It’s Not a Writer’s Block

I’m not going to post my March count right now, because it’s too embarrassing.  Maybe this weekend.

I should be working on my fantasy novel, but I’m struggling.  A chapter header is staring at me, and I’m finding it difficult to push forward.  I’m not going to call it “writer’s block” because I have too many friends that say that writer’s block doesn’t exist.  Instead, I’ll deal with my not-writing by composing this blog post.

Writer’s Mana

If a wizard requires a single resource called “mana” in order to power his spells, a writer (specifically me) draws on three resources: time, energy, and courage.

Notice I didn’t mention anything about imagination or story ideas.  I think that if you’re writing, you already have those in abundance.  And if you’re not writing, well, you probably still have those in abundance.  I think anyone can write if they have enough time, energy, and courage.

Lauren Sapala describes time and energy in the same breath, but I want to keep them separate for now.  I want to talk about each resource, and the ways in which I’m struggling with each.


I have a full time job, a family, and other commitments, such as the community band I perform with and the Computer Club I run at my kids’ school.  These all require time.  Mondays in particular are filled to the rafters, but the rest of the days are busy, too.  When I try to budget my time on a calendar, I become very uncomfortable.  There aren’t a lot of places to carve out blocks of writing time.

It’s a solvable problem, though.  I have dedicated Wednesday evenings to writing, and that’s been fantastic.  I’ve stolen lunches at work to write a few hundred words several times.  Occasionally, I get out of the house on a weekend and find some place with fewer distractions, and steal time for my passion.  We all have time, as long as we are willing to trim some of the fat, as Lauren described in the article I linked above.


For me, energy is my capacity to make decisions.  I expend a great deal of energy at work, creating software.  I expend a fair amount teaching Computer Club.  I spend energy in the form of focus, when I play with the band.  Energy is mind fuel, and sometimes my tank runs dry.

That’s what I’m struggling with the most right now.  We just changed offices at work, and I’m wasting so much energy fretting over the longer commute that I don’t have much left in the tank to do my job, or write my story.

As to the question of how to get more energy, I don’t have perfect answers.  I think it helps to do things you enjoy, but not everything I enjoy is free.  For example, I enjoy writing, but it costs me something to do it.  Some games I play also have a mental cost involved.  Getting a good night’s sleep helps with the energy levels.  Different people recharge differently.  For me, it’s about finding some place quiet and participating in some activity in which I don’t have to make a lot of decisions.


In regards to writing, courage is the capacity to overcome fear.  As a writer, I have a ton of fears to contend with.  I’m afraid of starting a chapter.  I’m afraid my writing will be terrible.  I’m afraid that my work will be rejected.  I’m afraid I won’t finish what I’ve started.  I’m afraid that I’m just a parrot of the people I admire, and that someday, someone is going to see through my writing and see…

We all have fears.  Some of us have the same fears, and some of us have some that are unique to our personal experience.

I don’t think writing is about eradicating your fears.  I think it’s about finding the courage to overcome them.  Some fears may go away, but I think others will always be there.  We each have to find it within ourselves to step up to the ledge and take the leap, and know that we’ll be able to fly.

That’s one of the things I’m struggling with tonight.  I have a blank, empty chapter in front of me, and I’m having a difficult time gathering up the courage to take the next leap.

Fortunately, I know some ways to build up courage.  One way is to tackle smaller problems, building up a reserve of confidence, which translates directly into courage.  Having trouble writing a novel?  Write a short story.  Having trouble with the short story?  Write a paragraph.  Or write a sentence.  Set goals that you can achieve, and then do it again, and again.  In my case, I’m struggling with writing a story, so I’m writing a blog post.

Another way to find courage is distraction.  This doesn’t always work for me, but it does work sometimes.  The idea is to get so wrapped up in something else that you forget to be afraid for a few minutes.  Before you know it, you’re into the work, and fear is no longer an option.  Since writing for me is a mental exercise,  the only distractions that have worked for me have been emotional ones.

Finally, courage can be faked through what I like to think of as constructive apathy.  This resembles desperation, and it works the same way.  I convince myself that I don’t care about the consequences, and then push forward.

Constructive apathy is dangerous, and I don’t think it’s necessarily healthy.  I started to list some examples I’ve used, and I when I realized how terrible they sounded, I deleted them.  If you’re desperate enough, it is an answer.  It just isn’t a good one.


