Breaking Through: The Other Side of Writer’s Block

As an author returns for the first time to the manuscript he started two years ago, he is astounded by how well he wrote the story, and can finally appreciate his writing gift in a whole new way.

It’s an interesting experience to go back and read words you wrote almost two years ago and haven’t looked at since. I had begun writing Freedom’s Just Another Word during the Christmas holidays in 2005. Now it was the 2007 holiday season. My friend Karen was a former paralegal who could type really fast and could read my chicken scratch handwriting. She also had a Master’s degree in English and had worked at a publishing company. She had been typing up my longhand notes for the book and I was finally ready to take a look at the completed first rough draft. Karen gave me some brief feedback when she returned the file. She said the story structure was solid all the way to the end – one of my big worries – and would need a relatively minimal amount of cleanup. I was thrilled to hear that the first rough draft was so clean.

Globe in hand

I thought I had written in a consistent voice throughout the book, but it was good to get confirmation. Karen said it was a wonderful and powerful story. She later told me she didn’t want to freak me out by telling me what an amazing book it was – because I tended to get skittish when hearing things like that. We both knew it was because of the damaging messages from my grandmother, but I appreciated Karen’s instincts in not telling me too much right then.

I had been working that fall on a short-term contract job in the oil industry, and when it looked like the job was going to run over schedule, I was completely depleted, and had to quit prematurely. I later realized that the job brought a lot of my PTSD (post traumatic stress) issues – some of them triggered by having the damage my grandmother had inflicted so close to the surface. Let’s just say it was a highly dysfunctional work environment – completely unrealistic deadlines accepted as attainable; intense time pressures; and a spectacularly mismanaged project. I was really wrung out, but as I rested, I had time to read the manuscript in leisurely fashion.

I sat down for the first time and read the manuscript all the way through. My theory had been that by having Karen type my notes, and not looking at the text for a long time, things that needed editing would jump out at me more quickly. They did. I could very easily see places that needed smoothing. In a number of instances it was my tendency to leave a thought incomplete — I knew what I meant but I forgot to flesh that out for the reader. I wasn’t looking to edit while reading – I wanted to see how the overall story would affect me. I just took notice of rough spots and moved on. The things I needed to change were readily apparent, easy to clean up during the editing process.

By reading as if I were experiencing the writing of someone else, I got a much better feel for it and, as I read, I was shocked. Is that too strong a word? No, not really. Because I did have that strong a response. The way I had combined elements in describing what had happened to me was nothing short of powerful and brilliant. I would take something happening in real time, then connect it to an event in the past in a way that made the current event all the more palpable and real. As well, combining the present with past events gave a depth perception to the origin of the problems I’d had, and illuminated my healing process.

It was a brilliant piece of writing, and I could only shake my head and say, “It’s a God thing!” I had felt very inspired in the writing of this book, and I was now seeing the results of that in tangible form. I reflected back to my writing process – how I would, as I called it, “load the computer” – reading my notes and journal entries for the chapter I was about to write. Then I would make a few notes about how the elements of that chapter would link together. I would then return to my daily life, working, running, and not really think about the writing. As I heard C. S. Forester describe his writing process (loosely paraphrased) – elements of the story would submerge below the conscious surface, and (apropos since he wrote nautical novels) gather like barnacles on the keel of a ship. After a time those elements would rise to the surface and cling together in a cohesive manner to provide him with the text of the next piece he needed to write.

That was my experience as well. After about a week of the elements percolating below the surface, I would sit down to write. Many times it would happen on a Sunday afternoon, after I had unwound from the work week. I would sit with a legal pad, and as I wrote, it felt like the chapter just wrote itself. I merely recorded. That happened numerous times as I composed the manuscript. During that time I had relocated from New Mexico to Texas, and made several job changes. In spite of all of that, I maintained a consistent writing voice from chapter to chapter. It was quite astonishing how that had all come about.

Now I saw how my writing all flowed together in the memoir, and I was astounded. Would I have been able to feel the impact of the book in the same way if I had typed up the first draft myself? I’m not sure, but I think not. Would I have seen the editing changes as clearly? Again, I doubt it.

It was clear that I was in a different emotional space from my previous writing experiences. Before, I had tried to write without any knowledge of the deep wounds that my grandmother had inflicted on me. I was blocked from seeing how well I could write, from owning that talent, from appreciating it. Now I had remembered the incidents where she had said damaging things to me. I had released a lot of the feelings from those old events. I was left with a freedom to accept my writing gift more comfortably, and not push it away. I remembered how I had resisted when my friend Joan had said, “Dan, you have a gift,” and how I had resisted efforts from so many people to help me let that talent loose! It made perfect sense why I had resisted so much.

I felt a new appreciation for my writing talent. Reading the manuscript of the memoir I had written only confirmed the need to pursue my writing. I had to break this writer’s block – or publishing block – completely, and share my writing with those who would be interested and who might benefit. I sat with that thought for a while.

 

Photo Credit

“I Have The World” nexusamor @flickr.com Creative Commons. Some Rights Reserved.

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