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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

Fight Prolonged Resistance with Prolonged Persistence: Guest Post by Sammi Soutar


Sammi Soutar

Sammi Soutar

Sammi Soutar, former business owner and investigative journalist, has taught creative writing and facilitated writers’ groups and roundtables. She is currently revising her first novel and tells me she keeps a copy of Around the Writer’s Block with her at all times.

But that’s not why I invited her to share this post with us. I invited her because she knows how the joy of writing can spin into a “fishtail around roadblocks that make the writing seem more an obstacle course than an occupation” and most importantly how to get through the obstacle course back to the joy.

For most of my writing life, I’ve had an uneasy relationship with my muse. Social media coined a phrase for this: “It’s complicated.” I go back and forth between the fear that “the end is nigh” and the hope that “the best is yet to come.”

Fear has ever been my biggest stumbling block. Over time, incessant chatter from Monkey Mind, my internal saboteur, convinced me that I wasn’t a writer, would never be a writer, wasn’t good enough, smart enough, knowledgeable enough, or had an adequate vocabulary… so I quit and let my writing voice grow silent. For thirty years.

When I picked up a notebook and pen again, necessity drove me. While on that silent road to nowhere, the absence of writing had begun to wear on my psyche. I knew that, despite a profitable business, something was missing in my life, something was missing in me.

I began to write creatively again, not all at once and not without fear, but gradually. Natalie Goldberg’s books on writing practice helped. The butterflies came and went, but I pressed on, largely because it felt a little like dying not to.

road block canstockphoto2547231 (2)Several years of writing practice gave me the confidence to attempt a full-length novel. That delirious, first burst of creativity slowed to a crawl, but then I ran across another break-through writing book, Rosanne’s Around the Writer’s Block. What an epiphany! Writing needn’t be a life-or-death proposition. It could be fun, and fun in manageable chunks of 5, 10, or 15 minutes a day.

Play time? Yes, I can do that. Rewards? Great. I’ll go gangbusters for those little gold stars, chocolates and coins. Rewarding myself just for showing up and maybe getting a little work done sounded much more enticing than, “Your relevance is on the line!” which was what Monkey Mind whispered in my ear.

road block canstockphoto2547231 (2)Every so often, and despite the encouragement of supportive peers and mentors, I still get hammered by self-doubt. A challenging scene can send me skidding into a fishtail around roadblocks that make the writing seem more an obstacle course than an occupation.

After an agonizing dry spell, I finished a scene in my nascent novel last week that had taxed my imagination and my fortitude for months. I wrote and rewrote, and every word felt wrong, out of sync, mediocre. Monkey Mind climbed back on my back and stayed there so long, I got saddle sores. What felt like a century went by and still, no pay dirt. I teetered on the edge of quitting, but instead, I pressed on. I practiced. I slogged, sometimes for hours, each day. I did this, with no apparent progress, for ten months. Ten! Nothing I set down looked like a keeper. Not. One. Word.

Desperate and despite lack of conviction that outlining might help — I’d outlined the entire novel and yet no magic had occurred — I drilled down further and outlined the scene that had stumped me, beat by excruciating beat. I showed up at the page and I tried to have a little faith in myself, even while that internal saboteur made fun of my misery. Practice, outlining and more practice, every damn day.

road block canstockphoto2547231 (2)Finally, the barricades and orange barrels disappeared. All the pieces of writing I’d found wanting began to coalesce. There were some keepers in that pile of steaming story after all. The fog cleared, the road beckoned, and I could practically hear that chirpy song from The Wizard of Oz movie, “You’re out of the woods, you’re out of the dark, you’re out of the night…”

Looking back, I realize it would have taken a lot less time to reach this breakthrough had I not fought so hard to avoid outlining. Now I know better. Trust the process. Let the words fall where they may and, sooner or later, even if much later, they will learn to fly in formation. I now have a finished scene and, indeed, a whole new chapter, to prove it.

When all else fails, when the Muse takes off for the Florida Keys and stays there on an extended vaycay, when your protagonist says, “Bite me,” and sulks in a corner, even if your antagonist gets in a snit and leaves to pursue a career makeover, the tools of writing practice, outlining, and a large pile of chocolate-covered peanuts will get you across the finish line.

Sammi Soutar is writing a humorous fantasy about a fairy godmother. Although she has never met her own fairy godmother, nor a common garden gnome for that matter, she says that once, while weeding in her garden, she fought a dragon who was impersonating a wild raspberry bush.

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22 Comments on “Fight Prolonged Resistance with Prolonged Persistence: Guest Post by Sammi Soutar”

  1. susanpbaker June 17, 2015 at 9:21 pm #

    Reblogged this on Susan P. Baker's Blog & Website and commented:
    I know Sammi and I feel her pain.

    Like

    • rosannebane June 18, 2015 at 11:56 am #

      Susan, thanks for sharing the post with your blog followers.

