Is it Christmas yet?

SusanMermaidFriends, I have a confession to make today.  And a story to tell.

Confession: After a summer of industrious writing almost every single day, my writing urge came to a screeching halt.  Sometime in August, I believe. Definitely about a month ago.  Maybe more. I didn’t panic, because I was sure the root cause would be discovered eventually, and we’d get our little writing choo-choo back on track.  And, with the school year started, I’m not exactly eager to strain my back getting pages out. I have Freshmen to train, and Seniors to tame, and a library to run – that is the priority now, until next May. If the writing waits, it waits. I’ll live.

At least, after the CTRWA Cherry Adair workshop last weekend, I do know more about why my story is stalled. Gang, it’s not pretty. Ms. Adair diagnosed my story as “thin”. She had ideas, and my chapter mates backed me up with suggestions for an intriguing bad guy and a twist. Once I get her plot board out of the car, I’ll clean off the dining room table and get my butt back in chair.  And that’s my confession.  Which brings me to my story, which is about a much earlier stall in my writing career.

Where I write these days.

Where I write these days.

Story: A long time ago (about 1992), I hung up my keyboard and quit writing. I’d moved to New York two years before, and I was so homesick I really wanted to quit everything – family, home, marriage, kids, all of it. Sitting at the keyboard was an anxiety-riddled exercise. I was an award-winning author with a book out, and I needed to produce, but I was stressing myself out of it.  I’d been writing for ten years, and I couldn’t think of a thing to say. There had to be some peace, somewhere.  I was desperate to escape my disappointment and self-hatred, so I killed it, my writing, that part of me.  Writing couldn’t fight back, because it was in me, and my struggles with it were damaging me.  I announced I was done with writing, refused to think about writing, and said I was moving on. Done, Dead, Fini.

Except it wasn’t dead. Part of me knew I was able to write, just that I couldn’t or wouldn’t make a story happen at that point. I wasn’t going to write a book, but I would write letters. I wrote looooong letters to friends (in the days when people still wrote letters, before the internet killed written correspondence). I wrote notes to my mother and sister.  I wrote directions to patterns for the sewing classes I was teaching.  And I wrote Christmas letters.

My Christmas letters eventually became the highlight of my year.  I started them by mid-November, knowing I would need a month to create and polish what I wanted The World to know about Our Life This Year.  Each character would get his/her own summary of the year’s ups and downs. I chose a theme each year, opened with a question, wound up with an answer, and a recommendation for calming down, loving everyone and eating another slice of pie. I wrote, trimmed, condensed, and molded my story to fit a single typed page. I reduced margins, added my own illustrations and signed all our names.

    I wrote every letter to a friend I had in mind as I wrote, as if I were telling the story to her.  And I wrote the ending until I cried. It was probably my favorite part of the process, because if I could write something that made me cry, I could be pretty sure my readers would feel my depth of emotion for the topic, and maybe they’d be moved, too.

Not all of the letters are in my Christmas closet, the cubby where we keep all the trimmings. Somehow I don’t worry about this much, because another friend has kept all of them, and I know she’ll send copies if I ask. It’s not so important that I have the record of them.  Writing those letters made me happy, and made other people happy. That was enough.  And yet…

Going back to my lack of interest in the summer’s writing this past month, I was wondering just this week – would I be able to kick start my writing a little bit, if I started my Christmas letter early?  I feel better, knowing I could have fun, writing another. Maybe it’ll start the juices flowing. And, since I’m wondering about it, I’ll also ask you the question:

How do you get yourself back in a butt-chair-write mood?

About Susan Jeffery

I am loving the challenge (sometimes) of re-entering the contemporary romance market after a lifetime of raising two fantastic children (it never ends, btw). Just when I thought I was done with kids, I accepted a position as librarian to 900 boys in a Bronx private school. I'm a vintage published author, Harlequin American #206 Fair Game (1987). Winner of the Golden Heart, 1986. Currently exploring the possibility of indie publishing under my new pseudonym (see fresh name, above).

15 thoughts on “Is it Christmas yet?

  1. Great post, Susan-Mermaid. Thank you for sharing that experience with us! I’ve had similar tough writing times. This past summer I heard Nora Roberts talk at Nationals. She was asked about writer’s block, which she does not believe exists. Basically she said that sometimes you have to tell yourself, “I will wrestle this book to the ground.” A simple phrase but it’s really been helping me lately. I’m wrestling one of my WIPs right now and I WILL WIN!!!

    1. Kerri , I love that advice! This is the first time I’ve heard it. I think that will become my new mantra: I will wrestle this boom to the ground, yes I will!

  2. Susan, I’ve been in your shoes. All I can say is it hurts and time helps. Often for me, it is personal stress and worries: the death of loved ones, family illnesses of the serious variety that drain all the creative juices. And I’m so busy worrying, I cannot see the forest for the trees. Isn’t it funny sometimes when stressed we don’t even know we’re stressed?

    Do nice things for yourself. When YOU feel good, the writing will come. Yes, write that Christmas letter. Heck maybe write about writing that Christmas letter. The rest will come. I promise.


  3. Thanks for sharing with us, Susan. And I hear you! I’ve been there, too. I think we all have. What makes it worse is that every day we are away from the writing, the harder it is to get started again. It’s a vicious cycle, and if Christmas letters are what it takes to break that cycle, I say go for it!

  4. Follow up: well, gang, my prediction was right, at least for today. I got the plot board out of the car after dinner, and unrolled it on the dining room table. My notes are piled beside, and a vat of post-it’s is stationed nearby.

    Tomorrow we will know more!

  5. Susan,
    You crack me up. Please let me know how that plot board and post-its turn out for you. I’ve been in the same position. Once you’re in that rut, it’s awfully hard to get out of it. I’m in said rut. And I hate it.
    I think if writing Christmas cards gets your creative juices flowing, start writing them. The plot board will still be there. haha.

  6. Kim, I am smiling right now because I remember seeing a certain plotting board at your house. Wink.

    Susan, if writing your Christmas letters gives you joy, then do it! Come to think of it, why not write a Christmas novella about a heroine who writes Christmas letters without fail until the one year she doesn’t….
    ….True story, a few weeks ago, some lost souls burglarized three homes on my street, including the house directly across the street. I’ve only lived here not even two months! I’m trying to work on a magical reindeer story and this was putting a huge damper on my holiday spirit. I booby trapped all the windows and sliding glass doors, stopped putting my dogs in their crate whenever I left the house so they could be loose to attack any intruders, and left all the lights on at night. I didn’t feel much safer with all that having been done and I felt really bad for bailing out on my reindeer story in the name of a dampened spirit. So guess what I did? I made my reindeer story hero even more valiant and got lost in that world even more!

    Short story long, you are so creative. Create yourself into a story you love, maybe even a Christmas story. Be sure to add a super sexy hero to keep your attention glued. That’s my advice, fishy sister. 🙂

    1. Carlene, you are the sweetest thing ever! I think of you, and there’s always see a tiny fog of glitter around you, and little happy hearts bouncing nearby. I will definitely look into thinking up a reindeer story, just because it sounds fun – with a sexy hero who is taking Santa’s place, since he tripped over some bad elves and is nursing a sprained ankle. Except this guy doesn’t have the map sense to get it done in one night, especially when he gets lost over the Ozarks.
      Maybe some cute country gal will have backwoods magic in her hands and gets him super-powered… hmmmm….
      And I’m sooo sad about your neighborhood burglars. Karma’s a bitch, she’ll get them good. In the meantime, you’re making good decisions! Give the doggies a hug from me for being such good house guards, and take care of yourself.

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