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Before You Quit Writing, Read This

“A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.”

Thomas Mann

Before You Quit Writing, Read This is a new collaborative book from Dave Ursillo and The Literati Writers (of which I’m a member) which is now available on Amazon Kindle.

The purpose of the book is to share our personal stories so that we can encourage fellow writers who might be considering quitting to keep going.

Digging Deep

My contribution is called I’m a Writer, Damn It! and it’s a very personal piece.

Dave challenged us to really dig deep and write about something we haven’t revealed publicly before.

So I delved into some difficult childhood memories, and told a brief story of my life, including the times when I wrote and the fallow periods when I did anything but.

“The act of writing is itself an act of understanding. By putting pen to paper, you’re engaging in a very reflective and sometimes even confrontational practice of facing your own truth: everything etched within your soul.”

Dave Ursillo (Before You Quit Writing, Read This)

My intention was to let any struggling writers out there know that I too have struggled. I spent many years not writing and without much hope of ever achieving my creative dreams. I almost gave up. But I’m still here, writing, publishing and even getting paid for it.

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It’s Covered

One of the things that made this such a great experience was that Dave put this project together in a highly professional way, from bringing in illustrator Mars Dorian to create the cover, to hiring a professional editor to give each of us feedback on our contributions, to preparing publicity material.

Edited Highlights

As a professional writer and content creator for a variety of clients, I’m used to receiving feedback on my work, however it is a different matter when it’s something so personal.

It took me a day or two to digest the editor’s comments and to accept that making those changes would definitely improve the piece, such as being clearer and more transparent about what I was trying to express. It was a great thing to experience and has definitely made me think more carefully about how I write.

Breaking Through The Fear Barrier

The day before the book was due to be published, I read over my piece again and was suddenly seized with a terrible fear that what I’d written could upset my parents. I had never discussed some of those memories with them directly and I didn’t want to them to misinterpret what I had written.

I shared my fear with the other Literati Writers and got some very supportive responses and advice, which really helped. But the fear remained.

“FEAR is a bastard. He has this way of wrapping his cold, sinewy hand around your heart that takes your breath away, sends a chill down into your guts, and causes you to freeze up. He takes the joy you get from writing and ruthlessly smashes it to bits, making you second-guess your abilities.”

Jessica Glendinning (Before You Quit Writing, Read This)

I’ve read other writers and content creators talk about this type of fear gripping them, and the general consensus seems to be that this is what happens when you break out of your comfort zone and start sharing something real, something that truly matters, and that will actually be of value to others.

And maybe by writing about those negative experiences and sharing it publicly, I can finally escape their hold on me.

“As you dig, you will learn. And once unearthed, you can choose what to keep around, and what to let go.”

Dave Ursillo (Before You Quit Writing, Read This)

That’s something that makes sense to me as a writer, but is probably difficult for others to understand, especially if they find themselves entangled in my words without having chosen to be.

Dare Greatly and Do The Work

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The fact is that what I’ve shared in my article is my own truth, of how I experienced and interpreted circumstances at the time they happened.

Perhaps those half-remembered moments from the past lack their proper context, and perhaps they are an unbalanced account of what really happened. But it is what came to me when I sat down to write.

“What’s left on the page is pure, unadulterated me. It’s not always pretty, but that’s okay. Neither am I. It’s not always funny or insightful. But whatever it is, it’s me. It’s a snapshot of myself. A little glimpse into my brain at the moment the pen hit the paper or my fingers hit the keys.”

Tom Meitner (Before You Quit Writing, Read This)

Either way, I will learn from this, and keep going. Because as Brené Brown suggests, you’ve got to Dare Greatly, and that means being vulnerable, taking risks and leaning into the discomfort that comes from baring your soul to the world.

And as Steven Pressfield says, you’ve got to Do The Work, and make a habit of sitting down to write, every day.

Whatever failings I may have, at least I’m doing both those things. This, I’m discovering, is what it’s like to be a writer.

Thanks to Dave, Jessica and Tom for their quotes above – each and every contribution to the book contains similar wisdom about writing, so I’d highly recommend having a read.

Before You Quit Writing, Read This is available now on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk as well as other Amazon stores worldwide (affiliate links).

