Overcoming Obstacles in Fiction Writing and Life

02-21-13 cellWarNotebooksI’m late to this party, but I’m going to join it, anyway.

Earlier this year, Duolit (selfpublishingteam.com) posted an article about about Julie. Julie is the author of the the Cell War Notebooks, a chronicle of her battle with cervical cancer. Julie lost her battle, leaving behind a daughter, Luka. The book is still being published and all proceeds go to Luka.

The folks at Duolit proposed that on January 31st, its community of readers write posts about overcoming an obstacle, include a link to the Cell War Notebooks, and publicize the post via social media.

I have an old friend who is suffering from cervical cancer right now. I don’t know how it will turn out and I can’t do much about it, but I can do this.

First, the link to the book: http://amzn.to/W17WN4

Now, about overcoming an obstacle…

One of the chief obstacles I find among the aspiring novelists in my writing group is time, or, rather, lack thereof. One friend has an invalid wife to care for, in addition to his day job. Another just had his first baby (with the help of his wife, of course). Another has care of her young children. We’ve all got responsibilities of one kind or another that make fitting the writing in difficult.

How to overcome this obstacle? We sacrifice something else. In my own case, I sacrifice taking a normal lunch break to relax, socialize, or catch up on work. Instead, I get away to a coffee shop, the library, or an empty conference room and spend about an hour writing. My friend with the ill wife does the same thing.

One member of our group tells a tale of when her three children were very young. She would lock herself in the bathroom for short periods and write in a legal pad braced on the toilet seat while the kids shouted for her outside. Many writers carry their work with them and write in snatches whenever the opportunity arises—at stop lights, at baseball practice, while waiting at the dentist’s office.

In the past, I despaired of writing because I was convinced I had to do it in blocks of at least two hours, so I could get warmed up and then produce a satisfactory amount. When I finally let go of my perfectionist ways and started doing what I could, instead of what some false ideal told me I should do, the creative dam broke and now I’m three-fourths and 80,000 words into my first novel’s first draft.

Before I could find time, I had to give up and attitude, an unreasonable belief, that writing had to be thus-and-so. If you’re unable to find time for your art (even if it’s not writing fiction), step back and check yourself for such an illusory barrier. If you can identify it, you can work to give it up or work around it. Then your creative work will take off. It might go more slowly, but it will go.

Finding time for writing is nowhere near the obstacle cervical cancer is. I’m grateful I don’t have to face such a thing. May all those suffering from serious illness or issues similarly daunting find healing and peace. May all those seeking time for their art overcome their blocking attitudes and find the time they need.


Personal Goals for Writing

Writing GoalsA long time ago, when I was single and much more carefree (but much less happy), I set a writing goal of eight hours each week. My schedule was three hours on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and two hours sometime over the weekend. I kept it up for a year and at the end of that time had a short story published for the first time. For the curious, the story was “Homefield,” published in the summer, 1997 volume of The South Carolina Review.

As a result of this small success, I am a big believer in writing goals.

The flip side of this success story is that “Homefield” is not just the first short story I ever published, it’s also the last. About a month before the acceptance letter came I had given up writing fiction as a waste of time. By the time the letter came, I’d had a month for discouragement and laziness to set in and that was that. I’m rather ashamed of throwing in the towel, but there it is.

As a result of that fumble and later reflection on it, I am a big believer in not giving up. Make that a lot of later reflection. Make that a lot of later reflection and a spate of writing later on, after which I also gave up.

Now I’m writing again and I’m a shade wiser than I was before. I think. I hope.

I still believe in having production goals for writing, but I think now that each writer has to set his or her own type, be it a certain amount of time devoted, a number of words written, a certain project milestone reached on time, or whatever else might suit. For me, it’s time. If I hit my five hours a week, I’m happy.

I’m also a huge believer in flexibility and non-attachment for goals. If your goals just aren’t going to work with the more important priorities in your life one week, make up for it next week or simply let it go altogether. I know this thought might be nearly sacrilegious to some, but if I didn’t take this approach I wouldn’t be able to write at all—I’d be too uptight.

I have also come to see that a writer mustn’t give up. Nobody ever got readers by not writing anything. I have three things that keep me going.

For one thing, I told people I was going to write a novel and started posting chapters of the rough draft on my blog. If I give up somewhere along the way, I’m going to look pretty stupid and I’m as opposed to embarrassment as the next guy.

Making peace with the possibility of stopping once again helps me keep going. If I burn out, yes, I’ll be embarrassed, but the world won’t end and there will still be plenty of love and fun in my life. Having the freedom to fail helps keep the bung out of my creative keg.

Lastly (is that really a word?), although I would love to have readers (witness the excerpts posted every Friday in this space) I am doing the writing just to tell myself the story and to see if I can master the challenge of just finishing. The joy of sitting down to see what happens next keeps me coming back to the old keyboard.

I don’t know if this philosophy will work for every writer, but it’s working for me so far. Back in the days of yore, there was a band called .38 Special, as in the pistol. They had a hit song with the lyrics “hold on loosely, but don’t let go.” Maybe that, in a nutshell, is the best way to have writing goals without them making you crazy.