We are delighted to welcome a new monthly contributor Emily Manwaring!
I broke up with my novel at the beginning of the year. I had thought it was “the one”—I’d worked on it in my spare time for six whole years [writing and rewriting and changing things so many times, I could write a book about how not to write a book], riding the roller coaster of “this is working” followed closely by, “this isn’t working,” “I have chills,” and “what rubbish.”
I felt thrilled and validated when a publishing company accepted it. But when the time came to sign on the dotted line (think of me at the altar ready to make my vows) the deal fell through.
What surprised me most was how un-devastated I was. (I suppose this is a good indication I wasn’t in love with my manuscript anymore). After shelving it for good, I was also surprised to find myself full of writing drive, but empty of new ideas (it was like being thrown into the dating pool again with no clue of what I wanted). I hadn’t experienced writer’s block before—there had always been something to fix, rewrite, or retry. Starting from scratch had been so long ago . . .
Knowing I needed to try something different [and also because it was late winter and I desperately needed to get out of the house], I signed up for a writing course—specifically a memoir writing course. At the very least, I figured it would be good for me to record some of my life’s events for my family.
This is what I learned:
-Writing groups/classes are fun. This is kind of obvious, but it’s important because it was a good reminder to me that writing should be fun and engaging—why do we write if not to entertain, uplift, share and/or help people think deeply?
-Everybody has stories, secrets, and really difficult things they go through. But we can still relate to each other. I learned things about my memoir group I would never normally know, and we all have very different lives. By the end of the six weeks, I loved and respected every one of them deeply.
-Sometimes you have to dig deep. The first in-class assignment was to write the story of our lives from our birth to that day in ten minutes. After reading our rush-writes aloud to one another, we repeated the exercise without rewriting anything we had already written. By the third rush-write, I was remembering things I had forgotten, details I hadn’t thought about in years. Which leads me to my next point:
-Everyone has experiences they can pull from. I spent my childhood in a Welsh village full of characters—like my best friend’s mum who was beautiful but had crooked front teeth (hello British dental care), or the crazy old lady we called Mrs. Spitfire because she walked in the middle of the road and spat on the cars of the drivers who honked at her, or the friend I lived with as a missionary who would sigh dreamily and swoon a breathy, “Thank you, Heavenly Father,” to the sky anytime anything remotely lucky/good happened to us. These characters are practically begging to be written about!
-I need to live in order to write. Writing is generally a solitary experience. There are times I want to just lock myself in a room and write. But I’m no Emily Dickinson. I need to get out and try new things, meet new people. Aspects of my writing have to come from my life, my experiences, and my ideas, otherwise I feel like a fraud.
Memoir writing was great for my writer’s block. And working on my craft with others was good for my soul. It was like therapy.
But enough about me (and my therapy).
What do you do to combat writer’s block?