Frustration + Inspiration

From Michael Ian Black's blog yesterday (I love him):

"If all the birds died tomorrow, I probably wouldn’t even notice. At some point somebody would mention that there was no more birdsong. I would say, 'I didn’t notice because I’ve been inside.' Then I would go back to not doing whatever I was not doing."

I get this.

And there's nothing I can add to that, that won't turn this into a depressing post. But yeah. I get this.

For the last several months, I've had trouble writing. There's been this strange . . . disconnect. I can't get new words down on the page. There are all of these beautiful sentences and ideas and scenes floating through my mind, but it's as if a switch were flipped. I can't grab a hold of them. I can't turn them into tangible words. I can't write down what's in my head.

It's frustrating and maddening and embarrassing. And it makes me feel like everything is over before it began. Which I know is untrue. But still.

The thought persists.

I'd hoped that NaNoWriMo would be a good kick, that it would FORCE me out of this hole. But let's take a look at my current graph, shall we?

That's me, not winning. My mustard-colored line is parked at 2,373 words. That's only 706 words more than the DAY ONE goal.

Right now, it would be easy for me to give up. To quit. To convince myself that there are better, more important things for me to do (or not do) this month. But you know what?

I'm not quitting.

I am going to win.

It will just take . . . a few adjustments.

In a recent blog-comment conversation, Corinne Bowen recommended Heather Seller's Chapter After Chapter. I'd never heard of it before, so I popped over to Amazon. I was expecting to find another basic how-to-write manual, but instead I discovered it's about a how to have a writing life.

A subtle difference, but an important one. It's also something I haven't encountered before — in book form, nor in my own life.

Staying motivated is tough.

Staying in your chair and writing every day is tough.

Staying in love with your idea is tough.

Heather's book is the first I've seen that hasn't just said, "It's tough for all of us." (A good thing to know, but something you'll read often. Like here on my blog.) She explains why it's hard, and how we can make it easier. No magic wands. No crazy diets. Just a solid understanding and consideration of the problems attached with living the LIFE of a writer, and how we can help ourselves overcome them.

The wretchedness of the Second Novel. The disbanding of critique groups. The feeling of failure after success.

This book would be good for beginners, but I think it's even better for writers like myself. Perhaps we're a little (a very little) further down the path, but now that it's actually our career . . . how do we keep this up? Now that something is expected of us — and, more importantly, now that we expect something of ourselves — how do we stay in love with the process? How can we keep it FUN?

This book has turned on light bulbs and flashlights and chandeliers. I have hope again.

[I wish I could take you out for coffee and vegan treats as a thank you, Corinne!]

Vegan Cupcakes for Corinne

So . . . it's an uncomfortable realization, but I'm growing out of NaNoWriMo. I don't need it for what I used to need it for (finishing a first draft), and it's difficult to give it the full attention it deserves with several other projects already underway. This might be my last year.

But I'm not quitting.

Remember how I mentioned adjustments would be required to finish? I've decided to use NaNo for what I DO need it for — to help me fall in love with writing again.

I've decided to stop writing this year's novel as a beginning/middle/end draft. I'm not happy with writing mind-blowingly terrible stories anymore. But I AM happy when I have the courage to squeeze out a new scene, or even a moment in a scene, that feels real.

So I'll write scenes. And when I can't write a scene, I'll write a paragraph. And when I can't write a paragraph, I'll interview my characters. Find out what they're thinking. And if they don't want to talk to me? I'll brainstorm.

Hopefully, when this is over, I will have found my confidence again. And when it's time to tackle Third Novel in a serious way next year, I will have a solid (50,000 word!) base to stand on.

Am I dreaming? Of course.

Do I think this is impossible? Of course not.

And because I'm feeling inspiration-happy, here are two more things that sparked my creative excitement this week:

Number One = Thom Yorke's recent Echoplex show


What I wouldn't give to have been there! I want to crawl into Thom's brain and watch it buzz and pop. He is SO talented.

Thom Yorke makes me glad I'm not a professional musician, because if I were, I wouldn't be able to listen to him without experiencing excruciating bouts of jealousy. Instead, I get to enjoy.

