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Friday, May 11, 2012

Finding the Sweet Spot; or How to Rediscover the Joy in Writing

For most fiction writers, creating stories is a passion, something they would do whether or not they had any hope of being published. In fact, when I reflect on my writing life so far, it’s those years before I was published—when I was striving for truth, daydreaming about characters, building story arcs, experimenting with language—that were the most exciting and rewarding for me. And I think it’s because that time truly belonged to me. It was my choice whether to spend an hour of the day writing or seven. My choice to try my hand at contemporary or magical realism, women’s fiction or young adult. It felt like I was in a giant sandbox of imagination playing with dozens of toys. And best of all, no one was watching.
Now that I’m published and contracted, those toys have become tools, and that sandbox has become a workshop, one with glass windows through which any number of people can peer in and pass judgment. And my time no longer belongs to me. Now I’m in the business of creating a product, and people are waiting on the sidelines to judge what I’ve created. Somewhere along the line, I stopped playing because of those eyes on me, because of the voices seeping through the windows telling me that what I was making looked wonky and strange, that it was neither functional nor beautiful.
And then those voices became so loud that I stopped listening to the most important voice of all—my own—the one that was trying to tell its next story.
So how do I find my voice again when all those other voices are shouting at me? How do I find the joy in writing when it feels like a job? How do I get myself back into the sandbox?
A writer friend of mine gave me a great sports analogy that has helped me immensely. She said that when she's playing tennis, occasionally the ball hits her racket so soundly that she can feel the impact of it in her bones. That satisfying feeling travels all through her body, telling her she's made perfect contact, that she's hit the “sweet spot.”
When I told her how I'd been feeling lately, she reminded me that when you’re writing freely and tapping into that reservoir of imagination and possibility, you can find that “sweet spot”in writing too, that place where you know instinctively that you've hit on a truth, made a connection, done something well. If you can somehow immerse yourself in the game and play like no one's watching, then the words will come pouring forth and it will feel like magic. Like joy. 


Kimberley Griffiths Little said...

Great post, Eva Marie. I think this is a tough thing for most writers. Some people call it the "second book syndrome", that scary place when suddenly your writing is public and you have to quiet the voices so you can write the next book. Although I find that every single book is hard in its own way because every book is new and has its own set of unique challenges, and the only way to get through the fear of the blank page is to trust, have faith that the process will come again, and know that when you give it some TLC, you'll get to that sweet spot once more.

Something else that works for me is to give myself permission just to take some time off. It's easy to get burned out trying to promote a new book and write the next one (and maybe revising another manuscript in the editorial production process.) That's currently where I'm at so I feel like my brain is whirling in a hundred different directions. And that is really hard,too!

I never work Sundays. I *have* to take some time for other things like family and reading and - making cookies! :-)

Eve Marie Mont said...

Thanks for commenting, Kimberly! I know the criticism has been the toughest thing for me, but you're right--I think my mind has also been telling me I need a break. Sometimes the good work can't be forced. Unfortunately, this reality doesn't jive very well with deadlines!

I am so excited for When the Butterflies Came. And thanks for your advice about Sundays! Some things have to stay sacred. :)

Heather Anastasiu said...

Beautiful post Eve, you put it so well. This is something I've definately struggled with too this past year. And it was the last thing I expected to happen. I thought getting a book deal meant everything would get easier. Hahahahaha, yeah, or not. I didn't realize that when my passionate hobby became my JOB, connecting to that passion could become very difficult. That said, I try to remind myself how much I've learned the past year and a half, and in spite of all the struggle with my second book, how far my writing has come. I've learned what my strengths are and especially what my weaknesses are, which will definately affect the kind of stories I choose to tackle in the future. I try to create scenes in whatever I'm currently working on that are just for me, just the totally lush overly melodramatic scenes that I love. I look at TV series that have managed to keep up passionate storytelling over multiple seasons and try to dissect how they do it. You don't how many times I asked myself during my rewrite of book 2: what would the writers of Doctor Who do here? Lol, all the little tricks we try! And seriously girl, we've come so far already - we're surviving our debut year and getting drafts of book 2 done!!! We gotta just keep heading forward and trying to silence the doubting and resisting voices as much as we can. Hugs!

-b9 said...

Wanna wiseabove to help a 'Plethora Of Wurdz' [POW!] which are look'n for a new home in your novel?? Yay!

Q: Can anyone tell me the difference between K2 and IQ? A: Nthn. In Seventh-Heaven, we gitt'm both for eternity HawrHawr Need a few more thots, ideers, wild wurdz or ironclad iconoclasms? Voila!!

VERBUM SAT SAPIENTI: As an ex-writer of the sassy, savvy, schizophenia we all go through in this lifelong demise, I just wanna help U.S. git past the whorizontal more!ass! we're in (Latin: words to [the] wise)...

"This finite existence is only a test, son," God Almighty told me in my coma. "Far beyond thy earthly tempest is where you'll find tangible, corpulent eloquence". Lemme tella youse without d'New Joisey accent...

I actually saw Seventh-Heaven when we died: you couldn't GET! any moe curly, party-hardy-endorphins, extravagantly-surplus-lush Upstairs (in [the] end without end -Saint Augustine) when my beautifull, brilliant, bombastic girly passed-away due to those wry, sardonic satires.

"Those who are wise will shine as brightly as the expanse of the Heavens, and those who have instructed many in uprightousness as bright as stars for all eternity" -Daniel 12:3, NJB

Here's also what the prolific, exquisite GODy sed: 'the more you shall honor Me, the more I shall bless you' -the Infant Jesus of Prague.

Go gitt'm, girl. You're incredible. See you Upstairs. I won't be joining'm in the nasty Abyss where Isis prowls
PS Need summore unique, uncivilized, useless names? Lemme gonna gitcha started, brudda:

Oak Woods, Franky Sparks, Athena Noble, Autumn Rose, Faith Bishop, Dolly Martin, Willow Rhodes, Cocoa Major, Roman Stone, Bullwark Burnhart, Magnus Wilde, Kardiak Arrest, Will Wright, Goldy Silvers, Penelope Summers, Sophie Sharp, Violet Snow, Lizzy Roach, BoxxaRoxx, Aunty Dotey, Romero Stark, Zacharia Neptoo, Mercurio Morrissey, Fritz & Felix Franz, Victor Payne, Isabella Silverstein, Mercedes Kennedy, Redding Rust, Phoenix Martini, Ivy Squire, Sauer Wolfe, Yankee Cooky, -blessed b9 ...shake well B4 use!

God blessa youse
-Fr. Sarducci, ol SNL