How We Write: What does your wall look like?

Every book just flows from my fingers, like a movie playing itself from my imagination into the most beautiful of prose… And THEN, I wake up.

Such is the charmed life of a working fiction writer.

I’m a month away from my next manuscript deadline–the fourth in a year, and each night when I sleep (not that I sleep much), I dream of the book magically being done and the pressure being off and me and my husband and son being on a beach somewhere whiling away simple hours free of the fear that I won’t EVER puzzle this story out.

But that dream doesn’t last long, unfortunately, before a darker one takes over.

I’ve hit a wall, you see, as I do with every story.

hitting the wall woman

I teach others how to do this stuff, so you’d think I’d know better how to handle this place in the process that we all come to. Yet the despair is always here waiting for me. The wall is my darkest creative point–when I must push through doubt and confusion and make story and character make sense NOW, because there’s no more time for them to figure themselves out on their own.

And in my dreams, when they stop being fanciful and take a nightmarish turn toward reality, this is what my wall often looks like.

hitting the wall windows and doors

It has doors and windows, I realize once I calm down. There are openings in the wall I fear blocks my story, doors and windows that I can see through, create through, believe through. THAT’S my job. It’s yours, too, when you write.

I’ve been at this long enough to understand and organize my process. This place I’m in now, and will return to with the next book. is why I push through as much of my rough draft as I can before I go back and rewrite. Rewriting takes me to the wall, and the wall stops me. Before that happens, it’s my job to have drafted as much raw material as possible, to discover as much as I can, until this stopping place takes over. And then it’s my job to stare at the wall for as long as it takes, until I find the right door and window, and I understand how and where to write through them, so I can meet my deadline.

It’s a hard, unforgiving place, this wall. This deadline. This creating on demand, even when I’m feeling more lost than creative.

hitting the wall sculpture

But it’s my dream, too. Even this part of it. It’s my path to embrace this very low point, and to keep my eyes trained on the beautiful rewrites waiting just on the other side. It’s my dream to kick through the wall, to kick its ass, and to find the freedom that creativity becomes, once it’s best empowered by its best purpose and direction.

kick butt

I need this low, troublesome place, you see. So do you, my writer friends.

And my reader followers, whatever you want most…I suspect you’ll find your wall there, too, just before you hit your truest stride. It’s fear and doubt and confusion, the bricks you lay into your dream wall. But it’s your chance to find your next victory, too, once you turn the dark thoughts off and make your hopes flow again.

The wall isn’t my problem. It’s not yours. Embracing the low, troublesome places of our journey is how we grow stronger. The wall is where we claim our confidence.  The sprint on the other side of it, toward the finish line, is the best place of all. All we have to do is trust in the path, and find our way to that other side.

What does your wall look like today? Your door and window?

Are you willing to see and fight and create your way through it, to reach the more beautiful dream on the other side?

Interested in more writer-ly crafty angst? Check out the How We Write series.

More publishing-ly, business-y chatter? There’s Publishing Isn’t For Sissies.

More of me, musing about life in general–the parts of life that inspire me to write through that wall? Then The Soul of the Matter is your next destination.

And above all, whatever you’re soul is creating today my friends–Write On!

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8 Responses to “How We Write: What does your wall look like?”

  1. Piper says:

    Hi Anna,

    I am about to face going back into the writing cave on a story that I’ve had a full request for, and I admit to being terrified (and getting back some contest feedback has been of zero help) of not being able to do what I know I must. This post has been a lift. Thank you,


    • Good luck, Piper! You’ll get through. We always do. It’s our faith in that reality that makes the difference. Not saying to ourselves that we can’t, just because it’s going to be hard. Of course it’s going to be hard. If it wasn’t, everyone would be successful at this.

      So, it’s hard. Whatever!

      Relax and write through your own window. I’ll see you on the other side!

  2. I absolutely loved this. This is a spot where Chris and I are both at right now where we begin to question everything. Now that I think on it, I realize that it is a spot that crops up every time we either hit editing/rewrites or revisit an outline with each story. Thank you for giving it a face and sharing.

    • It’s a spot we all return to, when a new world/character/viewpoint is only half formed in my minds. And we all CAN face it and write through it. That’s the secret. Accepting. Shrugging. Looking for the door/window out of the funk, and writing on ;o)

  3. Diana Layne says:

    My wall is almost always at the beginning if it’s a story that hasn’t been hanging around in my head for years. I pretty much have to have the story solid in my mind before I can even begin. So sometimes getting started takes a heck of a long time. Sometimes I even have to restart several times before I can move forward. (like now, sigh)

    Good luck!

    • It’s usually toward the beginning or the end for me, Diana. If it’s the beginning, I have to draft through to almost the end, before I “calm down” enough to go back and rethink the opening. I think, by then I have enough pages in the mix that I have at least a little confidence that I can work things out. That’s what I’m currently muddling through with this project.

      Some books though, I don’t see the ending clearly enough, even when I’m writing it. And those can be particularly tricky projects. Because often the problem is in the middle, and reworking that once a book is drafted can make for HUGE changes everywhere.

      And guess how much control I have over which kind of journey a new book will take… Nada. It’s all about the adventure, right?!

  4. Great post, Anna. Loved it.

  5. This was a fabulous post, Anna. I love the doors and windows – much better than shoving the project aside for days, weeks, months on end. I’m in between stories right now, but I’ll come back to this for a pick-me-up when I hit my next wall. Thanks!

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