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Being Stuck Sucks

March 10th, 2011 89 comments

For quite some time, I’ve been suffering from something that, for lack of a better term, I’ve called writer’s block.  It’s been particularly frustrating because I have an editor waiting –salivating, even – for me to finish the manuscript for the sequel to my last picture book, What Really Happened to Humpty?.

What writer in his or her right mind wouldn’t jump to deliver a manuscript that’s virtually guaranteed a contract? This one.  But somehow, I have to believe that there are others out there.  Which is why I’m writing about this affliction that has had me in a stranglehold for longer than I want to admit.

Note that I said “HAS had.”  Because a few months ago, I found a term that fit what I’d been experiencing: writing anorexia. It came from a wonderful little book by Gail Sher called One Continuous Mistake: Four Noble Truths for Writers.

Writing anorexia is pretty much just what you’d expect. The writing anorexic writes less and less until he has withheld words from the page for so long, he can’t bring himself to write at all. Confidence begins to slip away, self-esteem suffers, and anxiety skyrockets.

You know how when you’ve been plagued by persistent physical symptoms or mysterious maladies and someone finally figures out what’s wrong with you? Having a diagnosis means that what you’ve been dealing with is real, not something you made up.  It’s validating, and even freeing, in a way, because at last, the dragon has a name. And once you know what you’re dealing with, you know what you need to slay that dragon.

Fortunately, having writing anorexia, unlike anorexia the disease, isn’t fatal. But it can feel that way. When you’re a formerly productive writer who can’t seem to squeeze out a single word for days, weeks, months, even years, it can eat away at you like a cancer until you are so creatively dead, you wonder if there is any hope whatsoever.

But when you know what you have to deal with, you can come up with a battle plan. Which is just what I did this past November. I had some help, which is essential when you’ve gotten yourself in a deep writing rut.

When someone named Anne Dubuisson Anderson emailed me to compliment me on my latest book, I noticed that she had a website. I checked it out, and learned that Anne is a former agent who is now a writing coach. One of her specialties is helping writers who are stuck for one reason or another, assessing what they need to move themselves — and their careers – forward.

For about the price of a good therapist, I got feedback on which of my manuscripts was worth marketing, and which should just go back in the drawer. Anne told me that I needed an agent, and gave me names to contact. She also helped me come up with a plan to better market myself for school visits and conference speaking engagements.

In two hours time, I went from operating on overwhelm to having a clear path of action I hoped would lead to writing again. For the first time in a long time, I felt hopeful. And little by little, I’ve started to write again.

Even if you don’t suffer from writing anorexia, you may know someone who does. I hope that sharing my struggles – and a solution that worked for me – will help a fellow writer rediscover their voice.