Tag Archive | Writers’ Blocks

Emily Hanlon’s Ten New Year’s Resolutions for the Fiction Writer

emily-hanlon-emily-at-pendlehill

Emily Hanlon

Emily Hanlon posted these New Year’s resolutions for fiction writers, and she’s given me permission to reprint them here. I first encountered Emily through the International Women’s Writing Guild years ago, when they were holding their annual summer conferences at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York. I gained a lot from her five-day workshop, and I’m delighted to be back in touch with her. She gives workshops both live and online as well as mentoring individual fiction writers.

Reading Emily’s bio, I just learned that like me, she’s a graduate of Barnard.

Ten New Year’s Resolutions for Fiction Writers!

Forged in Fire: Creativity and the Writer’s Journey!

  1. When I begin a new piece, I write without thinking or planning.
  2. I welcome the unexpected in my writing.
  3. My best writing comes from my heart and the fire in my belly.
  4. I become my characters, they do not become me. I go where my characters take me.
  5. I love my first draft writing for its chaos, fertility, and uncovered gems.
  6. I do not think about being published until the piece is finished.
  7. I set up a writing schedule that supports, not defeats, my writing. I will not use failure to keep to my schedule as a reason to give up.
  8. I write the story that is gestating within me—even if it scares me or makes me think I am losing my mind.
  9. Writing is a craft. Craft supports writing, it does not define it.
  10. I am a fierce warrior for my writing and creativity!

Excellent advice for all writers, fiction or nonfiction. It’s especially applicable to “pantsers,” who write by the seat of their pants without outlines or preconceived ideas. Planners who like to know where they’re going before they embark on their creative journeys may find some of the ideas intimidating, even downright scary, but you can take what you need and leave the rest.

car-night-road

Personally, I’m a pantser. My novels are character-driven, and the plots evolve chapter by chapter. I like E.L. Doctorow’s quote: “Writing is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” But I’m not gutsy enough to carry that method to the extreme. I prefer having at least a rudimentary map, though not a GPS; I don’t like taking directions from anyone else.

Of the ten resolutions above, I have the most trouble with #6: I do not think about being published until the piece is finished. For me, it’s impossible not to think about publishing; it’s the omnipresent elephant in the room. But when the writing is going well and I’m in a state of flow, I forget about publishing. It’s only in the before and after times, or when my inner critic kicks in, that publishing becomes an issue.

My favorite may be #7: I set up a writing schedule that supports, not defeats, my writing. I will not use failure to keep to my schedule as a reason to give up. Schedules are a major nemesis for me, one I’ll discuss in a future post. Even in retirement, with few fixed obligations, I have trouble maintaining a regular writing schedule, and that danged inner critic makes me miserable when I let distractions lure me away from my desk.

edvard-munch-aften-pa-karl-johan

Edvard Munch

Much of Emily’s coaching focuses on getting in touch with our shadow sides. Lately she’s been giving hour-long online workshops where students from throughout the country and abroad can participate free of charge. You can learn more about Emily Hanlon, her coaching and workshops, by visiting her website: www.thefictionwritersjourney.com.

What do you think of these ten resolutions? Which ones inspire you, and which ones scare you? I’d love to hear from you, so please leave comments. And subscribe to my blog by leaving your email address in the column to the right. Creatively speaking, I feel 2017 will be a great year, and I hope you’ll come along for the ride.

Fear and habit: my biggest writing bugaboos

Monday, March 21

Block Busting: Blasting through the Barriers to Creativity.

That’s the catchy title I came up with for a workshop I’ll be delivering at least twice in the coming months: once for the Hudson Valley Writers Guild in June, and once for the Capital Region chapter of the Romance Writers of America in November. By the time the June workshop rolls around, I hope to have figured out a bunch of ways to walk the talk, because I’ve got plenty of blocks of my own to overcome.

Crocuses Ruby Giant purple

Today feels like an auspicious day to begin: it’s the first full day of spring, and at long last Michael Easton is back on General Hospital. My crocuses are in full bloom, and bit by bit, the minutes of daylight are triumphing over those of darkness. From this day forward, I plan to track the patterns of my creativity—the actions that work and the road blocks that hold me back—and to share them with my readers. I hope you’ll share yours with me as well.

