Novelist and writing–group leader and participant Linda Howard Urbach had more to say than I could fit into my last entry, so here, as promised, is the follow-up.
You’ve heard it before, but it bears repeating:
We aspiring authors plugging away in workshops are not the only ones who lose our way in our stories. Accomplished writers who have published before and are currently under contract on new novels get stuck, too.
“It happens all the time,” says Linda, author of the soon-to-be-published novel Madame Bovary’s Daughter.
So how do you overcome it?
“When you finish writing for the day, leave something to go back to the next morning,” Linda told me. (According to legend, Tom Wolfe stops at the bottom of his tenth page of the day, even if he’s in mid-sentence.) “Well, I didn’t always do that. And sometimes I would get stuck and I would have to jump way ahead. Or I would have to go back and revise. Sometimes in revising, something would come up. Also, I go spinning in the morning. That takes me away from the computer. Suddenly you can start thinking in fresh new ways.”
While there’s little point in beating your head against the wall when you cannot move forward, the important thing is to keep writing, even if it’s someplace else in your manuscript.
Linda also has some timeless protocol pointers for workshoppers: “One of the things that drives me crazy is, before a writer goes to read they’ll say, ‘I know this isn’t any good.’ They preface what they’re going to read with how bad it’s going to be. I mean, I totally understand that, but don’t do that to yourself. Don’t apologize.”
In fact, she says, in her current Momoirs workshops, “I’m just dazzled by the writing. I can’t believe how good these people are.”
As annoying as the pre-reading apologizer is the post-reading defender. She or he might be “a terrific writer,” Linda says, “but you can’t tell her anything. She doesn’t listen. She starts defending before she listens.”
What makes an ideal writing-group member for Linda? “There are a few people in my workshops who are brilliant at rewriting. Take suggestions, go home and do it.”
Hear! Hear!—Alex McNab