Help … I’m trapped in a tunnel!

I’ve been unusually overwhelmed lately. It’s summer, so that means time spent trying to keep some semblance of order in the gardens; more time spent with local family; and considerable time spent preparing for visits to and from distant family. I fear I’m heading toward a time bankruptcy. Worse yet, I’ve discovered I have creative tunnel vision.

To preserve any writing time at all, I’ve cut down on distractions—which means even less Twittering and blog commenting than before I started the Creativity Workshop. But my writing productivity has gone down, down, down. I no longer have enthusiasm for writing any of the short stories I had set as workshop goals. I get set up to start, then sit there blank-minded. No. Not exactly true, I sit there thinking about working on my next novel. I end up not writing anything at all.

To ignore this, I grab one of the books I’m trying to finish reading before the world ends. You can’t write, if you don’t read. Right? I am not suffering from writer’s block. I know I could write like crazy, if I gave myself permission to work on the novel. But that’s not what I’m supposed to be doing. I signed up for a workshop. I challenged myself to work on a schedule. To set goals and accomplish them. The idea was to increase my creativity. Hmmm …

I admit I’m weak on self-discipline. I thought the workshop would help with that problem. Instead, I’m now questioning whether I have what it takes to be a writer at all. Can I be successful writing only what I want to? Is the real problem that I’m just not creative enough to be a writer? Do I balk at writing something I don’t want to because I’m not clever enough to do that? Or did I just sign up for a workshop at the worst time for me?

I feel like my writer’s mind has splintered into shards. As a mother, I learned long ago to be a multi-tasker, but I think I’m the complete opposite as a writer. In theory, devoting one hour a day to the workshop should have left me plenty of time to work on a new novel. In reality, one hour actually typing might be all it takes, but I need a lot more time than that to conceive and gestate before I birth a story. It might sound ridiculous that writing one short story a week makes it impossible for me to work on the novel the rest of my writing time—and yet, it has.

I’ve been able to balance blogging and writing for almost two years, but then blogging is non-fiction writing. Before the workshop started, I was trying to write short stories, while polishing my last novel and even that didn’t work well. But now that I have a new novel begging for attention, my problem has become obvious—I can’t juggle two new creative works at the same time.

I suppose my primary motive for signing up for the workshop was that I would end up with at least solid first drafts of some short stories. But now I’m questioning:  Do I really need to write short stories? Can you get an agent’s interest without previous short story publishing credits? Or should I focus my creativity on novel writing?

Have I made a decision? *sigh* Does a bottle of wine and a long nap count?

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34 thoughts on “Help … I’m trapped in a tunnel!

  1. Hi Linda, I can relate. I, too, doesnt have self discipline when it comes to time… i tend to be distracted easily. sometimes i get so unproductive. any way, good luck to your writing 🙂 god bless 🙂

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  2. Me, too! Relate, I mean. My solution has been to take breaks, but then I get down on myself for not writing and jealous of those who do…is there a magic pill somewhere? Or does the bottle of wine and long nap suffice?

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    1. I’m going to have a forced break now, Pamela, because one of my sons arrives home in a few days. I supposed I will putter around writing and let the problem settle. Wine and sleep will no doubt play a big part. 🙂

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  3. I don’t think this is something to feel bad about. Like the others, I relate. Mainly, the part I relate to is the lack of desire for my short stories. My novel edits have gone extremely well lately, and I’m on a roll with that, so most of my writing time is devoted in that direction. When I have the choice between edits and my short stories, edits win for logic and emotional reasons. When I look at my short story goals, I think, “Those will be SO MUCH FUN,” and “I have a COMMITMENT!” but then, I put them off. Then, the end of the week rolls around, and I’m like, “I really should at least try.”

    I tell you this because the trying, despite utter lack of motivation at times, has ended up being really rewarding. The week I had the least desire to work on it, and a veritable desert where I wished for lush ideas, turned out to be the week I came up with ideas for a trilogy.

    My goals for creating have overtaken the goals for consistency. I’ve only worked on the workshop on the weekends these last few weeks, but the results have still been positive. Novel edits dominate the week, but I find that my increased productivity in that area gets me in a more motivated mindset to set aside an hour or two to just try with the shorts. Even if nothing comes at first, I try to make myself play with ideas for thirty minutes or an hour, and usually, the connections that pop up surprise me.