What is it that keeps me from writing? In two words, fear and habit. Fear that I’m not good enough, that I’ll run out of ideas, that people won’t read my work. Once I begin writing, those fears almost always dissipate, and I actually start enjoying myself, but it’s that nasty devil of procrastination that too often derails me before I begin. I’ve got lots of avoidance mechanisms, and here’s where habit comes in. Once I sit down at the computer, my first impulse is to play a game of FreeCell, and I too often succumb to temptation. Next I check my email, then go to Facebook. I catch up on my online friends and colleagues, then check a couple of news sites to see what new disasters have befallen the planet. Before I know it, I’ve frittered away a couple of hours, and lo and behold, it’s time for lunch.

Lunesta computer April 2014

That’s assuming I even get to my computer before lunch—and that’s a big if. I often watch TV and read until one or two in the morning, then sleep till nine or ten. I walk my dog Sirius; then it’s back to bed for breakfast and the morning newspaper. Then my Nia class at the Y three mornings a week, a philosophy group at church on another morning, my daily dose of General Hospital from two to three. Then it’s upstairs to my office and the computer, whereupon I engage in those dilly dallying habits I detailed above.

With luck, I may start writing at four, and all too soon it’s time for dinner, complete with a glass or two of wine. Evenings bring a variety of diversions—choir practice at FUUSA, assorted meetings and open mics, ushering at The Egg or the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall. When I stay in, television usually proves my undoing. I’m partial to The Voice, among other shows, and if all else fails, there’s always Netflix.

The-Voice-Season-8 promo

If you’ve waded through the above paragraphs, I congratulate you. They’re so pedestrian, so humdrum, that I’m almost too embarrassed to post them, but if I plan to help other writers overcome their blocks, the first step is being honest about my own. In the weeks and months ahead, I’ll see if going public helps me overcome them. I’ll post a weekly progress report incorporating some of the helpful hints I come up with.

And now it’s 6:00pm, time to pour myself a glass of Pinot Grigio and slap together a speedy dinner of smoked salmon and cream cheese on gluten free bread, then catch the evening news with David Muir, who’s quite the hottie. Tonight I believe he’s hanging out with President Obama in Cuba. Then my husband and I are off to a lecture about overcoming bad habits. Catch you later . . .

Obama & David Muir Cuba 3-21-16

David Muir interviews Barack Obama in Cuba, March 21, 2016

March 22, 1:00pm.

Last’s night’s lecture was fascinating. Charles Duhigg, author of the best-selling The Power of Habit,has lots of thought-provoking ideas I’ll blog about soon. Back home, true to form, I indulged in most of the habits I described above, with minor variations. After staying up till almost 2:00am reading Duhigg’s book, I was too sleepy to get up in time to make it with my husband to the philosophy group. But on my walk with Sirius, I saw the swan that’s been hanging out on Snyder’s Lake, and we spied a couple of loons in the distance. Since my long-distance vision isn’t so great, that necessitated hanging out for a few minutes to watch them dive, then resurface many yards away, to make sure they really were loons and not our resident ducks.

Then it was back to bed with breakfast and the Times Union. I logged onto my computer at noon. I managed to resist FreeCell and Facebook, but I checked the news and came upon the horrific news of today’s terrorist bombings in Brussels.  I then happened upon a link to an article about David Bowie’s former mansion on Mustique, which you can now rent for a paltry $40,000 a week. At 1:00, I got back to this blog post, which I may be able to publish before General Hospital comes on at two. Word has it that Michael Easton will have more screen time today.

David Bowie Mustique retreat

David Bowie’s mansion on Mustique Island

And so it goes. I may be frittering away my life, but sitting here with the sun streaming through my office window, with my dog and cat nearby soaking up the rays, I feel inordinately happy. And is that such a bad thing? Should I be wallowing in guilt? That’s a topic for another time, but in the meantime, I’d love to hear your comments. Is sloth truly a sin?

Lunesta & Sirius office window 3-26-15

Lunesta and Sirius in late March a year ago, when there was snow on the ground!