begin to peck out sentences, but then end up erasing them. I took a week of vacation to make up for the time I had lost, but self doubt and conflicting research sent my creativity into a nosedive. I accomplished only two pages during that time which I wasn’t sure I even liked. The sad fact about my efforts was this: nothing I tried pleased me.

Added to the mix were my time bandits—overtime at work, family needs, bush removal, car maintenance, and church assignments all vying for my writing slots. I went crying to my writers group, lamenting that I teetered on the verge of abandoning my project for good. My frustration had brought me to the brink of writing disaster, and the sage words my friends handed me failed to convince me otherwise.

Then the unfathomable happened. I wrote over my manuscript with a lesser version and realized the two pages, and then some, I had written out with my blood no longer existed. During that same week my employer took away the block of space I had set as my official writing day. My self-fulfilling prophesy had come true, and I was lost on the road climbing toward novel completion and publication.

Sound at all familiar?

I think their must live a writing ogre in the world, ready to jump out at us from behind the trees, whose purpose it is to pounce on our good intentions and well-laid plans for writing. At times he is the victor, far stronger and equipped with more tools than we, mere writers, possess. But whoever said writing was easy?

Sometimes determination and cunning are the only weapons we have to outwit our foe. Pushing ourselves to write, even when the victory seems futile can surprise us. Courage in the face of defeat can send the rocks of our retaliation hurling toward the enemy’s head, buying us time until reinforcements arrive.

Natalie Goldberg in her book Writing Down the Bones suggests to “take out another notebook, pick up another pen, and just write, just write, just write.” That’s exactly what I did. I never gave up, although I allowed myself to concentrate on other writing while my subconscious mind worked around the roadblocks of my novel. I took time to restructure my outline, put the research away and began to trust my instincts for survival. To my surprise, as I tried to recapture the segments of my manuscript I had lost, stronger and much more pleasing passages flowed from my depths. I wrote beyond the loss and my characters came up with new ways to direct the story, sending discouragement and self doubt behind enemy lines with their tails between their legs.

I’ve stunned the ogre for now. I’m sure he’s found another tree and is waiting for the right moment to leap out at me. But I’ve learned some strengthening strategies along the road that will aid me in future battles. I’m grateful for my characters too. They’ve taken up the fight and are carving the way to my next victory.

Such is the fairy tale of this feat called writing. But as in all fairy tales, there is a happy ending.


Margo Berendsen said...

Okay, this is the second post of yours I read and you are truly inspiring me. So cool that when you lost those two pages (and that would make me cry and throw things) that you got it down even better the second time.

Yeah to defeat of writing ogres! I had a bad one myself this week, but after several days of extreme self-pity, I think I have come to realization that I am better off for it.

Peggy Shumway said...

Margo- We just have to keep plugging away during those frustrating times. We'll eventually come out on top.

Lydia Kang said...

What a wonderful and inspiring post. Yes, I'm trying to keep that ogre at bay as well! Nice to meet you, and thanks for following my blog! I'm following yours as well.
Happy Mother's Day!

Peggy Shumway said...

Lydia--Thanks for your wishes. Happy Mother's Day to you also. Thanks for stopping by and following my blog.