Number Two = Glee

I'm a Glee newbie, and I'm happy — and surprised! — to report that it lives up to the hype. Here are a few reasons to consider tuning in, if you already don't:

(1) Fabulous ensemble cast. I love shows with a lot of characters — so many opportunities for great storytelling. And I appreciate how the teachers and students are equally interesting. Television is often guilty of having cool teens but flat adults, or vice versa. Definitely not the case here.

Jayma Mays' wardrobe. Not quite as fab as Anna Friel's on Pushing Daisies (NO ONE has a better wardrobe than Chuck), but cute in similar monochromatic sort of way.

(3) The music, of course. I'm generally not a fan of musicals (there are a few exceptions like Sweeney Todd, Moulin Rouge!, Dr. Horrible), but the exuberance and talent of the cast — ohmystars, how amazing is Amber Riley as Mercedes? — makes it impossible for me not to grin and hum along.

FUN. It's just FUN. (Even when it's making me cry.) Definitely the best show I've seen on television this year.

Oh! And . . .

Joss Whedon is directing an episode!

Phew! What's inspiring you right now?

And if you're doing NaNoWriMo, how's it going?


  1. Chuck's wardrobe was AMAZING, wasn't it? I want all of her hats. And dresses. And shoes. And just everything, really.

    Good for you for not giving up :) It's so easy to throw in the NaNo towel. And if you're looking for writing life books, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott is a pretty good one too. I'll have to pick up Chapter after Chapter; it sounds awesome!

  2. Sara — Yes! Bird by Bird is one of my faves. I think Heather Seller's book has stronger focus on the lifestyle (dealing with changing critique groups, why the second novel is harder and what you can do about it, etc) than Anne Lamott's, but I'd still LOVE to re-read Anne's because it's so brilliant and hilarious :)

    R.I.P Chuck's wardrobe.

  3. So glad to know you're not quitting NaNo! This is my first year and I know I'm using it to push myself into finishing that first draft. But I'm proud of myself simply by hitting 10k in the first 6 days. =D

    (Yeah, total bragging here even though I have several friends who are practically freaking finished! Ack!)

    And Glee is awesome. Amber Riley has an EPIC voice. I've got to start watching it again. >.>

  4. I've never done NaNoWriMo.

    I'm just not built for it.

    Good for you for not giving up ... but really, it's okay if it doesn't work for you.

    You will find your rhythm. You've just been in the post-honeymoon phase of the writing life.



  5. Thanks for your post of honesty. It is easy to think from my end that "if I ever" get a book contract, it is all pretty after that. But I suppose there is still stress, just a little different and maybe just a little more.

  6. Hi there.

    You don't know me, but you're my new hero. I found your blog through a link from a link and I ... hmmm. You've affected me with your killer attitude, your peppy confidence and your eye-wateringly cool blue hair.

    I'm a writer. Magazines and newspapers, although I've been writing creatively since I was a spud. I'm on my sixth draft of my novel. And reading your blog makes me happy. It's inspired me to start my own blog (www.clumsyseduction.blogspot.com, if you're so inclined.

    Now listen to me, woman, stop trying so hard and just be your normal awesome self. You inspired me, so you've got something. You're a writer. Do what you do.


  7. I would be jumping for joy that you picked up Heather's book if it wasn't 1AM and I wasn't in bed with my laptop and a sleeping husband next to me (plus a sleeping cat at the foot of the bed). I hope more people read her book and feel inspired by it! It's sitting on my nightstand right now (under a cup of coffee). I'm cheering you on and it sounds like a lot of others are too:) I also hope that you will continue writing here because your blog rocks and it is packed with wisdom! Love the vegan cupcakes!

  8. Stephanie,

    Wow. Great post. I think you've stumbled early upon the one of the great truths of life as a writer: It really never gets any easier. But it does change. Each step of the way has its challenges and its awesomeness. (It's hard because you think after the first book is done/sold/whatever that it will be easier. After all, you've done it before, right? But, um, no. Each book is a total enigma, with it's secrets that it won't divulge easily. Man, it's Indiana Jones Time every.single.time.)

    I have changed NaNo to meet my needs as well. I'm just trying to finish the book about the ren faire girl and the cursed boy....just a draft.....sigh.

