Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Stuck Writers

I have met two people whom I think of as Stuck Writers.

One is a woman I've known for some time who came to me for advice.  While taking GED classes she found that she enjoyed writing, and her teacher encouraged her.

An episode from some time before, when she distinctly felt God's protection on a trip by train, kept coming to her mind.  She decided to write it up and offer it to the CLP Sunday school papers.

I looked it over, at her request.  I suggested a few changes, which she was happy to make.  She sent it off with that wild high-risk I-can't-believe-I'm-doing-this feeling of sending off That First Submission.

And then of course she waited tensely for a response, imagining the best and worst.

The letter came.  Her story was rejected.

So was she, it seemed, somewhere down deep where the words and the imagination and the hope sprang forth.  A solid plug was pushed into that well, and it has never brought forth water since.

It has been years.  Every time I talk to her, we talk about Writing.  She follows my attempts and successes with great interest.  I always, ask, hesitantly, "Have you been able to write anything?"  And always the answer is no.  She cannot get anything out, in any form or way.

I always wonder, what would it take to uncork that well and bring the words forth?

Yesterday I was at the county fair, as I am every year.  I sat there for six hours, dressed for the 97 degrees in a glassy atrium without A/C that I was expecting, and instead we were in another area that was so hyper-A/Ced that I had goose bumps and my asthma went crazy.

And I only sold 3 books, so maybe the less said about those six hours, the better.

Except I had some fascinating conversations, including one with a fan who came by who turned out to be another Stuck Writer.  This lady was obviously an astute reader, analyzing various authors and what she likes or dislikes about each.  She dreams at night of plot lines and possible characters.

But she doesn't write.  Back in high school she rather enjoyed writing.  One day her English teacher told them to write a story.  She had happened to read a story around that time and thought, "You know what, that just follows a formula.  I could do that."  So she used the same formula but wrote her own story.

The teacher read her story and said it was so good she must have copied it somewhere and she was guilty of plagiarism.

The student showed the teacher the original story and told her what she'd done.  The teacher finally believed her and said that was perfectly ethical and she had done very well.

But something about the trauma of being accused in this way capped her well, and she hasn't written since.  She just can't, not even in the privacy of her own notebook, for her own enjoyment.

So terribly sad.

For both of these women, this is far more than "writers block" which is temporary and which many writers say doesn't exist--it's just laziness.  This is far deeper.

I'm wondering:
1. What would it take to get these women to start writing again?
2. Have I, God forbid, by an offhand criticism, ever capped the well for a beginning writer?

Quote of the Day:
"You look younger than I thought you would."
--several people at the fair.  Somehow I never tire of hearing this.  It compensated a little bit for the poor sales.


  1. I don't know if I will ever publish anything formally. I hit publish on my blog all the time :) and that is so satisfying to me. I write first of all for myself - some days I have to remind myself that even if I don't get comments on my blog or offers of book contracts, I found something valuable in the act of writing it down.

    I'm sorry to read of the stuck writers, but I don't think they are failures just because they are not being published. I love to take photos, for example, but I doubt I will ever make money through taking photos - but I'm not going to stop taking photos. . .

    I guess what I'm trying to say is that being published can feel like a popularity contest and maybe they just need to step off that train. I realize I'm commenting to you, Dorcas, a published author, and you have a different perspective.

    I love writing. I'm not planning on getting published any time soon.

  2. Margo--thanks for your observations. I edited the post just a bit to make this clearer. I was not speaking of publishing here, which is a whole separate endeavor, or even trying to publish. I was talking about being to get the words out in any form.

  3. It's sort of funny, I never really thought about writing, at least not for other people to read it. Kept a diary for years, but I think I threw most of them away. Now since the internet, adoption and all the related contacts, I find I'm writing all the time...and also realizing that clarity is not easy in the written word. I think the people you are referring to were writing fiction. maybe they need to write day-to-day oh...maybe a blog, just to put words on "paper"

  4. Good thoughts. I started writing regularly at the age of 6, so I guess by the time I started getting formally rejected, I was already too much in the habit to stop. Thankfully! Writing is such a blessing, whether I get paid or not. Though I love getting paid, too. :-)

  5. You were referring to writing in particular. But I see a broader application of your concern and this has to do with any skill. A sensitive person will quit trying if there is any criticism - been there, done that. Some folks are intimidated quickly. Others can better be served by coming alongside and offering assistance, encouraging one in how one can improve whatever it is they are trying to do.

  6. I love your QOTD! :-) The other day, at a funeral, I met a former classmate of mine. I had not seen her since 9th grade, which is more years ago than I like to think about. In visiting with her, she said , "and you still have all your own teeth!"