    All that to say: maybe take some pressure off of yourself. Not an excuse to drop it, just a valid reason to shift your goals around. Let yourself have the freedom to work on your novel during the week, then spend an hour or two on Saturday trying to get an idea down for the short story. 🙂

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    1. Kayla, I just read your latest post, and I’m more undecided than ever. I started the new novel BEFORE I signed up for the workshop, so that’s my first commitment, and the sparkly new thing was setting workshop goals. Other than a couple flash pieces written in one sitting and a few poems, I didn’t try writing anything new while I wrote my last novel, so I didn’t know how hard it was for me to switch gears.

      If creativity is the goal of the workshop, then inspiration is the means to the end, and I am inspired, just not inspired to write short stories. I have sketched the idea for each of the four connected stories I had set as goals, and I will come back to those when the time is right. Am I cheating, somehow failing, if I make one novel chapter per week the rest of my workshop goals?

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  4. I think the combination of a glass of wine and a nap is the best plan I’ve heard all day.

    We put way too much thought into the what ifs and who wants. Let’s make a commitment to write what we want and make choices that will ultimately fulfill us in a way that nothing else can! To heck with what everyone thinks we should do.

    I write because I’ve been called to write. I will always write. Maybe I won’t get a publishing contract, because I’ve face that my skill level is far below what is required. But that doesn’t make my need to do what makes me happy any less valuable on a personal level. I see my manuscripts being handed down. Maybe my children or grandchildren will have the skill to do something with them in the future. I think of my writing as friendship bread for my family. I’ll start the mix. 😉 This is something I know and understand. So I design my future goals based on this self-knowledge.

    The workshop helped me to work through these issues and redefine my goals. You should ask Merrilee about redefining yours for the remainder of the workshop. If it doesn’t feel right. It probably isn’t.

    Hang in there! I care. I can’t wait for the day when I purchase your debut novel and tell my family that I know the person that wrote THIS BOOK and how awesome she is and how I knew she would make it one day.

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    1. Actually, Trista, it ended up being two glasses of wine and a good night’s sleep … and it was heavenly. 🙂

      You know, for a while I felt that I should go back to school and get an MFA, so I could be taken seriously as a writer, but then I reasoned, at my age, I don’t have the time. I need to write every minute I can, I need to pour everything I can into it, but I can’t do that, if I’m trying to write what I’m not inspired to write. If I wanted to have a career as a freelance non-fiction writer, then I would need to develop the skills to write on topic, on deadline, inspired or not, but that’s not the career I want. I want to be a novelist … heck I am a novelist … and someday I hope to be a published one.

      I’d like to hear more how the workshop has helped you work through your issues and redefine your goals (or did you write that in a blog post I haven’t read yet?)

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      1. I lightly touched on it in one of my Sunday posts. After the past two days, I think it is a subject deserving further exploration. But, the burden of these thoughts weighs too heavy on me today. I promise to make it the subject of my Sunday post this week, which will probably be the only post I’ll write for the next several days and save you the task of reading old blogs.

        Fortunately, I’m on my second margarita and I’m beginning to relax. I couldn’t put a thought together with paint by numbers at this moment. So before I send out an email that I’ll later regret I’ll be signing off for the evening. 🙂

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  5. I think that one of the hard things to do for many writers is to gain the skills to split focus between long and short works – most writers I know only write shorts when they are not novel writing, they don’t seem to be able to mix it up. Personally, I’ve never really tried (other than knocking out the occasional short story here and there just for the hell of it while in the middle of a novel). So you’re definitely not alone in this struggle!

    Whether you need to write short stories is a question only you can answer. Lots of people will say that having short story publishing credits will help – but then there have been lots of people debating that recently and saying that no, you don’t need them at all. In my mind, they can’t hurt, so that makes them worthwhile. That and the learning value they have (and that I find them plain fun, and haven’t been able to commit to a novel due to my impending arrival, it’s been a great way to fill some time in).