      Like

  2. susanpbaker June 17, 2015 at 9:20 pm #

    Sammi, I’m often where you are as far as writing something new is concerned. I continue to revise, but if you can keep on I can keep on. Think you’ll finish by the end of the year? I commit to finishing the first draft of a sequel to one of my mysteries I started in 2006 by the end of the year. Want to make a pact. You’re such a talented writer, you can do it–and so can I.

    Like

  3. Janet L. Brook June 9, 2015 at 9:18 am #

    Sammi, your post struck a deep nerve for me, in a good way, because it’s made me look at how far I’ve actually come.Like you, I keep Rosanne’s book close at hand for those times when, even now, I wrestle with self-doubt. Without her gentle wisdom removing old patterns and roadblocks, Trickster’s Wind would never have seen the light of day.

    My biggest issue right now is overcoming the feeling that I am persona non grata in some circles because I committed the unpardonable sin of paying a subsidy to publish my first offering. I did so because, right or wrong, I felt at the time no “legitimate” publisher or agent would give me the time of day. I don’t regret my decision. I’ve learned a lot from the experience. My question is, did I sell myself short by giving up too soon?

    Like

    • Sammi Soutar June 9, 2015 at 10:03 am #

      First of all, congratulations, Janet, on finishing your novel and getting it out there!

      You pose a great question. I recently returned from a reunion with fellow writers where this very topic came up. My take on self-publishing is this:

      The objections to self-publishing are evaporating among savvy authors who know how to play the game. Only those who haven’t been paying attention to trends in the publishing industry persist in those negative notions.

      For the well-known and established writer looking to pocket more of the profits from book sales, this can be a lucrative option. The fan base is established. All one need do is promote and market to get the word out about the new product.

      For the new writer with an excellent product and the know-how to publicize and promote, this can also be a means to get that work to market. The drawback is that writers don’t always have that know-how, which is where the deeper pockets that a large publishing house can invest in publicity can be a huge advantage. And, if the writer goes with a smaller publishing house, that establishment may not even have many advertising dollars available to help with promotion. So, personal know-how is essential. There are excellent books and workshops that focus on the marketing aspect, so the good news is that the self-motivated author looking to boost marketing prowess has a number of resources to help make that happen.

      For the lucky writer who has both a great book AND the marketing know-how to self-promote, the self-publishing route may be the best solution, especially if the traditional avenues to publication have been exhausted. It sounds like you tried the traditional means already and, like so many promising writers, became frustrated with a process that often seems more a matter of arcane forces or blind luck than merit. There’s good news here, too. Assuming your book builds momentum in terms of sales, it can become your best calling card to a future agent and/or publishing house. A book that you have sold on your own could get snapped up right quick because it demonstrates marketability, as well as the author’s future sales potential from new works.

      Now that you have dipped your nib into the world of self-publishing, make the most of it and promote, promote, promote! *Trickster’s Wind* — what a great title — may well become your calling card to more sales, greater name recognition and a growing fan base for future books, all of which mean your writing career is assured.

      Like

      • Janet L. Brook June 9, 2015 at 12:16 pm #

        Thanks, Sammi. I’ve never been good at tooting my own horn. Guess it’s time to learn! 🙂

        Like

        • rosannebane June 9, 2015 at 8:59 pm #

          Janet: Ditto everything Sammi said, especially the part about congratulations! Never let anyone else take diminish your sense of accomplishment and pride. You wrote and published a book – kudos!

          Let me add this caveat about traditional publishing: just because your big, traditional publisher has deep pockets doesn’t mean they’ll invest in publicizing your book (you’re one of dozens of books a single publicist will work on for two or three months before getting another batch of books to publicize). Traditional publishing is no longer a guarantee that you’ll get much help with publicity and promotion. You might; you might not, so be prepared to do a LOT of promotion no matter who your publisher is. Self-published or traditionally-published, every author (except perhaps the consistent biggest best-sellers like Steven King, James Patterson, etc.), has to figure out how to reach and connect with her/his audience.

          For more encouragement on the advantages of mixing up the publication routes you might follow, take a look at what Stephanie Watson says about a diversified portfolio in the Public and Personal Success section in Around the Writer’s Block pg. 259-262.

          Best of luck to you promoting Trickster’s Wind. I agree with Sammi that it’s a great title! If you want to write a guest post about your own experiences with getting through resistance, I’d be delighted to have BaneOfYourResistance be one of the places you appear. The post itself is a place to connect with other writers and potential readers and the intro and extended byline are great places to mention your book, blog, Facebook page, etc. Just send me an email if you’re curious. (Rosanne at RosanneBane.com)

          Like

      • rosannebane June 10, 2015 at 11:47 am #

        Sammi, thank you for your thoughtful and insightful replies to comments! You are a fabulous guest blogger.

        Like

        • Sammi Soutar June 14, 2015 at 9:53 am #

          Thank YOU, Rosanne. I’ve had a fabulous time writing and interacting with fellow writers on your blog.

