Writer’s Block

Photo Credit: JosephGilbert.org via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: JosephGilbert.org via Compfight cc

The words won’t come. I try to coax them out into the open. Sweet sing-songy platitudes call them forward, but they remain just beyond my sight. I know they are there somewhere, but the miasma has engulfed them. Frustrated I call louder, more urgent, insistent. Still the words won’t come.

I give up the pretense of being calm or rational and slam my fist as I demand they answer me. I know they are out there and now I can feel them laughing and mocking my building rage. I feel them, but I cannot hear them, they won’t even give me that much.

So many times they have lead me by the hand, feeding me reassurances that I possessed a measure of talent. They enticed me with visions of worlds yet explored and tales unconquered. How could I have not been made to think this was what I was called to do? My whole life believing, with a sense of entitlement, that these words belonged to me and me alone. Knowing that one day I would hold them close and they would tell me all of their secrets. I would wield them like a well sharpened sword and cleave a path to my destiny. Only now, they refuse and I can see my path crumbling like over-baked clay. The more I struggle to collect them the less substance they hold. Soon they will blow away and I’ll be left alone.

I thrust my hands into the darkness and flail helplessly trying to find some small purchase to take hold of. I almost think I’ve got something, but I’m overeager and loose my grip before I can even begin to reel it out into the light. I feel the anger rise up in my throat like bile and I spit it out into the air around me letting it fill the room like a heavy fog. With no vent to escape the dense clouds instead double back on me causing my eyes to tear up as my self inflicted hatred wounds every exposed part of me.

It is in these times I know the terrible truth of myself. My fraudulent nature, my unfulfilled desire to be more than I am. I know and I mourn the things I can never allow myself to want because in these moments I know I do not deserve them.

The cursor blinks on the empty screen, still waiting for me to begin. The words won’t come.


Attention creative types, writing competition this way!

mystery_write-620x350-290x166Of the handful of people who follow my blog I’ve noticed a surplus of wildly brilliant creative types. You guys clearly have great taste so I thought I’d pass some info along for any aspiring short-story writers to jump on. Hofstra Law, with Professor Alafair Burke, and Mulholland Books is hosting a Mystery Writing Competition .  The contest is being judged by some high profile crime novelists and the first place winner will be published online and promoted by Mulholland for added exposure, not to mention a pretty sweet cash prize as well.

There are a few guidelines mentioned on the flyer; the main character must be a lawyer, stories should be unpublished works of less than 3,500 words, and the whole thing should be submitted in a double-spaced 12 point font that Microsoft Word won’t object to opening.

I’m on the fence about trying to come up with something for this, I have plenty of work I’m already neglecting, but since there is a clear deadline I might give it a shot if inspiration strikes. Ah yes, the deadline is May 1st to email your story. Like I said, cash prize and some well earned online kudos sound pretty sweet. Let me know if you’re planning to send something in so I can shout encouragement while I contemplate my own procrastination.

Hit the link here to check out the competition flyer and submission guidelines.  The game is on!


Hold your critique while I get my knife ready


Would-be writers are told time and time again to develop a thick skin in preparation for the numerous rejections they will have to endure before they achieve any iota of success. For me, this is probably the highest bar to entry that I’ve come across in pursuit of my ambitions. I don’t have many talents of which I’m unflinchingly confidant. Hell, even things I know I do well still require ridiculous amounts of fine tuning before I’m willing to send them off into the world. Being told that writing was not something I had a talent for would be devastating.

I am not a person acclimated to taking criticism well. There could be any number of perfectly reasonable explanations for this, but as the internet isn’t large enough to hold a comprehensive listing of all my various neurosis, let’s just say I have a tendency to take criticism as a personal affront to my competence. Having my notes edited for spelling errors when I was a kid probably didn’t help.

This is not to say that I consider myself above reproach or think that I’m always right, quite the opposite. I live in a constant state of alertness under the belief that people are watching my every move and just waiting to swoop in and point out my shortcomings. In some regards I’ve developed a stream of coping mechanisms to deal with this sort of rejection, but only with bigger overarching issues.

For example, if I spell a word wrong or abuse the oxford comma and someone calls me out on it I have no problem correcting the problem and moving on. These are mistakes I expect to make because typos happen and commas are basically my indentured slaves. I am far less accepting of subjective criticism when it serves no purpose outside of making the person who pointed it out feel proud for having caught me in a perceived mistake.

Certainly it is better to have one person bring my attention to an error than to have that same error go unmentioned until it is publicly displayed for everyone to see. Nobody wants to be wrong, but when people use their opinion on how I should be doing things as a basis for calling me out I tend to get stabby.

job warning

I should probably warn you that if you’re looking for a blog about dealing with criticism and learning from it you may as well look elsewhere. I know that the term ‘constructive criticism’ was coined for a reason, but I don’t expect to discover any short cuts for accepting it with grace and poise by the end of this article. This is a rant, and as such its only purpose is to serve as an outlet for those of us who are tired of the nitpicking nags who would see us held down whenever we try to raise ourselves up.

Now, I understand that criticism is a necessary evil. Nobody is perfect and when you attempt something there is a good chance you’re going to make some mistakes. This is good, you need to make mistakes so you can learn not to make them in the future. If they aren’t mistakes you can find on your own then you need someone else to give you feedback and let you know how to improve. I get all that, I really do, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to immediately roll over and accept that your way is correct. This is doubly true if I don’t agree with your assessment.

