Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Confidently Stuck: A lament on writer's block

When I have writer’s block, it generally is one of two things: a) my writing confidence is lacking or b) I’m stuck, I don’t know what precisely is going to happen next. Sometimes it’s a combination of both. Here are some tips I use to get through it:

A. Confidence
• I remember I’m as poor a writer as I’ll ever be. If I work hard, the only direction is up.
• I’m the best writer I can be. Right here, in this moment, I am perfect.
• I staple Jane Yolen’s quote to my forehead: "Just write. If you have to make a choice, if you say, 'Oh well, I'm going to put the writing away until my children are grown,' then you don't really want to be a writer. If you want to be a writer, you do your writing. . . if you don't do it, you probably don't want to be a writer, you just want to have written and be famous -- which is very different."
• If Jane Yolen’s advice doesn’t work, I remind myself I can’t stop writing even if I want to, so I might as well embrace this part of me, judgment on my own talent set aside.
• I review this interview by Neil Gaiman on how he felt he wasn’t a good enough writer to write The Graveyard Book for many years. (He had the idea in 1985.) I have stories I feel that way about too. Boy, do I ever.

B. Stuck in the story.
• I skip the scene I’m stuck on and move to another, one I see clearly in my head.
• If I can’t skip ahead, I use Kevin Henke’s advice, and draw out the scene in illustration (or if you are drawing impaired like me, find pictures in magazines or online that inspire you to write on).
• I go back to my outline pages and rewrite them a third or fourth time. (Sometimes this is a list, sometimes this is a visual diagram of plots, characters, and subplots).
• I treat the book like I would the reorganization of a house: one piece of furniture, one pile of papers at a time. Baby steps, I remind myself, can lead to a finish line too.

So my Q4U: What creates your writer’s block? Or if you are not a writer, what stops you from accomplishing something you really want to finish?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

How do YOU do it?

I don’t seem able to write my posts out early. I can count on my hand how many times I have, at least. I try to write them in advance, but the words don’t come until I’m in the passion of the moment. Yet I want to be more organized (hang passion… it’s overrated). I’m ready to commit to change. So my questions to all you bloggers are:

How do you do it? (How do you write posts early, if you do at all?)

Do you write them, edit them, and then schedule the posts all at once?
Do you write a draft then modify it before posting that day or the day before?
Do you write what you feel in the moment and post it immediately? Or do you wait until after you’ve thought more on it?

I am ready to learn new tips and tricks because I seem to be stuck in a blogging rut with no schedule I can stick to. And I love blogging too much to keep in the rut.

Thanks in advance for the advice, friends! XO

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A Life Unsung

As a kid I never wanted to be a mom.
I never even wanted to get married.
Instead I saw the greatest fulfillment in my life coming from traveling about, studying animals and writing for a magazine like National Geographic or Smithsonian.
This shocked other girls I knew. Their life’s dream was to find a husband, have kids, and be a housewife.
And I belittled that. (Shame on me.)

Now I’m where I never thought I’d be: three kids, a husband, and a stay-at-home life. I’ve given up (for now) the days when I traveled all over studying animals and I’ve given up the acclaim I used to get from peers. Some days that is hard to not have, especially living in a world that puts so much emphasis on careers and very little emphasis on children. I fall too often into the trap of feeling like I don’t contribute enough. There are days when my life feels unsung.

Yet I know my life is fuller, richer, and happier now having a family. The joy of motherhood and a happy marriage isn’t something you can explain unless you experience it yourself. People would tell me that, but I couldn’t believe them until now. Sad… I’m a writer with no words to convey that joy.

Last weekend, I listened to a man named Richard Scott give a talk on how much he loved his wife (now passed on) and how much happiness he gets from thinking of the future days when he can be with her and their kids in the next life. His tender words gave voice to my feelings of how invaluable the love of a family is. They were words I needed to hear. He gave a few examples and ideas to help me remember the joy more often:
1. Play with them. Some of us work. Even if we don’t, all moms need activities that are ours alone. Hopefully these things require creativity, a chance to use our brains. I still write and will always write because I need to do this for myself. But when it’s time to be with the kids or the spouse, it’s time to be with them. To focus on them. To give them our quality attention. Scott told a story about how he’d been gone on a business trip and instead of coming home and fixing the washing machine, he played with his kids. Later, in the middle of the night, he felt a tiny hand slip into his. He heard, “Dad, I love you. You are my best friend”. Those are the moments that are remembered and cherished when you are Scott’s age.
2. Tell them. I’m so quick to admonish and “teach” more often than praise. Rather, I need to look for more moments to tell my family I love them and express gratitude for them. Scott talked about how his wife would leave him notes in his briefcase to find when he had a presentation. He kept those and he treasures them now that she’s gone.
3. Little things matter. Scott talked about how he took the circles from a hole punch and how, as a joke, he wrote a note to his wife, one word per circle. He numbered them and put them in an envelope for her to unscramble and read the note. This little laugh ended up being a tender expression she cherished. When she died, he found them, all taped together and preserved in plastic in a private place where she kept her most important things. He also shared a story about how one Valentine’s Day he didn’t have money for a gift for her so decided to create a watercolor picture for her on the refrigerator. Only he used enamel paint instead of watercolor. She wouldn’t let him try and take it off because it meant something to her.
4. Serve together and for each other. As Scott says, self-centeredness and selfishness goes out the window when we serve in families and serve each other. I’ve seen this happen in my own family. My tendency to be selfish is lost when I’m serving and my kids get to see that everyday.