    Glee is awesome because every single time I think, "Oh, they won't go there," they absolutely go there.

    Take care. Keep writing.


  9. It's funny how the journey is always changing. Writing has been a struggle for me lately, too. I've been slowing down. A lot.

    I was scared at first, but then I realized that I've changed a lot this year. I've grown, so has my writing. I'm at a new point in my life.

    I've had to make a lot of adjustments to my routine, but I'm still going forward and that's what's important.

    Hang in there! And good luck meeting your goal!

  10. Glee!!!! GLEE!!! I'm so glad you found it - it kills me. In a good way. I knew there was a reason we got along.

    And another reason - because your writing rocks. Sorry you're in a bad patch, but I'm so glad you're pushing on through it. Because otherwise I wouldn't get to read more of your work, and my reading life would be much grayer without you. (Anna and Etienne still wander around in my head - which is about the best compliment you can give a writer, I think. Your characters are real and interesting and they come back and visit me now and then.)

    Also my basic rule of dating might apply here - humans appreciate most that which is hard to come by. Think how much you're going to appreciate Second Novel!!

  11. I agree--No one has a better wardrobe than Chuck. No. One.

    I hope your new way of NaNoing is going well!

  12. You've almost doubled your word count since you wrote this last night ;)

    Thanks so much for encouraging me to do NaNo this year. I'm not quite where I should be either, but I wrote more this week than I've ever written in a week before. And it's been a blast because I'm working on something new, and writing about hot guys is just fun. Isn't it? I felt burned out on my old project, but now I'm missing it. Isn't that funny? Hopefully, I'll still feel that way come December, and I can go back to it more happily than I left it.

    Things that inspire me right now:

    Reading through notes in my writing notebooks.

    Working outside (picking pomegranates and chasing cows for my dad lately). Going out clears some of the fog in my head.

    Listening to teenagers.

    Reading great writing blogs like Shannon Hale's, Laini Taylor's and YOURS.

    Also, I've noticed getting a good night's sleep every now and then really helps.

    Thanks for being inspiring!

  13. Anonymous8:33 PM GMT-5

    Hi Stephanie,
    You don't know me yet, but I've been reading your blog for about a year now. You've been a huge source of inspiration for me & because of your previous experience with Nanowrimo, I've been keeping up with my daily word count! When I start feeling tired, discouraged, etc. I think of you and others who haven't given up. I cheered aloud for you when I found out you were going to be published! Sorry I haven't commented before, but thought you'd like to know you have a huge fan & that I can totally relate to what you're going through right now. You are made of the Right Stuff and will get your "MOJO" back,and very soon. I can feel it coming back as I'm typing this...

  14. This is my fourth year doing NaNo (I'm ladyhedgehog over there) and the first time I haven't been at least halfway done by now.

    I also considered not doing it again. I know I can write a rough draft, it's the revising I'm struggling with. But what you said about trying to find the love of writing again applies to me as well. I've gotten too caught up in all the steps between rough draft and publication, steps I haven't had your success with yet, and I'm having trouble connecting with the basic joy of making up stories.

    Anyway, hang in there and know you've got company. :)

  15. Thanks for the honesty and the tip about the great book.

    I hope you find/make your new way soon.

  16. Where do I start? Like Myrna, I started NaNo because of you, and I have never written so many words in one week (even though I'm still behind). My reasoning was that you did NaNo to prove to yourself you could finish a novel. And you did!! So I'm hoping NaNo will help me learn to just let if fly and get the words down, even if they aren't pretty yet.

    From reading your blog, it seems to me that the struggle of getting the words down is part of your writing process. Yet you manage to get those words down in one way or another, and then turn them into something great later. I have no doubt that your new strategy for NaNo will work. This time next year Third Novel will be awesome.

    As for my own NaNo experience, I'm falling behind. A weekend with the inlaws can really suck the creativity right out of a person. :) But I'm not quitting either. I may not win, but I've already gained a new perspective. I CAN DO THIS. (I think. I hope.)
    I wouldn't have even tried it if I hadn't read your posts about it. I know it's okay if it's not good right now. The "good" comes later.

    So thanks, Steph! Your honesty has helped me (and others, I'm sure) on my writing journey. I'll be cheering you on!

