Hitting the Wall

I’ve been thinking about this post all day, and finally I’m getting a chance to sit and write it. It’s been a very busy day.

Let’s start here. Jon Gibbs started my day with another of his excellent round up posts. Of particular relevance to me right now were these posts:

Gary Frank‘s post on Love to Write or Love the Idea of Being a Writer. Why? Because when you hit a period like I’m going through right now, the idea of can you walk away goes through your head. I’m pleased to say that the idea of walking away from my writing leaves me uncomfortable.

Ann Boyle‘s post about the characters living in my head, trying to get out. Why? It confirms, again, that writing is something I want to do.


This is very much a post for newbies, although perhaps there is some relevance to writers even as they contemplate changing the direction of their work.

That fateful Wiscon in 2007, when I decided that if people were going to ask me for my work I should get it to them was almost three years ago. At that time, I knew it would take a while to establish my career. I’ve been upbeat and Pollyanna-ish as much as I could. I have this little list of ground rules. I’m just a generally happy and upbeat person.

And, it’s been a good two years, with some publications, a book and acceptance into a writer’s workshop. I’m not exactly banging my head against a wall.

I didn’t count on the amount of no affecting the amount of yes.

Many of my writing colleagues all seem to suggest that writers are mad, and there is a basic human psychology factor that suggests we focus more on the negative than the positive. Let’s face it. Publishing is a culture of no.

By that, I don’t mean this is a bad thing, or that it’s an exclusive club. I simply mean you will be told no more than you are told no in other aspects of your life. Impersonal no. Personalized no. Agent no. “Don’t love it enough” no. “Can’t use it now” no. No, no. No, no, no. Nope. Nyet. No. NO.

You get told yes occasionally. And you get close to yes occasionally. But we all agree? There’s a lot of no.

Surprisingly, no has some psychological affect, even to us optimists. Close to yes no is my current bailiwick. Because you are ALMOST there. You tell yourself to suck it up, count your blessings and move on. That works, most of the time. And then sometimes, you are just tired.

In my case, I started thinking. What can I do to be there? How can I make my work more marketable? What can I do to make my work more like something someone would publish?

Ah, you see the snare, do you not? Am I writing what I want to write for my own enjoyment? I thought so, but maybe not. Since reconnecting with my inner writing self as the cold has wended on, I’m noticing what I like most about what I read and write may be missing from some of my current work. I’ve fallen into the snare of doing what I think others want to see.

This never works. For me, it produces mediocre writing that I don’t fall into when I’m writing it. I need to be true to my vision of what to write. I am reminding myself of that.

The other snare? I have a very full life, and creativity takes energy. The thing is, that other stuff takes energy too. This entry, for example, takes energy. I think it’s useful and I’m interested in writing it, but it doesn’t change the fact that there is only so much time, and I choose how I use it every day. So, I feel guilty, especially on those days I’m not writing.

I understand butt in chair. I also understand that there are times when creativity is necessary to get your butt in the chair. Excitement is necessary. Renewal is necessary.

EVERY artist, I imagine, needs some fallow time. (In Iowa, we teach conservation as part of Iowa history. You’re going to get field imagery.) In two years, I’ve written several short stories, a novella, and a couple of novels. Do you suppose that I shouldn’t be too weird about my mind not having a clear plan for the next thing? Should I cut myself a break, and accept that I may need a bit of a recharge?

I’m writing this, not because I’m exceptional. I rather think I’m a typical writer. My hang ups may not be your hang ups, but I want to suggest that it’s okay to take a break. It’s okay to not feel guilty, and above all, you need to write for yourself. It will be amazingly transparent to others if you don’t.

Of course, the last person to learn things about one’s self is…one’s self. I’m sure I’ll have to suss all this out again in a couple of years.

So. Right now, I’m writing what I want. Nothing’s getting abandoned, but some things are changing. I’ll be nurturing my creativity more than I do. And I will be less hard on myself.

I do have the luxury of not supporting myself by my writing, but I wonder if these issues and this kind of care of your creativity might be even more important to those who do.

Your thoughts and opinions on the matter, as always, appreciated.


Author: Catherine Schaff-Stump

Catherine Schaff-Stump writes fiction for children and young adults. Her most recent book, The Vessel of Ra, is the first book in the Klaereon Scroll series. She is currently working on its sequel, as well as penning the middle grade adventures of Abigail Rath, monster hunter.

2 thoughts on “Hitting the Wall”

  1. Hey Cath,

    A karate sempai once told me a universal truth:

    “It’s sensei’s job to tell you what’s wrong, and wreck your self-esteem. It’s your own job to build it back up.”

    If you’re putting stuff out there and getting feedback on it, you have the sensei part happening. The rest of it, you have to do what’s right for you. That’s what I think. (Not that I do it, but that’s another story).

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