When my children were younger, I wrote them an original story about four children. The characters in the story were loosely based on them (okay, a lot based on them) and my writing seemed to delight their budding imaginations.
Spring forward several years and my young people are now adults. Much has happened during this time: the children lost their father to a sudden heart attack, and I lost my husband and closest friend.
I also became a blogger and newspaper columnist in an attempt to retain many of the personality quirks my husband loved. Writing became a place to pretend I had not died along with him and to remain recognisable to him should he have the ability in some afterlife to be looking down (or up) at me.
To pay the bills, I resumed my role in project management by day, writing during any spare time I had.
My naive little story from the days of my children’s babyhood remained largely unformed, until I hit on the idea of sending it to a publisher to see what they would make of it.
Long story abbreviated, they thought the premise was good, but the writing needed more attention to the beginning, middle and, er, end. They felt the characters should be more rounded and have recognisable character arcs (I had no idea then what that even meant). They even suggested I extend this story into a longer chapter book.
I set about making these adjustments roughly ten years ago, but something was missing. The story had more polish, depth and, yes, character arcs, but…but what?
The writing was definitely better–which it darned well should have been since I had built upon any innate ability I possessed by learning more about writing and studying craft. This had a twofold effect: 1) It made me a better writer; and 2) it made me afraid to write because now I had intimate awareness of the many (many) ways a writer could go wrong. Writer’s block was not something that had ever troubled me before, but it troubled me now. Natural instincts became studied and wooden.
So I tore up the second draft of my story and started another, determined to honor how I really wanted to write–to hell with the purists.
Some weeks went well. As an early morning person, I would write for a couple of hours, mess about on social media, and then Hi Ho off to work. There were also the weeks of procrastination disguised as earnest endeavour. Yes, the oven did have to be gutted before I could sit down to write that chapter productively. And, actually, while there, why not fix those loose floor tiles, then clean the whole house (again)?
In the end, oven gutting and tile fixing could easily time-suck two months with no clear indication of what on earth was stopping me from sitting down, getting at it, and writing, fluidly and consistently.
It was at this time I read an interpretation of writer’s block that really helped: according to the author, this struggle occurs when “we try too hard to be creative.” This made perfect sense to me then and it still does.
It helped crystallize this thing nagging at my subconscious, even inside the new and improved world of my original story. The “thing” was that my children would no longer be able to recognise their mother in this new, improved book. The mother who can be sarcastic (let’s agree to call it wit for now) and irreverent. I had swallowed whole so many of the writing Do’s and Don’ts, on writing for children, on genres and subgenres, that I had lost myself in the process. I had also bought into the notion that for all this effort to be worthwhile I needed to try getting my story published.
It was this very ambition that had started to suck the joy out of things. Why was it suddenly not enough to create the finest work I knew how to for the four people it was originally intended for?
And when did the whole thing turn into a massive guilt trip if I did things other than “finish the book?”
When did it all become a race to an arbitrary finish line–and who was I racing against?
I am flattered that my efforts were deemed worthy of wider publication, but my original ambition was for my children to hold a book in their hands that I had written just for them, a story they could read to their own children possibly. I did not need to be published on the open market to achieve that.
Surely, when I do finish the book, it will be a more developed work than the one I first gifted my children, but most of all, it will be written in my voice. While publication and editorial input may be a part of my future, excessively conforming to become the next big whomever is not why I began. This is the preoccupation which led to writer’s block and the inability to finish the book I started–the book which was a true joy to write.
Note: The opinions expressed by guest bloggers at the Submittable blog are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Submittable.
Melinda Fargo is a freelance writer, successful blogger, a newspaper columnist for the UK’s largest regional newspaper, Editor-in-chief of online magazine Post-40 Bloggers, an amateur photographer and public speaker. To pay the bills, she is a project management professional. A mother of four young adults, Melinda remains a widow, but will marry Denzel Washington after the sudden and unexpected disappearance of any of his wives. Find Melinda on her personal blog, at her online magazine, via clippings, on Twitter, and on Instagram.