Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Words Straight From the Heart

© Marta Stephens 2009 all rights reserved

2009 has been a year of change and many challenges for me on so many levels, all of which I’ll write about at a later date—probably a New Year piece to give 2009 a proper send off and hope it doesn’t have a twin waiting in the wings.

Anyway, one thing that’s been hovering over me, weighing me down like an anchor tied around my neck has had to do with my writing.

Do you see the empty box at the top of the page? That’s what writer’s block looks like. Stiff and empty. Nothing going in, nothing coming out. I was working on the third book in my Harper series, but the more I pushed the writing, the emptier the box became. Some of you may have even noticed my absence from the Internet. Yes, it affected all of my writing and finally, things got to the point where I didn’t care.

I’ve been struggling with this book for nearly a year. I managed to write 45,000 words and it has several chapters I’m proud of. For those who are familiar with my writing the dialogue is typical Harper, and the characters jump off the page. So what’s the problem? I have no idea except to say, the book simply didn’t want to be written.

If I’m going to be completely honest with myself, part of the pressure comes from having had my first two books receive professional recognition (THE DEVIL CAN WAIT, 2008, 2009 IPPY Bronze Medal Finalist and SILENCED CRY 2007, honorable mention at the 2008 New York Book Fair). What a waste of everyone’s time it would be if this next book wasn’t in line with the others so I pushed it and it pushed back.

Whatever the reason, the longer I worked on it, the harder and less exciting it became. I’d sit down at my computer, type a few lines and find any excuse to leave (needed to put some laundry in, bathrooms needed cleaning, brush my teeth again, must go to the market ... and so on and so forth). Worse, I couldn’t see the story or the ending and when that happens, when I can’t see the characters or the action, I know it’s doomed.

I was looking forward to a week-long vacation my family and I had planned for the first part of June. In the early hours while everyone slept, I got out the laptop and tried to do a bit of typing. I actually did, but my new surroundings in the beautiful mountains of Tennessee didn’t light the spark I needed to get me going.

This went on for a few days until I realized that all I was thinking of was my submission goal—get it completed by the end of summer and ready for submission to my publisher in the fall. I knew right then that if I didn’t break out of this writer’s block soon, I might very well stop writing all together. I was devastated so, on June 17, I set that book aside for the last time and began a new one.

This still untitled book is totally different from my previous books. It features a woman private investigator named Rhonie Lude. I’m writing it in first person (my other books are in 3rd POV limited), it takes place in Los Angeles where I lived for a few years, and it has an interesting twist which I can’t discuss at the moment, but one that stems from a very personal experience. Hence, write what you know. And WOW! In two weeks I've written nearly 20,000 words of this book. It's flying from my heart to my fingertips to my computer.

That nagging voice in the back of my head continues to say, “It’s gotta be better, gotta be better.” And it will be, because this time, I’m writing from the heart and not the head.

* * *

Marta Stephens is the author of the Sam Harper Crime Mystery series published by BeWrite Books (UK)

THE DEVIL CAN WAIT – (2008), Bronze metal finalist, 2009 Independent Publishers Book Award (IPPY), Top Ten, 2008 Preditors and Editors Reader Poll (mystery)

SILENCED CRY (2007), Honorable Mention, 2008 New York Book Festival, Top Ten, 2007 Preditors and Editors Reader Poll (mystery)


Katie Hines said...

Great article. I've come across blocks at some points, but nothing as profound as what you've shared. Still, if not for my husband and him brainstorming with me, I don't know that my current book would be as good as it is. Whatever teh reason, I am glad for you that you were able to break through and write something you're excited about.

s.w. vaughn said...

Woo hoo! I'm so happy the new book's going well, Marta! :-) I knew you'd get the gears moving again with something new.

It happens with series. I've just done the same thing - stopped writing a sequel and worked on something else, and BAM! I just finished the new book last night. Woo hoo! Now I'm ready to go back to my teeth-pulling, PITA sequel and write the hell out of it. :-)

So happy you came through the block! *hugs*

Anonymous said...

Congratulations on making it through your block! I look forward to hearing more about your book, and reading the final version.

Marta Stephens said...

Thanks so much everyone. It's a horrible feeling to have written practically non-stop for years and then ... nothing. Damn scary if you ask me.

I'll post more about this book and others that I have in mind. Until then ... ;)

Sheila Deeth said...

Great article. Sounds like the best description of writers' block, and its resolution, that I've ever read. So glad it is resolved. And maybe Sam Harper'll miss you once he's over all the excitement and be back soon.

Kim Smith said...

I am so happy for you, Marta. You deserve every kudo for the hard work you put into everything you do. I am so proud to be a part of your process, and honored you call me friend.

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

I'm experiencing the same thing, Marta. It was as if you were writing about me. That's strange. But it's also comforting. I'm going to get out of this rut. Soon.

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

Marta, for goodness sake, don't you know the next book will be the best one yet? That's the way it works--doesn't matter if it wins a prize, it'll just be better because you have so much more writing experience.

Put your butt down in front of that computer and get cracking, my dear.

Marilyn a.k.a. F. M. Meredith

Marta Stephens said...

LOL Spoken like a true friend, Marilyn!! I know, I know. (still laughing) and yes, my writer's butt is sitting squarely in front of the PC. This new story is coming along so well that it's surprising even me. If I keep this up, I'll have the first draft done in a matter of weeks.

Thanks so much!! :)

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Sorry I was out of town with no Internet - just got back. You know how much I love Sam Harper, Marta, but I've read bits of your new work too, and LOVE that as well. Can't wait to start the critique process - it's a blast to be included in this!