Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Stages of a Writer's Life

Scott D. Parker

For any writer out there who has completed a story, you know the thrill of typing that last period on the last sentence of the last page of a story. It's pretty darn exciting. For any writer who has ever finished a novel, the feeling is even more exhilarating. The day I completed my first book, I was on cloud nine. I felt as if I was on the tallest mountain on earth. I was grinning ear-to-ear and pretty much told everyone within shouting distance that I, Scott Parker, had actually completed a novel. Too bad I didn't speak Spanish or the lawn guys outside my office building would have been told about my awesome book.

The same is true when you see something you’ve written in published form, be it electronic or paper. Last year, when my story landed within the electronic walls of Beat to a Pulp, I again visited cloud nine. It was a great week here at the Parker household since that was also the same week my wife was one of the artists featured on the HGTV program “That’s Clever.” Cut to this year with our own Do Some Damage anthology, Terminal Damage, and the feeling repeated itself.

When you have a new product or a complete project, it’s had for a writer to shut up about it. When you’re in a drought, you pray that no one asks you the dreaded question: What are you working on nowadays?

I did not have a good writing year in 2010 and I’ve only myself to blame. I’ve known it for a long time, but I was always able to push it away and justify any excuse in my mind. After all, if it’s a mental conversation, no one but me, myself, and I hear it.

Over the Thanksgiving break, we joined my wife’s extended family in Louisiana. It was the first time I’d seen many of these folks for six to ten years. A long time. I met cousins who hadn’t been born the last time I was in Louisiana. Since most of the readers of the family know I’m a writer, the dreaded question reared its ugly head...more than once.

Standing there, face to face with another person, having to explain away a bad non-writing year, well, it sucks. The feelings generated inside made me feel small, stupid, and almost worthless. All the weirdo justifications I’ve told myself I went ahead and said out loud, and they sounded so inane to the ear. All those good feelings--the ones you experience when you finish a story--seemed so, so far away.

For anything (everything?) in life, you can’t just experience good things. Frankly, that’s boring and monotonous. You have to experience the bad, the dark valley, to know what the mountain feels like. But many of the things you experience are outside of your control.

Not so writing. You control when you write and when you don’t. You own it all. Excuses can only go so far. After awhile, its a choice not to write. And, to be brutally honest, for the most part this year, I’ve chosen not to write. It’s a sucky feeling when I realized it over the Thanksgiving break.

And it’s one I won’t forget in 2011. In fact, it’s already driving me nuts that I wasted so much time doing nothing this year. Joelle, in her column last week, wrote that we need to give ourselves permission not to write. I agree. But I will add an addendum: when you’ve blown off writing, own that, too. Don’t blame anything or anyone else. Blame yourself. I know I do.


Anonymous said...

I've had that question recently myself. It's been a couple years since I've made headway on the longer novel project and the you're right the blame is on no one's shoulders but my own. Sure events happen that crop up, but a writer should navigate and find the alternatives.

That said, this year has been creatively productive and I'm confident in 2011.

We need to navigate better.

Kossiwa Logan said...

This is true. I called it taking a hiatus. I wrote one story this year that I submitted and got rejected. It felt great, even the rejection because it meant that I was putting myself out there, taking risks, but then came the let down when I let someone tell me to give up and I did. I gave up on myself, but I'm over that. From now on, as my friend reminded me, I'm a published writer and I'm going to do all I can to continue getting my fiction published.

John McFetridge said...

Yeah, I had a bad 2010, too. I also blame myself and also plan to male 2011 better. Thanks for this post.

Dana King said...

2010 was kind of a dumper for me, too, from a writing perspective. (I did get the exhilaration of seeing something I wrote in print for the first time, but that was all work done previous to 2010.) By spring i was a complete burnout. I took the summer off, and came back, well, maybe not completely rejuvenated and rarin' to go, but at least I was willing to re-submit myself to the discipline needed to write every day, unless it couldn't be helped.

That's how I'm going approach it in the future. Unless somehting happens to change things for me, I'm going to keep my shoulder to the grindstone and nose to the wheel or whatever and write just about every day from the day after labor Day until Memorial Day weekend. Then I'm off. I can take notes, write some flash, maybe scratch out a few scenes if they're bugging me, but no scheduled writing. That will make it easier to knuckle down as it gets harder to concentrate when the weather gets nicer. Then it's back to work.

(I credit this to Declan Burke, who quoted a well-known author (Golding?) when asked if he wrote every day, "When I'm writing, I write every day."

Sean Patrick Reardon said...

Tremendous post. Being fairly new to this game of writing, I think 2010 was the opposite for me. I spent 2008-09 wanking around, sticking and moving, wasting way too much time on discussion forums, agent blogs ect. In Jan, I bought Stephen King's "On Writing" and took a lot of his advice. I can't write every day, but I'm always thinking about a story and writing down thoughts, and when I need a boot it in the ass, I think of Uncle Steve's advice.

I guess I'm in the pink cloud stage of the game, and it is easy to blow off writing, especially when you don't rely on it to pay the bills. Best of luck in 2011 everyone!

Joelle Charbonneau said...

Your 2010 was my 2008. Lots of things got in the way. And you are right - it is our choice to take steps forward or back. Thanks for a great post and I wish you a fabulous writing 2011. Actually, I wish that for all of us. Let's take the writing world by storm!