    We’re all individuals, and all of our paths will be different – you need to figure out what your ultimate goals are and whether you think short stories fit into that. I would say that if you are not passionate about the ideas that you are trying to write, regardless of the form you’re trying to write them in, then your time is better off spent elsewhere (like your novel). I’d also be inclined to say that getting any writing done is better than getting none at all – so if the words are going to flow for you on the novel, then get writing!

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    1. I wish I found short story writing more fun. I tend to spend most of the time wondering if my story idea is strong enough to write it as a novel instead. 🙂

      I do believe you’re right that “getting any writing done is better than getting none at all” Cassie.

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  6. Linda, all I could think while reading this post was, “Snap out of it!”
    And I don’t mean just “snap out of” not writing the short stories.
    I mean, snap out of from what seems to me a weird mindset of what you are “supposed” to be writing.

    If you want to write a new novel: Good gosh, write it!
    Why are you letting/making anything else get in the way of that?!

    So few people have
    1. A good idea for a novel
    2. Motivation to write a novel
    3. The ability to actually finish a by-god-full-length novel

    You are one of those very few people.

    Of those few who have 1-3, fewer still are naturally good writers with clear, pleasing-to-read wordplay.

    You got that going for you too.

    So: Why in the world are you not just doing that, and instead forcing yourself [or failing to] do something else?

    I don’t get it, I guess. What is the problem? Who convinced you that you had to write something besides what you what to be a ‘good writer’?

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    1. Thank you, Paul, I needed that. I guess I’m lucky you didn’t come down off your mountain* and physically slap me! 🙂

      Haven’t you known me long enough to figure out that I’m always wrestling with “shoulds”? Trying to please everyone is part of my nature. But you’re right, I write novels, therefore …

      *For those who don’t know Paul, he really does live in the mountains.

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  7. You certainly don’t need to write short stories to be published. And the purpose of the workshop is NOT to write 12 short stories! The stories are only the vehicle for exploring your creativity. You have become stuck on the mechanism instead of the result. The purpose is to explore new techniques and ideas by using a short, easily completed medium. That’s all.

    If your current short story goals aren’t interesting you, ask yourself why? What do you want? And yes, there is a certain amount of discipline involved. It sounds like you have lost sight of the goal of exploration, and are getting stuck on producing something of “value”, as in, something publishable. I hear you on that – happens to me all the time. But like any artist, you need to explore and play to grow. Painters go out and sketch, do thumbnails and studies to try out new things before embarking on a complete painting.

    These little stories are your sketches, your studies. They do not have to be complete works. This is where you try things on for size.

    Sit down for an hour, and just play with those ideas. Stop thinking you have to make a certain wordcount or produce a complete story. Just play. You never know what you will find.

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    1. Thanks, Merrilee, I suspect I misunderstood the purpose of the workshop from the beginning. And yes, I’m “stuck on producing something of value.”

      I did “explore” during my first goal, the four poems, but stories are harder for me to play with. But because I like the theme I chose for the stories, and do want to write them, I think I’ll try something like the phrase outlining you told us about … or maybe really let go and just free write to see what comes of that.

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  8. I too, started with the idea of writing some short stories that I’d try to get published before I submitted my novel to agents, but I wasn’t inspired to edit the few short stories I did write because I was more interested in my novel, and so, that is what I went for. So go back to your novel and work on that instead. Best of lucky with it!

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    1. Alannah, I’ve decided I am going to work on the novel because it would be stupid not to. I’d just like to finish the workshop too, so I’m going to try revising my original expectations for the workshop goals. If I can do both, great, if not, the novel takes precedence.

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      1. Good idea Linda, and yes, the novel should take precedence. Best of luck with it. I’m spending the rest of my day editing mine 🙂

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  9. I think we all find publication in our own way. What works for one won’t necessarily work for someone else.

    And yes, the world can use more wine. Wine is always appropriate in any situation. 🙂
    (Just thought I’d through that in there.)

    Today I found a novel I started during the winter and got bored with it. This time when I read it I connected immediately with the character so I dropped the story I was working on and started back at the original one. Sheesh! I sometimes think I’m hopeless. Sounds as though you can relate.

    I’m using age as my excuse. 🙂

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    1. I agree about the wine, Laura 😀

      That’s great that you could get right back into the novel you started. I keep everything I started hoping exactly that will happen to me when the time is right.

