We've kicked off the new year with a series of posts answering the two-part question: "What keeps you going? And how do you overcome disappointment, distraction, rejection, etc.?” The question was inspired, in part, by an encouraging guest blog post by award-winning author Laurie Halse Anderson on the Debutante Ball blog. Anderon's post, called "Triaging Rejection Pain," contains helpful, specific advice on handling rejection.
My problem lately hasn't been rejection. Instead, I'm struggling to finish revisions on a historical young adult novel I started in January 2009. That's right--2009! Just writing that date makes me cringe. This is the same novel I blogged about in November, the one that I worked on for my pseudo-NaNoWriMo project. For this novel, my answer to the question "What keeps you going?" is a Deadline. Writing "on spec," as Jeanne Marie called it, is difficult for me, especially when the project requires as much research as this one does. (Did I mention that the novel is based on the life of an 18th-century Italian composer, and I don't read Italian very well?)
When I was pursuing my MFA in writing at Vermont College, the monthly deadlines kept me on task. I was more productive in those two years than I have ever been, either before or since. I miss those deadlines. I also miss having someone I'm accountable to.
I used the artificial deadline of "write a book in a month" to motivate me to create the first draft of the novel back in January 2009. After meeting that deadline, though, I kept procrastinating on revising the draft. So I created another deadline via my recent pseudo-NaNoWriMo project. During those 7 weeks, I made significant progress. While I fell short of my 70,000-word goal, I did get to 60,885 words. That was on December 14. I haven't added one word since.
Sure, I can blame the holidays. But it's now the middle of the second work week of the new year and I haven't so much as looked at the manuscript. Instead, I took on the huge project of cleaning and reorganizing my office. Now don't get me wrong--my office was sorely in need of reorganization, and I'm pleased with the progress I've made. (Believe it or not, I'm still not done.) But the cleaning could have waited. Or I could have cleaned just enough to have a usable writing surface again and saved the major overhaul for later. Why didn't I? I was procrastinating. In other words, I was blocked. There, I've said it. I was blocked.
How could I be blocked now, when I'm so close to the end? After thinking about it, I realized there were two underlying reasons. First, I felt guilt (and shame) for falling short of my goal of reaching 70,000 by December 15--a goal I'd announced not only here, but also on my Facebook page. I felt like a failure. Unlike Esther, our resident PMA cheerleader, I chose to ignore how far I have come. Instead of beating myself up, I could have celebrated the fact that in seven weeks I'd added 28,303 words, almost doubling my word count.
The second reason for my block was fear (as it so often is). I'm terrified that after investing so much time and effort into this novel, no one will want to publish it. If only I could follow Mary Ann's example and lock my worries in a closet. :-)
Another thing that helps me: knowing I'm not the only one in my situation. I recently read an interview in The Writer with A. Manette Ansay, author of the adult novel, Good Things I Wish You, a historical novel based on the life of the 19th-century composer and pianist Clara Schumann. I was encouraged to read that it took Ansay 8 years to find a structure that worked for her novel. While I certainly hope my novel doesn't take me that long, I'm relieved to read about another writer's success following a similar struggle.
Now I'm excited again about returning to the manuscript and making my way to the end of my story. I'm looking forward to tasting that joy JoAnn talked about in her post. Until I'm done, the rest of my office reorganization will have to wait. :-)
So what keeps YOU going? Please post a comment sharing how you deal with disappointment, distraction, rejection, etc.
- Looking for more ideas on how to stay motivated by focusing on the positive? Read Carol Grannick's column in the current SCBWI-Illinois Prairie Wind. Or better still, work through Carol's "self-directed resilience workshop" on her blog, The Irrepressible Writer.
- If you'd like to have more joy and happiness in your life, or you need help following through on your New Year's resolutions, check out The Happiness Project's 2011 Happiness Challenge. You don't have to actually register--just click on the link that says "Videos for the Year of Happiness Challenge."
- It's not too late to participate in the annual Blog Comment Challenge. This is a great way to discover new Kidlit blogs and also to help others notice your blog. For details, see the MotherReader blog.
- Shy about writing blog comments? Read Nathan Bransford's advice on how to write a good comment.