Pre-Wizard World Jitters

March Word Count: 4275 (deficit of 2725)

I’m sitting at a table in the Sacramento Convention Center, about 45 minutes early for picking up my Wizard World package.  Even after I get my VIP package, it’ll be a little while before I can go in.  It’s a good thing I brought my stuff for writing, isn’t it?

I’m not sure what to expect from this convention.  There are a lot of names that I recognize, and a lot of people will be here whose work I admire.  Other conventions I’ve gone to, there have been panels for me to attend to help me learn more about the business of writing.  This convention, I think I’m supposed to just be a fan.  I don’t really know how to be a fan.

Comic books used to be a bigger part of my life.  I used to collect Ghost Rider, and I followed most of the major Marvel and DC titles for years through my friends.  Hell, when I was in college, the owner of the comic book store I used to frequent would let me read stuff in the store, and would answer whatever questions I had about current events.  That was a long time ago.  Comic books have been eclipsed in my life by other interests.

As I understand it, this convention is about more than comic books.  I think it’s a celebration of pop culture, and all of the things that a proper geek is supposed to celebrate.  I can get behind that.

I think I’ll have a good time.  I’m sure this will be an experience.  If I can paint a picture with words, then this post is the before picture, where I’m sitting with all of the excitement and nervousness of a first-time Comic Con attendee.  Sunday, I’ll post my afterthoughts.


Learning to Take Criticism

March Word Count: 4200 (800 short of daily goal)

I’ve been meaning to post something about this since November.  I’ve been thinking about it a lot the last couple of weeks, and some recent conversations have brought it to the forefront of my mind.

I need to get better at taking criticism.  This mostly applies to writing, but it feeds into other parts of my life, too.

My greatest problem is how much I associate my self-worth with my work.  I pour myself into it.  This means that I’m passionate about it, and I really give it my all.  It also means that when I put my work in front of someone else, I’m exposed and vulnerable.

At ConVolution, I was exceptionally nervous.  I felt a little bit of nausea before the workshop met up, and I was a gibbering mess on the inside, when it got to my turn.  As each person spoke, I listened as best I could, while at the same time I was thinking, “Don’t be that guy… don’t be that guy…” When it was time for me to ask questions for clarification, I couldn’t really say much.  I said that I agreed with everything that was said, and I thanked everyone for the feedback.  I might have asked a question, but I don’t remember.  I was still trying to keep myself together.

That was probably the best I’ve done, and it was harrowing.  Since then, I’ve relaxed a little bit, but that hasn’t necessarily been good.

The time before last when the Auspicious NorCal Writer’s group met up, we reviewed a couple of chapters of my Mel Walker story, and I did not handle it well.  I had a very bad reaction to it, and I wound up creating some drama in the group.

The last time we met, my work received a very mild review.  That would be okay, except that my story was terrible.  It had pacing problems.  It had plot problems.  It was gimmicky.

I need to know when my stories don’t work, but at the same time, I need to not take the criticism so hard that my ego and self-confidence take a tumble.

Part of what’s keeping me going is a belief that I am a good writer.  It’s tenuous, though, because I don’t have any real successes that I can hang my hat on.

The only way I’m going to get better at receiving critiques is through additional trial and error.   It’s like writing itself.  If you want to improve, you have to do it, and not just talk about it.  Hopefully I haven’t broken things beyond repair with the Auspicious group.

To make the most the critiques, I think I need to provide some guidance.  When I was first asked what sort of critiques I wanted, I said, “Whatever is in your heart.” That was my answer, because I didn’t know what I wanted.  I have a slightly better set of guidelines, now.

  • If something doesn’t work, I want to know that it doesn’t work.
  • If something is good, I really want to know that it is good.  But I don’t want this fudged.  It needs to be genuine, if I’m going to be able to use this to improve.
  • I am not receptive to someone telling me how they would write my story.  This is not meant to be bitchy.  I bring this up to address my own idiosyncrasies.  When someone else tells me how they would write my story, I hear, “You’re not good enough to write this on your own, let me help you.” This is my kryptonite.
  • If we’re looking at a first draft, bear in mind that it is a first draft.  Applying analysis at a high depth might be useful, but it also might be a waste of time for everyone involved.

I think these guidelines will probably help safeguard me against myself.  There are probably other guidelines that I haven’t thought of yet, but I’m only going to learn them through continued efforts.