by Chris Goff
I didn’t get to attend many panels at ThrillerFest 2017. The fact is, I ended up sick—really sick. I felt it sneak up on me on Friday afternoon, halfway through conference. So I ditched out. I went back to my hotel room around 4:30 pm, lay down for a nap and woke up the next morning with a raging fever. So I did what any responsible writer would do—I got out of bed and went to a meeting with my agent and editor. I also monitored the session I’d committed to monitoring before dutifully showing up at my panel (NOTE: I am the one in exile on the end).
The bad news
After my panel, I bailed. In the end, while I slept, I missed giving out the Thriller Award for Best Paperback Original and seeing “Come From Away” on Broadway with my daughter and her boyfriend who live in Manhattan. I also cancelled my backend trip to Maine to visit family and friends, instead dragging myself home to be diagnosed with pneumonia to spend another two plus weeks sleeping and/or watching bad TV, alternating between coughing uncontrollably and dosing my cough into submission with Tussionex.
The good news
I survived. Plus, I came home from ThrillerFest with new insights on writing—despite attending only a few panels. At two of the sessions an audience member asked the same question.
How do you deal with Writer’s Block?
The compiled answer: There is no such thing.
On both the “MEET THE MASTERS: Past & Present” featuring Sandra Brown, Lee Child, Heather Graham, Nelson DeMille, David Morrell, R.L. Stine, and Jeff Ayers, and “HIGH TECH, HUNCHES OR SHOE LEATHER? Tools in the Investigator’s Kit” with Sandra Brannan, C.J. Box, Sandra Brown, Peter James and Val McDermid, the majority of authors—if not all the authors—indicated they write every day, whether or not they feel like it. It’s their job, so they treat writing like a 9 to 5. Sure, some write early in the day, some write later at night. Some write in longhand on pads of paper, some type into computers, and some dictate for transcription. But the one thing they all share in common is that they produce words and pages on a daily basis. Most even have a number of hours they work, or a quota of pages or words they hold themselves accountable to produce.
More bad news: I realized that I don’t do that.
Two years ago, I came to the conclusion that if I wanted to succeed as a writer I had to be more disciplined about my work. To that end, I extricated myself from a lot of my extracurricular activities. I stepped off the board of my local Mystery Writers of America Chapter, a board I’d served on in some capacity for over 20 years. I took my dear friend Jedeane’s advice to start saying no to requests that put strain on my time, and I actually wrote two books that first year and another book the second year. But lately I find I am easily distracted. While I visit my desk every day, sometimes instead of writing, I will read and send emails, work on blog posts or focus on research. And sometimes I find reasons to all together do other things. In the last couple of months, while I figure out the next book in my head, I’ve not been super productive.
But there is that old adage, that to be a writer the most important thing you can do is put butt in chair. I think it’s true. The past two years, I’ve been better about writing every day. I had to. It was my job. Some days it was easier to put words on the page than others; some days it was easier to know what to write. Some days the prose was inspired, some days it was pure dreck, but eventually the characters came alive, the work took shape, and the resulting book was—IS—good.
Another thing I learned from the panelists is that all writers at some point question their ability.
It’s that point in the book where a writer wonders if their book will ever come together, or decides the book is total dreck. It happens to me about midway through, and it was nice to learn I wasn’t alone in that.
Good news: I realized that I am on the right path.
Most of the panelists had taken circuitous routes to success. Many had worked other careers. Most had tried their hand at writing different types of fiction, or non-fiction, before finding their niche.
I came up as a writer in scattershot mode. When I first started, I wrote non-fiction—newspaper columns, magazine articles and essays. I even edited rock and ice-climbing guides and did some graphic production work. When I first tried my hand at fiction, I attempted to write YA. Then I tried writing romance, a serial killer novel, and crime-based women’s fiction. But it was when I turned to mystery that I found success. After publishing six books in a cozy series, I wrote my first thriller—DARK WATERS—and knew I had found my strength and passion.
What I need is discipline.
Since the launch of RED SKY in June, I have been busy—promoting, moving houses and, lately, getting well. But I haven’t been writing. Is it any wonder I’m behind on Book #3?
Writing is fun. I can’t think of a better way to make a living. But if I want a career, maybe—just maybe—it’s time to take a lesson from the masters, stop making excuses and starting thinking of this as a job.
Oh, and while I’m at it, let me apologize for being late with the blog. You see, I had Writer’s Block….
Discipline is good and necessary, but not always easy to come by. I suspect most writers have a touch -if not more- of ADD. Just a quick side note: When we got together on the panel, Chris considerately warned us all that she was sick. We moved our chairs. It was not a comment on Chris.
So, Chris, you edited an Ice Climbing Guide? – Talk about versatility! As for being disciplined, I find that's the toughest part of being a full-time writer (meaning we have quit our day-jobs). You are right that we should learn from the masters – I applaud you for doing that! And by the way, I bought RED SKY – can't wait to dig in…I'm sure it will be one more of your terrific stories. Thanks for this encouraging post.
Terrific exploration and debunking of Writer's Block, Chris, and I'm very glad you're much better. Pneumonia as inspiration to get back to writing! Who knew!
I actually laughed when I saw how far away I was sitting.
Thanks for the comment and for buying RED SKY. I hope you enjoy it! And, please, go out and review it on Amazon when you're done. That's one other thing I learned–the number of reviews matters.
Well, I haven't actually gotten back to it, yet. You see, we had this vacation planned to take some furniture to our daughter in Michigan, visit Wes' brother in Wisconsin, and then for me to go to the Writer's Police Academy next weekend in Green Bay. Vacation ends on Tuesday the 15th. Hold me accountable.
Oh my gosh, Chris, I love this and I can so relate! Ugh!