sharing a poetic LIFELINE with the world

Posts tagged ‘Writer’s block’

Get the Lead Out

When I was in eighth grade, the school held a writing contest for students to go to a local Young Writer’s Conference. The topic we had to write a story on was Get the Lead Out. I didn’t have any preconceptions of the phrase, so interpreted it how I wanted. Since writing my story, I’ve used the phrase to remind myself to just write. Here’s my story:

Get the Lead Out

My favorite teacher in Jr. High must have been Mr. Horace D. Wallington, my English teacher.  His favorite—and most often used—expression was “get the lead out”.  At first it was only another way to say get out your pencil and start writing.  At least that’s what it meant to me.  Now I can see that it means more than that.  Much, much, more . . .

“Mr. Wallington . . . Mr. Wallington!”

“Huh?” Mr. Wallington glanced up from the papers he was correcting and noticed Sarah standing beside his desk. “Is there anything I can help you with Sarah?”

“I’m having some trouble with that essay you asked us to write this morning.”

“You mean the one you’re supposed to write about your feelings on World War II.”

“Yea. That’s the one.”

“I’m surprised you even asked me about it. You’re usually so quiet in class that I never know whether you have any questions that need answering.”

“Well . . .”

“Why don’t you come in after school tomorrow and I’ll try to help you with it then.”

“Thanks a lot, Mr. Wallington.”

Sarah turned and headed towards the door.  As she was about to leave, Mr. Wallington called out “Write down everything you know about World War II and bring the paper in with you tomorrow.”

“Okay . . . Anything else?”

“No. That’s all.”

The next day Sarah was right on time.  As she went in, she saw that Mr. Wallington was alone in the classroom.  When he noticed that she had come in, he pulled one of the desks closer to his own.

He asked her to sit down and then sat down himself, perching on the edge of his desk. “Did you write the paper like I asked you to?”

“Yes, I have it right here.” Sarah handed him a small pile of papers.  He flipped through the papers then handed them back to her.

“I see that you have been listening in class.  What I don’t understand is if you know so much about World War II, then why are you having so much trouble writing your paper?”

“Well, I’m not exactly sure how to write it all out.”

“But you wrote it all down right here.”

“I know. It’s just that . . .”

“I think what you’re trying to say is that you’re not quite sure what your feelings are on the subject.”

“I guess you could put it that way.”

“Well, in this situation, my main advice is to just ‘get the lead out,’ as I would always say.”

“But what exactly do you mean when you say that?” Sarah asked earnestly.  “I always thought that it was a figure of speech to say get out your pencil and start working.”

“I suppose in a way it does mean that.  Yet it means more.  You know that lead compound could kill you. Don’t you?”

“Yes.”

“And if you get some in your system, then it’s best to get it out right away, correct?”

“Of course.  That’s the sensible thing to do.”

“Well, the lead is all that information stored up in you. It’s in there, somewhere, and you know you have to get it out.”

“So how am I to go about doing that?”

“ ‘Get the lead out.’ Get that pencil in your hands and just start writing. Let it go. Let it flow out of your system. Don’t force it; just let your hand do the talking. It will all come out, I promise.”

“It’s that easy?” the need for reassurance in her eyes.

Mr. Wallington smiled. “Why don’t you go home and find out for yourself.” He escorted her to the door and held it open for her. She started to walk down the hall, hesitated, and looked back.

“Thank you, Mr. Wallington. I’ll try my best to do as you said.”

“I expect to see that essay on my desk first thing in the morning.”

And it was. He was right. Once I just got down to it and let it all out, it was easy. Not only did I get an “A” on that paper, but my teacher entered it into a national contest, and it won. Here I am now, getting credit for it, but the award should go to him.

Thank you, Mr. Wallington, for the wonderful advice. And for explaining to me that simple phrase: “Get the Lead Out.”

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Sometimes We Stumble

It’s been almost a year since I wrote the following in response to a discussion question on Why do I Write? It spiraled further than I was expecting, and it’s something I keep circling back to.

As long as I can remember I’ve wanted to write. From my very first stories in first grade, and the encouraging words of my teacher, and my love of books. Even as my other interests varied, the desire to be an author when I grew up remained constant. Books were my escape (which being an introvert with eight siblings was much needed), and I wanted to create my own worlds, share that wonder with readers. Now writing has become an escape for me, much as reading has been.