  17. I'm a new convert to Glee this season too. It is amazing and hilarious. So many of the actors steal the show it's hard to say who steals the show. It just keeps non-stop entertaining.

    Good on you for sticking to your NaNo. Good luck. It sounds like it's about time for a kissing scene. It could get things flowing. Heehee. I'm not doing it. I'm still reworking my WIP and making good progress at long last.

  18. This is my first year doing nano, and i think it turns out that i don't really need it either (which is a huge boost to my confidence) - It seems that the writing i do for nano isn't any different thatn my nornmal writing (tho i do stop myself from editing too much)
    But i'm glad i'm doing it and convinced my writing group to do it as well. i'm 2 days ahead and just now am getting to some good stuff so it should really pick up from there. I'm also hoping that maybe i can find a crit group via some nano connections.

    I just want to let you know that i'm really very glad i found your blog. Wish i had found it earlier.

  19. The writing life is hard. There just doesn't seem to be a way past that. Our general personalities as writers can sabotage us, the business itself, the rest of life going on around us. For me, I just try to ride these parts out, live with them until they go away, and try not to think about when they'll be back. As for inspiration . . . I was at a great writing retreat all weekend. Excellent craft exercises, good food, smart people, and a salt water pool! Bliss. So glad you're finding a useful new way to use NaNo!

  20. Wow! Thank you for this enlightenment, Steph! It does boost up my motivation to keep writing.

    Oh and Chuck! I love that show! Why they have to cancel it? Why? *sobbing*

    Oh btw I've changed my blog address to http://begybegy.blogspot.com/. I consider it as a fresh start indeed.

  21. Fab post Stephanie. And so inspiring in it's own quirky way. Sometimes just by acknowledging how hard it is, makes it easier.

    I am not doing nano - too busy revising, but am ready for the next step in this whole process.

    Wish me luck and so glad you're a gleek :-)

  22. When I saw the word shiny on your website, I knew I'd like you!

    I get what you're saying about staying motivated. I just got back from a writing conference that got my mojo moving again and gave me some great insight into what's missing from my current book. Now I know what I need to do and I'm looking forward to getting it to be the best it can.

    In the small world department- I work with your mom. We spend almost two hours a day together M-F. I've been following all your news through her, it's silly I haven't stopped by before.

    In the Whedon news department, my son and I are hitting the Firefly convention in LA on Nov. 21/22. Talk about shiny!

  23. Your honesty is refreshing. It's true that as writers we feel like getting published once is the hurdle and then it's smooth sailing, but it's a life. I'm trying to remember that as I'm getting ready to query my first fully completed MS. It's not the end of the world, it's just a book right?! lol

    I'm SO far behind on NaNo because I'm finishing edits to query before the end of November. The NaNo book is book 2 of the series. Last year I wrote most of my NaNo book toward the end of the month, so I'm not worried, but I'm in a writing funk right now. So close to being done and sending this baby out on its way... it's scary! lol of course this makes me stress and almost not want to finish in a weird way. What if it's not... or what if no one likes... I'm trying to shut down that voice right now :-)

    LOVE Glee and Thom Yorke. He's such a genius, it's really scary. Amazing and inspiring. Music really inspires me but there's so much good tv right now too. I'm having fun watching shows like Glee that surprise me and make me laugh and cry in the same ep. And books inspire me always. I just finally read The Graveyard Book (surprising it took so long since I'm a huge Gaiman fan) and I had to go back and read again. SO brilliant.

    Can't wait to read the book you mentioned on the writing life. Sounds like a must-read for everyone. Going to look for it on Amazon.

    Thanks for a great post :-)

  24. I am such a gleek.

    As for the motivation and Nano and all that writing type stuff, gosh yes. I'm so glad to know other writers now who can commiserate on that whole second book slump. Without that, I'd surely go mad.

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  26. Great post! The writing life is hard. There just doesn't seem to be a way past that. Our general personalities as writers can sabotage us, the business itself, the rest of life going on around us. For me, I just try to ride these parts out, live with them until they go away, and try not to think about when they'll be back. As for inspiration. thanks for it. keep on posting like that! All those people who are looking for someone to write papers can contact Research Paper writing service from our source within their budget.