It is free to download until Thursday July 12th 2013, and you don’t even need a Kindle to read it. 

mountainshores_icelandDave Ursillo is also the guest on the most recent Mountain Shores Podcast:

Finding Home In Writing (and Rhode Island)

In an in-depth and honest conversation, Dave chats to Fabian and I about how writing helped him bounce back from depression and how he has carved out a career as a creative entrepreneur after leaving the world of politics behind.

Visit MountainShores.net | Listen/Subscribe on iTunes | Stitcher

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Would you take a pill to jump-start your creativity?

I was honoured that top Scottish blog Bella Caledonia recently described this blog as ‘ever-helpful’ and added generously that it “clears all writers’ blocks”.

Whilst regular practices like the morning pages really do help with creative problems of all kinds, I have to admit that being blocked still happens to me sometimes – and the thought of an instant cure is an attractive one, especially one that could bring out a previously untapped level of genius.

In fact one of the warning signs that I’m creatively blocked is when I feel the urge to retreat into mindless escapism, and there is nothing better for mindless escapism than the latest Hollywood flick. It was with this in mind that I sat down to watch the film Limitless, which has recently come out on DVD in the UK.

I was intrigued by the premise, which is about a writer who takes a pill which apparently releases the full force of his creativity, genius and intelligence, the majority of which has previously remained dormant.

The unshaven, scruffy protagonist (played by Bradley Cooper) is clearly suffering from writer’s block, and I had to snigger at the voiceover, which said something like “who, apart from someone who’s addicted to drugs or alcohol, looks this bad? Only a writer.” I can certainly relate to that (I’m in urgent need of a haircut and a shave myself).

Once he inevitably takes the pill, the protagonist goes on to crank out the first few chapters of his book in one evening. The next morning he can hardly believe he’s done it, and neither can his agent. He soon goes on to complete the book.

Now I hate spoilers as much as anyone so won’t say anymore, but the film soon veers off into a sort of wish fulfilment fantasy/cautionary tale and unfortunately the ending is a confusing mess. But it made me think about how difficult it can be just to sit down and do our creative work.

It ain’t easy.

Whenever I sit down to write, my mind does seem to have an endless array of excuses to stop me getting on with it. Because of the nature of this blog, anytime I feel blocked I begin to feel somewhat of a fraud, which again makes me even more blocked.

I try to make myself feel better about this by reminding myself about all the other writers out there who go through similar things. There’s George R.R. Martin who famously took 6 years to write the latest installment of his Song of Ice and Fire series, upon which the recent Game of Thrones HBO series is based (I hope he manages to finish the series a bit quicker as I’ve just read the 4th book and whilst it wasn’t as thrilling as the first three, I still want to find out how it all ends).

There are other films which deal with writer’s block too – such as Stanley Kubrick’s brilliant version of The Shining and Charlie Kaufman’s bizarre but highly original Adaptation.

And this excellent article in Slate is one of the few I’ve seen which acknowledges just how difficult writing can be, and draws on some academic research which goes some way to explaining it (thanks to @usherette and others for sharing it on Twitter).

Finally I think the hardest thing about being creatively blocked is actually acknowledging the fact at the time that it’s happening. I wonder how many stupid, self-destructive, self-sabotaging things I’ve done throughout my life just because I couldn’t progress creatively, without even realising what was the problem. The wise thing to do would be to take some time out and meditate, or do some exercise. That probably helps a lot more than getting blind drunk or eating a family size bag of Chocolate Buttons in one sitting.

Do The Work

I’ve recently started work on the first ever Clear-Minded Creative manifesto, which I’ll be announcing more details about soon. I can already feel the excuses crowding my brain, but I must fight back and be ever-vigilant about being creatively blocked. I’ll be reading The War of Art yet again, as well as Pressfield’s latest and equally great publication Do The Work, and trying to build my defences up.

But if you are attracted to the idea of a simple pill that could solve all your creative blocks, I’d recommend reading the original book by Alan Glynn which the film Limitless is based on – it’s available on the Amazon Kindle now for only 72p or $1.12 – a bargain. And the ending is much better than the inexplicable Hollywood-ised version too.

Do you ever get blocked creatively, and if so, how do you deal with it?

Don’t you hate it when Hollywood tacks on an ending and ruins a decent story?

Share your woes/tips in the comments!

Get Limitless by Alan Glynn at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk

Get Do The Work by Steven Pressfield at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk

Main image: edoardocosta Post contains Amazon affiliate links.