      I won’t feel hopeless, if you won’t. 🙂

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  10. I have to agree with Paul … for once. Just kidding about the “once”. Hi, Paul.

    Go where you feel driven to go. Unfortunately, I’m driven to write (long or short) but can’t right now. I haven’t written in three weeks. But I am “embracing” the break.

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  11. Point blank–if you’re not feeling the short stories then you are wasting your time and energy. Write what you enjoy because if you don’t enjoy it, your readers will know. Writing isn’t just words, it’s heart, and if your heart isn’t in it…
    Linda, I feel like you plucked these words right from my brain.
    “I’m now questioning whether I have what it takes to be a writer at all. Can I be successful writing only what I want to? Is the real problem that I’m just not creative enough to be a writer? Do I balk at writing something I don’t want to because I’m not clever enough to do that?”
    I’m have to tell you, it makes me feel 100% better knowing someone as awesome as you is feeling the same way. 🙂 Although, I am sorry you feel like this.
    Creativity cannot be scheduled nor assigned. If you’re not feeling it and it’s not working for you, then move on.

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    1. You know, Dayner, sometimes I think I’m just plain crazy. It’s like you, and others who said the same, threw cold water in my face and yelled, “Wake up!” At this point, at least, I am the boss of me. I can write, or not write, whatever I want. *smack to the forehead*

      Can I just pretend I make up this stuff to make you guys feel “100% better”? 😀

      Seriously though, I’ve been pondering the essence of the muse lately … the source of our creativity … and I’m going to blog about that soon. She’s not who I thought she was.

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      1. Uh — and what’s WRONG with just plain crazy? 😉

        I think the value of the creativity workshop is just getting us to think slightly differently, and it seems that it’s working for you. Six months from now when you’re working on a novel, some thought strand from your poetry venture or short story attempts may come to the surface and pull you in a direction you hadn’t thought possible. And that’s where the value lies, IMHO.

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  12. Hi Linda,
    I can totally relate to what you’re saying… When I was attending my creative writing workshop which lasted for two and a half years, all I ever wrote was short stories for the course… I always had this novel idea in my head but I never got around to actually sitting down and writing it for writing that many short stories with the novel was too much creativity, my mind couldn’t handle. But once the course ended, I stopped writing stories for a while and sat down to write my novel.
    I found out that I can blog while writing but like you said, that’s non-fiction. But I can’t write short stories and a novel all at the same time… The good thing is the stuff I learned in that workshop was huge help when I wrote my novel.
    Don’t be frustrated with yourself, you are a writer and a great one at that and those goals you set out for yourself are ‘your goals’, you can always set out new ones… 🙂

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    1. Thanks for sharing your experience, Lua. I’d never been involved in a workshop before, so I didn’t know how hard it would be for me to balance. Now, I know. My participation is not going to result in my original goals, but I’ll salvage what I can. If nothing else, I’ve discovered some new writers and their blogs.

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  13. I think a writer should write what he/she is inspired to write! That’s the gift. I took a photojournalism class last semester, and learned there that “the picture won’t wait.” Be prepared, and then patient, but don’t pass the moment up. It won’t come again.

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    1. Thank you for adding this, Mary Jean. I agree. I think you should grab hold and go with the inspiration, too. I’ve tried just jotting down notes to come back to later and it has NEVER resulted in anything worth writing. I’m haunted by all the words that might have been.

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  14. Hi, Linda, I’m catching up on reading this week’s creativity workshop posts, and I just have to add: relax. You sound like me sometimes, so I can say with authority that you are being too hard on yourself, with rigid rules of what you “should” be doing, and then running around like a frantic, starving rat in a maze with all that mental analysis. As my therapist used to say to me, “Stop shoulding all over yourself.” Why not just write whatever comes out of the pen and enjoy the ride? How cool is it that we get to write at all, that we have ideas and skill, that imaginary people want to play out their fascinating stories right there on the tips of our pens?

    Oh, and while you’re at it, give yourself a pat on the back for a great blog post. I was riveted to the mental gymnastics and anguish you describe, right to the very last sentence. So even when you feel stuck, you’re writing beautifully, Linda. Maybe without noticing, which is why I mention it. 😉

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