(He had other beautiful things to say, but these were a few that stayed with me. You can read the whole talk HERE at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saint’s website.)

I know this wasn’t a writing post like I usually have, but families and being a mom has been weighing heavily on my mind. Maybe it’s because I had a birthday last Sunday and am feeling like I’m “getting up there” with not enough to show for it. Maybe it’s because my husband is traveling a lot this month. But Scott’s words cut to my soul and were answers to my prayers. You don’t have to agree with my very serious post today, but I just needed to give voice to those destructive feelings I get that tell me I don’t do enough. That being a mom and wife isn’t enough. Well, it is enough.

I won’t dismiss my mixed emotions, but rather accept them then also accept that it isn’t true. And when they come, I can do those things above to remember why I chose the life I did and feel the joy I feel that surpasses the days of unsung glory that sometimes come with being a mom. I will remember the greatest good I’ll do is what I do for my children. As Scott says, as a mother I’ve “been given divine instincts to help me sense my child’s special talents and unique capacities”. Only I can raise them the way I want them raised. My kids won’t always be little and there will be a time I can contribute to the world ina different way someday. Right now I’m here for them when they need me the most. I will stop discrediting my contribution to society by “just” raising these kids, these little people who will take it by storm someday. My contribution is not a meager one. They are magnificent.

Believe me, I should know. I’m raising them. :o)

NOTE: This post is part of a Mormon Blogfest going on. Go to Krista's blog for the full list of bloggers sharing their deeper thoughts on talks they've heard at an LDS Conference recently held.

Friday, April 1, 2011


If you’ve publicly declared yourself a writer, you might have experienced a conversation with someone where they’ve confessed to you they a) want to write a book but haven’t because it takes a lot of time, b) want you to take their “best-selling” idea and write it because they haven’t the time, or c) both. I claim c.

Every time someone brings this discussion up, I try to sound supportive and listen. They don’t understand (yet!) what a daunting task writing a book is. It takes time—they get it—but they don’t realize how much until they actually write it. Then rewrite it. Then rewrite it again. It takes soooo much time. And blood. Sweat. (You guessed, it: tears too.)

I love writing. Writing has a reward in and of itself; it’s therapeutic to many of us. But to write a book-length work takes a deep commitment. It would be like eating an elephant*. Every page is a bite of tough, old meat chewed one morsel at time. You would have to make most of the meat into jerky just to make it last until you can get around to swallowing it! You can’t tackle it all at once. In the last few months I’ve started a few huge, new tasks. Two of those being revising a hot mess of a draft and another would be writing a very research-intensive new book. When I start getting overwhelmed, I calm my breathing and ask myself, “How do I eat an elephant?” And then myself answers in a not-so-chipper voice, “One bite at a time.” I grumble that it’s taking so long. But often the admission that is does take one bite at a time helps. (And I’m telling you this in hopes that it helps you too. Because it is hard to stick with it and I know it!)

So to all of you starting, finishing, revising, or thinking about writing a book or two, here is my advice: start with one mouthful at a time and work your way in. It’s too easy to overwhelm yourself, but anything worth doing is worth your best effort. (Not your best writing, mind you, but your best focus of energy.)


Finishing up my author interview series, Kate Scott is the winner of Prisoners in the Palace. Congrats, Kate! Please email me (@ jackeeDOTalstonATgmailDOTcom) your snail mail address and I’ll get the book sent out to you. Thanks to all those who commented and participated!

* Even though I compare it to eating an elephant, in Shel Silverstein’s poem, Melinda Mae, the girl thought she could eat a whale, said she could and then “started right at the tail”. She ignored the nay-sayers and in eighty-nine years, she ate the whole whale because she said she would. You choose the animal you like best for the analogy, but I’ve no physical concept of how big a right or blue or humpback whale is, so I’ll stick with an elephant. :o)