Paul Giamatti as self-loathing writer in ‘Sideways.”

Paul Giamatti as a self-loathing, rejected writer

Paul Giamatti beautifully portrays the ravages that manuscript rejection can inflict on an aspiring author in the movie Sideways. He has had a few near misses with his dark, ponderous novel – giving  just enough hope to perpetuate his agony. When his last-hope publisher eventually turns him down, he life careens sideways into a hellish pit of hopelessness, wine and self-hatred that creates havoc with his budding romance, car, and relationship with his best friend.

If you identify with his angst, and are living a life of unfulfilled literary dreams, you might also find it’s hard to write at times. Disappointment and disillusionment can suck the energy out of the desire to create. You think: “Why bother? Writing isn’t worth the agony. I don’t have what it takes anyway. Screw them all! Publishers are all a bunch of idiots!”

Still, it may be harder to walk away from writing than you think.

When you write, what sort of expectations of success are you Continue reading

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Writer’s Block and the Fear of Humiliation

A common writing inhibitor is the expectation that your writing will somehow put you at risk for being publicly humiliated. That if you put sentences on paper and make them available to be read, someone will read your words and think that the person who wrote them is an idiot, and then tell that to you or maybe to everyone who goes on the internet. And the thing is….they might.

Why do we have to have an ego – this squirrely inner amalgam of thoughts, perceptions, memories, images, body parts, and who knows what else, that we refer to as “me.” Is that mess really who I am? I sure don’t know, and it consoles me that generations of philosophers far wiser than I have been a bit stumped on the question as well.

What I do know is that the inner gymnastics that writers go through trying to protect their sense of “me” can be potent writing block generators.

The question is, can you get to a place where your worries about humiliation, rejection, being ignored, or being slighted, recede into the background a teensy bit, so you can get on with the writing?

If you are a writer who puts your work out for someone else to read, you’re exhibiting courage, and strengthening your sense of self at the same time. It takes effort and guts, because both your inner world and your outer world may not be wholly supportive of your literary aspirations, and you have to find a way to persevere nonetheless.

You can remember to respect yourself for all of your abilities, and for facing the challenges inherent in the writing life. You can keep in mind that the seemingly unbearable, excruciating experiences of rejection and public humiliation won’t kill you, even if they do come true. You’ll feel like crap for a period of time, but if you don’t throw in the towel, in a while you’ll feel good enough to start that next story.

Maybe, after a long while, the real or imagined rejections will gradually seem less and less like devastating messages about “you,” and more and more like opportunities for learning how to improve your writing. If that seems like a stretch, try to imagine just getting to a place where the fear of humiliation diminishes just enough to not prevent you from writing.

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Time Management Tips for Blocked Writers

___  Create a routine time for writing (daily is best).

___  Schedule an optimal daily amount. Short, regular sessions of less than an hour are recommended following a non-productive period.

___  Protect your writing time with ferocity.

___  Be realistic in planning projects and setting expectations. Start with small, realizable goals.

___  Maintain a balance between writing and other responsibilities and activities in your life.

___  Maintain a consistent daily output when working with long-term deadlines.

___  Keep in mind that binge writing at deadline maintains patterns of blocking.

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Keep a Toe in the Water

It is natural to want to take a break when you have completed a project, especially one that has been challenging and lengthy. This gap time between projects is, however, a high-risk juncture for initiating an extended period of work avoidance. If you take a break of a few days, have a plan in place about when you will begin writing again. It should be more specific than “I’ll get going in a while, when I feel rested and inspired again.” Pick a date and time in the near future that you will set aside to return to your writing schedule, even if it is only for a few minutes a day.

Keep at least one toe in the water.

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The Puppy Principles: # 6 – 10. And the Barking Cure.

Imagine, again (see yesterday’s post), that the part of you that wants to write is an adorable, excited, energetic little puppy. A puppy that is totally dependent upon you to keep him happy, well fed, and healthy. Here are some more guidelines for caring for your writing puppy.

6. Housebreaking your puppy will be a gradual process: do not give the puppy a biscuit when he pees on the rug.

7. If you ignore your puppy all day, he might keep you awake at night or chew up your slippers.

8. Protect your puppy from harm.

9. Remember that your puppy likes to play with other puppies.

10. Play with your puppy, enjoy your puppy, love your puppy.

Appendix:

Wanda Sue Parrot, a writer friend, told me that her remedy for writing blocks is to bark loudly. Evidently this allows access to lively parts of the brain that our civilized psyches can’t easily access. Worth a try.

Woof.

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The Puppy Principles: # 1 – 5

Imagine that the part of you that wants to write is an adorable, excited, energetic little puppy. A puppy that is totally dependent upon you to keep him happy, well fed, and healthy. Here are some guidelines for caring for your writing puppy.

1. Love, honor, and respect your puppy.

2. Feed and walk your puppy every day.

3. Sometimes, let your puppy off the leash to run free.

4. Train your puppy to come when you call by using rewards and kind words, not             intimidation.

5. Be firm and consistent with training, but don’t break your puppy’s spirit.

(to be continued)

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Barton Fink Blocks in Hollywood

In the Coen brothers movie Barton Finkthe main character (John Turturro) experiences some success as a socially relevant, intellectual playwright in NYC, who prides himself with addressing the plight of the common man in his art. When he is offered quite a bit of money to write for a studio in Hollywood, he accepts, not knowing what a nightmare is getting into.

You wouldn’t think that an opportunity to make good money as a writer could turn out too badly, but it does. Not only does Barton abandon his passion for uplifting the common man through his writing, he’s also completely unable to write the Wallace Beery wrestling picture assigned to him. Totally blocked, he’s a fish out of water, gasping in tinsel town. Continue reading

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