Great art comes from knowing when to break the rules and sometimes doing something differently than convention calls for is the best way to get your point across. Often when I solicit feedback on my writing I’m not looking for a rundown of my errors, I’m looking for affirmation that I managed to get my point across. Errors can be easily fixed, but flawed execution or faulty reasoning is a far greater offense in my eyes. Not everyone makes this distinction, probably because writing isn’t always considered an art form.

There are no museums (that I know of) for masterfully executed sentences or well developed characters and plots. It’s not because these things don’t exist, but because those who do not write don’t understand how difficult they are to achieve. I know that at some point I’m going to have to suck it up and send my manuscript out into the cold harsh world of editors and agents. I know that this will be a difficult time and that I will have to learn to adapt to accept criticism of my work. I’m not looking forward to it, but I get why this bar to entry exists.

I just hope that when this time comes I can find a way to remind myself that criticism is intrinsic to having created something. That even though it might be hard to accept the opinions of others in regards to my work, I have already proven myself just by creating that which did not exist before me. The nagging nitpickers can just go ahead and suck on that.

The Muse and other whimsical notions

© User:Colin / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0

© User:Colin / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0

I’ve been racking my brain trying to come up with something witty or insightful to share with the five people who seem to be following this blog (shout-out to my peeps!), but nothing has been coming to me. That pretty much sums up how much writing I’ve been doing in general as I keep expecting that I’ll just suddenly feel inspired to sit down and tap out something meaningful.

It seems like at some point in my life I’d fallen under the mistaken assumption that being creative was simply an attribute ingrained in the human psyche from which all great ideas, as well as a few not so great ideas that end with consequences and community service, flow. As I got older I learned that artists believe in something called a muse which dictates the ebb and flow of their art. As a writer I presumed that I was also gifted with such a thing. Whether it was intended to be a sort of tiny magical creature that whispered in my ear or something as unintelligible as the soul, well that was a matter for greater minds than mine to worry over.

The point is that for the longest time I believed that creativity was something that should be cultivated and cherished, but that could not be

Notice the utter lack of writing getting done.

Notice the utter lack of writing getting done.

fully controlled. The very act of being creative has it’s own process for crying out loud. Imagine that, a whole process just to get your mind to function in a way that creates ideas so that you can then go on to implement them. How are you meant to get anything done if you go about it that way? Imagine if you had to do daily rote tasks in this manner. Constantly having false starts because you needed to make sure you were going about doing the dishes in a specific way that would yield the best results. In the end you’d only see the soap spots anyway.

There are some people who even actively encourage this ridiculous idea that by forcing creativity you destroy that which you are trying to create. I’ve heard fellow writers bemoan how their muse wasn’t cooperating and therefore they couldn’t get anything done. Hell, I’ve been one of those writers, hence the name of the my blog. “Don’t try to force creativity,” they insist as they adjust their beret to a more artsy angle. “Let it come to you.”

The trouble with this is that when I finally get the time to sit down and create my mind has a tendency to blank out for a bit. I like to think it gets distracted by all the potential for great ideas floating around and sort of just short circuits. In the ultimate self ‘flipping of the bird’ when I don’t have a moment to spare on actually exploring an idea and writing it out my mind feels compelled to be overly helpful and supply me with endless amounts of topics and hilarious sentences which never see the light of day beyond the darkened corners of my mind. 

So therein lies my problem. Do I hope to catch creativity unawares, like an outrageously accented hunter in the savanna. Or, do I go the practical route and blindly smack at my keyboard with my fingered meat-bricks until something vaguely resembling writing comes out? For the longest time I would try to sneak up on myself during bouts of creative thinking and quickly jot everything down. Sometimes this worked and I added ideas and story snippets to my writing journal which promptly left my mind as soon as they were on the page. The chance of having another amazing burst of insight into a project I wasn’t actively working on was pretty slim. Sometimes I’d actually begin a project, only to run out of steam and give up on it halfway through (halfway could be generous in most cases, but you get the idea).

I’ve been doing some thinking on the subject. Primarily this came about because of my complete lack of focus when tasked with taking my writing seriously this year. The most common bit of writing advice I see being banded around is that you should write everyday. This makes sense, one does not become a writer by thinking or reading about writing. Only through actually writing can you get anywhere. Logically that makes sense, but some part of me balked at the idea of being “forced” to write, to create, when my mind wasn’t fully on-board with the idea. My reasoning was simple, how can I write without knowing what I want to write about? Sadly, I’ve come to realize this is just another excuse, another lie I tell myself to make it okay to settle for not achieving what I want to do.

According to the internet, Jack London once said, “You can’t wait for inspiration, you have to go after it with a club.”

Suddenly all those ludicrous notions about being a slave to some imaginary brain imp’s evil bidding seem stupid. Why should I play second fiddle to some erratic part of my mind that doesn’t appreciate deadlines and paychecks? I’m living in the real world and in the real world writers write things so that people can read them. We don’t hide clever little snippets of ideas in a notebook that nobody else will ever see, we have the internet. We pound keys and throw our ideas at the web and see what sticks. Once that is done we keep doing it until someone gives us a book to put all those words in. That’s the sort of writer I want to be, not the capricious artist who figures they have plenty of time to become a savant in their field. Maybe that works for some folks, more power to them, but I’m going to stick with just writing.