          Like

  4. Ann Marie Long June 8, 2015 at 10:48 pm #

    Beautiful encouragement. I have a story in pieces that began as a verbal, off-the-cuff bedtime story for my son one night. I got so excited and carried away by scenes that felt like fresh dreams from an unknown land, but then I got stuck after the initial golden wonder faded into the deep questioning meat of a story seeking wholeness…

    I wonder if I can outline and get it out, if I do a little something daily…;-) Thanks, Lovelies!

    Like

    • rosannebane June 9, 2015 at 8:24 am #

      Ann Marie, yes you can! I’m so glad you found inspiration in Sammi’s post. Doing a little something regularly is an outstanding way to write. It doesn’t have to be daily – 5 times a week or even 3 or 4 of consistently showing up is enough to make steady progress. If you haven’t already, I suggest you look at my posts on keeping the commitment small (just type “15 Magic Minutes” in the Search box) or my Huffington Post article at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rosanne-bane/10-reasons-to-invest-in-1_b_1778560.html

      If outlining works for you, that’s great. Some people prefer to “pants it” – just sit down, write and see what happens. This is how I used to write fiction, now I have a third option — dreamstorming. (Type “outline” into the Search box for more info on the pros and cons of outlining and drafting your way through). I just started an online class that introduces writers to the dreamstorming method, for more info on that go to https://www.loft.org/classes/detail/?loft_product_id=123175

      Like

    • Sammi Soutar June 9, 2015 at 9:35 am #

      Ann Marie, ditto on what Rosanne wrote. You can DO this! I love that you have dived right in and jotted down scenes and impressions in chunks and pieces. When a writer can write fresh like that, amazing words happen. Keep at it. Try the “free writing” techniques that Natalie Goldberg discusses in her books, *Writing Down the Bones* and *Wild Mind,* and the “steady-as-she-goes” wisdom of Rosanne’s *Around the Writer’s Block.* I think you’ll find, with your creative way of expressing yourself, that the words will flow. Outlining and that faithful, day to day commitment of writing for 5, 10 or 15 minutes-plus that helped me attain my goal — that and rewards, of course. Lots and lots of chocolate.

      Like

  5. Sammi Soutar June 5, 2015 at 8:29 am #

    I think the first order of business, Mary, is to get the story or stories down, however unedited, raw or uncensored they may be. Once you’ve set down the essential ingredients, you can always go back to modernize, tone down or do away with dialects or rhetoric that don’t further the story. Maybe a trusted reader or editor can help at that point, although it’s also likely that your own familiarity with the material will make you a discerning judge of what to keep, what to pitch and what to tweak for issues of political correctness.

    Like

  6. Mary Roberts June 5, 2015 at 6:29 am #

    Question: how, in the name of all that is holy, do I get around the following stumbling block? I want to put together a story of my husband’s life (as he remember’s it). But, some of the many areas he lived in & relatives he had, were using language if the day, that would make them look prejudice & potentially embarass living ancestry who might read these chapters. My intent is not to hurt anyone; but to tell his story as he recalls these colorful onservations & interactions. Do I put a disclaimer at the front (or end) of the book. I can’t get started because I want to write as freely as he recalls it, but fear some readers will be horrified & think I’m trashing the ancestry. Help! These stories are bursting to be written, but this ‘one big fear’ is stopping me! I need to be freed!

    Like

    • Mary Roberts June 5, 2015 at 6:32 am #

      Good Heavens, forgive my typos. It’s early & my eyes didn’t catch the goofs, but you get the idea of my writer’s block.

      Like

    • rosannebane June 5, 2015 at 8:59 am #

      Great question, Mary. I agree with Sammi — just write the stories as they come to you without worrying about what might offend someone. For now!

      Promise yourself you won’t send the story to readers until you decide how to handle the potentially offensive language, and set that problem aside for now. Promise yourself that no one will see your first draft but you. You do need to be freed and only you can free yourself. Write as freely as your husband remembers the stories now, knowing no one will see this draft but you. You will make MANY changes and revisions between your first draft and your final draft; the question of language is just one of the things you’ll revise LATER.

      When I got blocked writing my first book (Dancing in the Dragon’s Den), I realized I was worried about the affect chapter seven might have on readers. So I promised myself I would not send the book to my publisher until I had figured out how to handle the situation. First I needed to write the chapter, then I could see how to solve the problem I was worried about. Once I wrote the chapter, the solution was clear. But if I had insisted I find the solution before writing the chapter, I would have never finished.

      Happy drafting Mary!

      Like

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. 2015 Top Ten Banes of Your Writing Resistance | Bane of Your Resistance - December 29, 2015

    […] This guest post from Sammi Soutar holds the number 5 spot in the 2015 line-up: For most of my writing life, I’ve had an uneasy relationship with my muse. Social media coined a phrase for this: “It’s complicated.” I go back and forth between the fear that “the end is nigh” and the hope that “the best is yet to come.” Read more… […]

    Like

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