How to Keep Writing No Matter What: The Novelist Who Learned How to Beat Writer’s Block

How satisfied can one gal be? This is me getting my first look at the ARC OF ARK -- the Advanced Reader's Copy of A REMARKABLE KINDNESS.

How satisfied can one gal be? This is me getting my first look at the ARC OF ARK — the Advanced Reader’s Copy of A REMARKABLE KINDNESS.

This is a post for all those writers who want to give up. Don’t. No matter how long it takes, keep going.

I was so disappointed when the novel I now hold in my hands, A Remarkable Kindness, got rejected by more than a dozen publishing companies in 2006.

Because I was hurt and dejected and feeling a bit sorry for myself, I stuffed the novel in a drawer and refused to even think about it. Then, in 2013, I was at the Jewish Book Council promoting my memoir, The Mom Who Took Off On Her Motorcycle, and it hit me in one of those epiphanies (if it were a Hollywood movie, there would have been a bolt of lightning): REWRITE THAT NOVEL.

That was in the spring. I reworked it through the summer of 2013. Reworked is putting it mildly. I had to rewrite almost each sentence. I polished it the way a guy might polish his first car – with a toothbrush. I originally had the point of view be a third-person narrator. I decided to make each of my four main characters write in her own voice. I had to change every “she” to “I” and every “her” to “my.” Changing the point of view was important because I had to really get into each character’s head and see the world through her eyes. Would Lauren think in this kind of metaphor? What simile would Emily use?

Still, there were some days when I thought, this is crazy, what are you doing I did not have writer’s block – I had writer’s neighborhood. Why are you wasting your time? But then I told myself,

IF YOU GIVE UP, YOU WILL NEVER FORGIVE YOURSELF.

I felt like I was writing in a cave, scratching away at a dirty stone wall. But I kept going. When I was ready, I gave it to some trusted friends to read. Then I sent it out to literary agents. One kind agent told me that it’s really hard to get the voice right and the characters sounded too much alike. So, I rewrote it all again, changing every “I” back to “she” and every “my” back to “her.”

Can you see how tough this all was?

The first time around, my novel was called, The Dead Can Never Thank You. (My daughter, Amalia, said that it sounded like a ghost story.)  When I resubmitted it, I called it The Women’s Burial Circle, which sounded too much like an anthropologist’s look at a weird ritual in Papua, New Guinea.

Then I stumbled upon literary agent, Steven Chudney, who accepted the novel. Like an architect able to envision a house in his head, he was able to envision how the book should be. I reworked it again using his guidance. He sold it to Rachel Kahan at HarperCollins within a few months.

So, if you are reading this and feeling the blues because if you haven’t sold your novel yet, keep working. It took me a lot longer than I thought it would – about eighteen years longer – to sell my second book. But don’t smash your computer. Keep moving your fingers over the keyboard or (as in my case) using a trusty fountain pen.

Right before I opened the box containing A Remarkable Kindness.

Right before I opened the box containing A Remarkable Kindness.

If you’re stuck, here is one exercise you might try:

Write a story in which one character has a secret that she/he has to tell someone about. Begin right at the moment she or he tells the secret, and then work backwards. Here’s a sentence to start with:

“What do you mean, impossible?” I said. This is based on the sentence I used to start me writing my story, “One Kiss, One Baby, One God,” for Commentary Magazine.) You can mix it up:

“What do you mean, impossible?” my boss/my best friend/my lover/my son/my priest said…

Set your timer. Give yourself however long you think you can stand sitting and writing fast. Write as much as you can in thirty minutes, let’s say. Do this a little at a time and you will have a story. Then put it aside for a while. Take it out to show your ideal reader. Do not send it out to magazines until you have had it read and edited. Take your time. As Malcolm Gladwell says, we have to put in our 10,000 hours.

And remember – if we write to get approval and admiration, then we’ll always feel slightly dissatisfied. We have to write for the joy of writing, just for the pleasure and the abandon and the free-fall feeling we get putting words together. Approval is an inside job. We have to fill our own wells.

We have to do the thing that calls us.

My husband, Jonny, wrote me:

“It is yours; you did it. You NEVER gave up. You got knocked down but you got up. You have guts. When I think of the word perseverance, your name heads my list. You experienced ups and downs and near crises but diligently continued no matter how many rejection letters you received. I am sitting back enjoying your success – so well-deserved.”

Proving myself – to myself – is the best feeling around. So all I can say to you, keep going. I really believe that the universe supports our dreams.

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About dianabletter

Diana Bletter is a writer living in northern Israel whose novel, A Remarkable Kindness, is forthcoming from HarperCollins in August. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, tabletmag, and other publications. Her first book, The Invisible Thread: A Portrait of Jewish American Women (with photographs by Lori Grinker) was nominated for a National Jewish Book Award.
This entry was posted in A Remarkable Kindness, how to write, novels, Writers, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to How to Keep Writing No Matter What: The Novelist Who Learned How to Beat Writer’s Block

  1. Michael says:

    Book Tour! Movie Deal! Sequel! Prequel!

  2. Brava, Diana! How exciting, and your smiles are contagious.
    Tell you daughter that I really like her suggested title; you already know I liked the title THE WOMEN’S BURIAL CIRCLE. But you don’t argue with HarperCollins’s choice for A REMARKABLE KINDNESS. I’m waiting for the release in August!

  3. Pam Huggins says:

    Amazing! You inspire me so much!
    I’m so glad you never gave up because I really want to read your book. I learned about you through your memoir- still one of the very best in my opinion.
    I love this line you wrote: “I did not have writer’s block – I had writer’s neighborhood.”
    I also really appreciate what you said about approval- that you must write for yourself and for your passion and not to get approval. Such a difficult nuance to understand but absolutely essential in order to grow as an artist.
    BRAVO Diana!!!
    And thank you for sharing. (Jonny’s note to you is also amazing.)

    • dianabletter says:

      Thank you very much, Pam. I hope I get you to keep doing your cartoons because they’re wonderful. (Pay attention, folks!)

  4. Pingback: A ROMANTIC TATTOO | PAMO'S WORLD

  5. Out of sight fabulous post!

  6. Diana, thanks for much for sharing your inspiring story! I am so over-the-moon happy for you! By the way, I did like the title “The Burial Circle”. But this title works too. 🙂

    • dianabletter says:

      Hello Tracy, thank you very much. If you liked “the burial circle” then you won’t be disappointed because that appears as the title of some sections in the novel. Keep working and doing your writing and art!

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