Fantasy has always inspired me. Creating fantastical worlds, or bringing the fantastic into our own. In writing I try to capture that magic. And when it works, when I can read something I wrote and get carried away, and think “I actually wrote that!”, is a form of magic in itself. A huge sense of accomplishment. There really isn’t anything in life that affects me the same way.

In high school I finally started being serious about writing. Wrote and submitted poetry, even got a few published. Wrote short stories. Started plotting out my novel. But it wasn’t for another couple years that I really started writing that novel. Each new page, each chapter, excited me. I was finally going after my dream. And I had the wonderful support of one of my sisters who was also writing *her* first book. So we read and praised each others work, challenged each other to deadlines, and actually managed to finish the same month.

Having already experienced the challenges of getting published through my efforts with poetry and short stories, I knew enough to edit my book before sending it out. And while I edited, I researched publishing. Learned I wanted to target an agent before tackling the big publishers. So after a year of editing (with the feedback of a couple beta readers, and many drafts), I used QueryTracker to help me find agents for my genre and charged forward gungho. One year later, fifty queries behind me with only a sparse handful of requests and no serious feedback or bites… I figured something must be seriously wrong with my first novel and didn’t know how to fix it. So I benched it.

I had already started a couple of novels at this point, so the new goal was to finish a second book. That was two [now three] years ago. I’ve been struggling ever since. I love my stories, I’ve heard my writing has improved massively since my first book, and I can spend hours plotting, doing character work, research. But when it comes to the actual writing I tend to freeze up. I’ve tried many techniques, but the writing still comes in inconsistent spurts. So I write less often… and get even more out of the habit. But those story ideas are still pestering. And when I read what I *do* have, I know it needs work but that excitement and love is still there.

Maybe I am afraid. All that frustration trying to publish my first book, all those hours, a total of nine revisions, multiple query rewrites and all those rejections… Why would I want to put so much work into another project only to see it fail too? I read these wonderful books that I can’t put down, and feel I can’t compete, that no matter how much I write I’ll always fall short.

Back to the present: The only light in the tunnel was a few days after posting this, we heard word that Lifelines was to be published. That gave me focus for a while. But now I’m emotionally back to this same space. Any advice for a struggling writer?

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How 750 words Freed Me

Swirling thoughts

Swirling Thoughts Image via Wikipedia

Today I’m going to share with you my favorite tool for dealing with writers block.

You may already be familiar with Morning Pages. This started with Julia Cameron, creator of The Artist’s Way. “Morning Pages are three pages of longhand writing, strictly stream-of-consciousness.” The idea is to, first thing in the morning, get out a notebook and write three pages of whatever is in your head. No overthinking. This clears your head for the rest of the day, opening you to inspiration, happiness, opportunity.

My problems with this system? I don’t function first thing in the morning. And I’ve been burned before by someone finding and reading stream-of-consciousness pages, and I don’t have a convenient place to keep these close and yet secret.

The solution? 750words.com. This takes the same concept online. It’s easier to sit down at your computer than find a pen or pencil and write by hand. (At least for some of us.)

The site is completely private. No one will be reading your words, you can do them at any time in the day, and there are incentives! Streaks and different statistics can earn animal badges. Amazing how motivating it is to get them. There are also monthly challenges to write daily for a special badge and bragging rights. A point system keeps track of how many days you’ve started and completed your 750 words. Sometimes it’s an incentive, especially if I have a streak going that I don’t want to break. But I never get reprimanded if I go too long without visiting.

My first month was brutal. My brain wanted to edit my words, censor, plan. I had a hard time simply opening my consciousness and writing whatever. Now, even if I’ve gone a month without writing anything, it’s so easy to get back into.

Since starting on the site (just over a year now!), my thoughts are clearer, my ideas more frequent, I’m less bogged by negativity. Even my typing speed has gone up with all the speed typing to keep up with my thoughts. I spend less time worrying about issues, which frees my subconscious to other ideas. I wish I was more consistent in using the site, as I know the results are positive.

750 words is: 
My rambling,
brainstorming,
venting,
planning,
documenting,
a bit of creative writing,
pure randomness.

No worries about it being read.
Safe.
Unfiltered.

Some people use the site for their regular creative writing. Some use it as a serious journal. Others following the guidelines of Morning Pages. Whatever purpose you want. This is completely for you alone. No one else. The site is completely free, so no reason not to give it a try.

Next on Mary’s Expression (March19): a poetry prompt.

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